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I have had the privilege of working with people operating in very adverse conditions and even under extreme duress, which has greatly informed how I think about coaching and leadership development. Perhaps some context – I am talking about:

  • Previously incarcerated people who are reintegrating
  • Retired elite athletes trying to define themselves beyond the sport
  • People in physical danger
  • People recently laid off and experiencing financial duress

Here is one approach that I have found helpful when faced with mindset challenges related to the circumstance.

Mind the language

If you are experiencing a period of darkness, arguably the most important thing to pay attention to is your ‘self-talk’. When things are challenging, most of us are drawn to self-criticism, which can be as simple as a fixed mindset: “I am no good at X”, instead of, “I am no good at X, YET.”

But the more insidious examples are:

Generalizing: “This ALWAYS happens to me.”

Being clairvoyant: “They thought I screwed that up….”

Only seeing the negative: “I was there for three years but failed to make the 4-year vesting.”

Here are two simple techniques I use for myself and others:

Name the voice

I first heard this when I was riding motorcycles, and a friend would refer to his ‘Throttle demon’ – It came out when he hit a long straight road and somehow found himself at 120MpH (I will admit that I also had a throttle demon, which is why I no longer ride motorcycles). I have found it very helpful to name the negative inner voice because I have decided that he is an idiot and can be told to hush. My voice is called, ‘Glen’ and when I catch myself in a negative moment, I will stop myself and literally internalize the phrase, ‘Thanks for your input Glen, I’ll let you know when it is required.’ Sometimes I will be slightly more emotional about it and tell ‘Glen’ to “Shut the %$#& up.”

Be a friend

A great technique (borrowed from the school of self-coaching), is where I will journal the problem/situation, and then respond to it in the voice of a friend – This is where compassion really comes in. Would a friend ever say, “You lost that job because you are no good, and you will not get another for months?” No, the journal entry will more likely be:

“You did great with all the areas under your control – Losing the job was an unfortunate circumstance and you have plenty of accomplishments and relationships that will lead you to something fantastic.”

It turns out that this is usually not enough to spin things around, but if you add some details in, then you have a strong change agent:

“In your last role you:

  • beat your targets
  • had people who really respected your opinion
  • were valuable for your ideas.”

The quick takeaways

  1. Never listen to Glen
  2. Respond to your thoughts in the voice of a friend