I’m delighted that an article I wrote about lasting habit change has been published in the Ace-Up Blog.
I jumped to the conclusion that I would never be a lifeguard, simply because it was a long process and I couldn’t imagine being good enough. (see Slow and Steady Wins the Race.) In gymnastics I told myself I couldn’t do new skills–before I even tried them.
“I don’t run well in the rain. I’m gonna do badly in this race.” “My novel is never going to get published.” I don’t think all the usual questions work in this instance, but let’s give it a whirl.
1) What is the evidence? None. Because the future hasn’t happened yet. There, that was easy. Ok, I’ll flesh it out a little more.
Even if you’ve had bad times in the rain perhaps you have worked on this element (pun intended); or maybe today will go better because you’re going to allow yourself to think that it might. Yes, it’s a huge challenge to get a novel published. You can remind yourself that many famous authors had many rejections before their novel got published. And many publishing houses regret they turned them down. You can fantasize about that if it makes you feel better.
2) What are alternative explanations: None necessary. You can’t predict the future.
3) What are the implications? None. You can’t predict the future. Case closed.
Another antidote: Remind yourself to know what you don’t know. Unless you have a unique spiritual gift you cannot predict the future. You don’t know how you ran your race until you’ve run it. You don’t know how many publishers you may have to approach before you find one that bites.
Here’s another championship I could have won in my prime. Happily, I’m less of a contender these days. If I were stuck in traffic: “I should have gone another way. I should have left earlier. I should have left later.” After a less-than stellar performance: “I should have practiced more. I should have never attempted that. I should have known I’d be too nervous to execute that properly.”
The questions we’ve been using don’t seem to work completely with this one, but let’s see what happens when we try.
1) What’s the evidence? You might have had a bad creative session or a not-great athletic performance and you think it’s obvious that you SHOULD have: practiced harder, held on to the ball, blocked the puck, hit the right notes, remembered the dialogue, written every morning, etc., etc.)
OK, so maybe there IS evidence that you need to improve something.
But what is the evidence that telling yourself you “should” do something actually helps you improve that thing?
If you are like most humans, “shoulding all over yourself” (as the Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smiley put it) engenders regret and discouragement, not motivation. It also can also foment rebellion. “I should eat well before competition” could lead to, “The heck with that–I’m gonna do what I WANT to do, not what I SHOULD do.”
2) Is this thought useful? I think we’ve established that it’s not useful. What do you think?
So, instead of “shoulding,” try asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” It may seem like semantics, but simply changing the words you say to yourself can lead you to positive change for the future instead of being mired in the past. “If I practice more my form will improve and I’ll do better next time,” sets the stage for progress, whereas, “I should have made that shot,” keeps you stuck in the disappointing past.
When I decided to start a coaching practice specializing in work with artists and athletes I was full of doubts. In fact, I can’t say I decided to start it: I thought it would be fun to incorporate my love of the arts and sports with my work (which I also love.) And then I came up with a million reasons for why I couldn’t do it.
When I finally got sick and tired of the excuses and decided to give it a go, I had very little (read: no) confidence. So, I decided to use one of the techniques I would use in my coaching practice (should I ever get out of my own way) on myself. This technique, Resource Installation, involves building up the qualities I’d need to successfully meet the challenge of starting the coaching practice.
I asked myself, in keeping with the protocol for the technique, “When had I been confident?” I hit a wall immediately. I was never the kid who believed I could do anything. On the contrary, I believed there were many things I could not do. “I could never be a lifeguard,” I thought, even though I loved swimming. Another thought, “I‘ll never be Miss America.”
I despaired of coming up with a memory of a time I was really confident. None came to me. But what I did remember was just as useful: that I tried something even though I didn’t think I could do it. It was summer camp and I was 11. Our challenge was to swim ¼ mile in the lake. This sounded like a ridiculously long distance. But, what the heck, I was being told to do it so I tried it.
You guessed it: I swam the ¼ mile. I was SO excited! So, this is the memory I used to begin to build my confidence for this adult endeavor. The realization that, no, I wasn’t convinced I could swim the distance but I was willing to try anyway helped me have the confidence that maybe, just maybe, I could get this business together. And I didn’t have to worry about whether I believed I could or not; all I had to do was try my best and stick with it. Turns out gumption and persistence are a pretty good combination.
I still smile when I think of that 11-year old girl getting out of the water, dumbfounded at having gone the distance. Even though she never did become a lifeguard. Or Miss America.
In jumping to conclusions we assume the worst. Today we’ll focus on the aspect of mind reading. Next time I’ll talk about fortune telling.
Oh, my. I certainly didn’t limit myself to art or sport for this one. In high school (remember high school? how most of us were insanely insecure?) I was mind reading when I assumed that a girl in my class didn’t like me, simply because she was quiet. I was mind reading when I decided that the whole audience thought I totally messed up when I dropped out for 8 bars while accompanying the chorus. (Click on the following to go to read that blog:
All-or-Nothing Thinking: My Story)
Here are some other examples: “My peers think I have no talent.” “The rest of the team believes I let them down.” “Coach is angry at me.” “The audience thinks I suck.” “No one likes my poetry.”
Let’s apply the familiar questions.
1) What is the evidence? Did your peers actually come out and say, “You have no talent?” Did everyone on the team say, “You let us down”? Or was there a look that you interpreted negatively? What superpowers do you possess that enable you to read the collective mind of an audience? Performers tend to focus on the imperfections (in spite of all we know now about mental filter) and many in the audience don’t even have the technical knowledge to critique you in the way you fear they are critiquing you.
2) What are alternative explanations? If your peers actually did say something, why else might they have done that? Could they be joking? Maybe your team members are doing burdening themselves with their own thinking errors. Maybe what you’re seeing is simply their disappointment that the team didn’t do better. Is coach angry at you? Is coach angry at all? Or just intense? Maybe people loved your poetry but the folks at this reading are too shy to say so.
3) What are the implications? You’re not necessarily a pariah, even if some of your assumptions are accurate. One performance or competition or critique does not a career make. If coach is angry she’ll get over it. The implications may be that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.
4) Is this thought useful? Rarely, for sure. Never, probably.
In mental filter you obscure the positives and only see the negatives. If there had been Mental Filter championships I would have been a contender. This is still one of my weaker links. (When I review evaluations of my workshops I still have to force myself to focus on the majority of positives instead of on the few negatives.) To illustrate mental filter I return to my piano-accompaniment experience. How many pages of sheet music did I get through competently? It was a medley and so I’m going to go with a conservative estimate of 8. Let’s say there were 20 bars of music on each page. 8 X 20 = 160. That means that I successfully played 152 bars of music, yet I stopped playing piano in public for years because I dropped out for 8 bars. A bit of overreacting, wouldn’t you say?
How do you foil mental filter? As with most thinking errors, first ask yourself, “What is the evidence that everything I did was lousy?” Note the aspects that were acceptable or even good. Some people find that imagining they are evaluating a friend helps them be more objective. You can ask trusted friends and colleagues for honest feedback. Keep an open mind about the positive things they say.
Remember the question, “Is this thought useful?” Again, it can be helpful to acknowledge the negatives so that you can work on them. This is different from totally ignoring the positives. Since a big part of improving is building on the positives, mental filter is actually destructive.
I hope you’ll soon enjoy beginning to see things clearly rather than through the fog of mental filter.
“It’s never too late.” Trite phrase, I know. But I met someone recently who personifies this. Kelley Kassa (front row center) is a petite woman who aspired to be an athlete, but believed she could not pursue sports because of her stature. So, she did the next best thing: learned to play marching band instruments and participated in athletic events as a member of the band.
Fast-forward a decade or two. She joins Community Rowing (communityrowing.org). Keep in mind that ideal rowers are long and lean. After 16 years of rowing on and off (the off years due mostly to the economy and work situations) she is invited to join a shell from Quinsigamond Rowing in the Head of the Charles Regatta. The shell is short (pun intended) a few rowers. Kelley says asking if a rower wants to crew the Head of the Charles is like asking a football player, “Would you like to play in the Super Bowl?”
Yes, she says. And this is where sports and life converge. Kelley, an accomplished marketing communications professional, says that her parents never required her to work hard. In fact, they discouraged her from setting big goals because they wanted to protect her from disappointment. Kelley grabbed the opportunity to change this life pattern even as she worried she might succumb to a habit of inconsistency.
Once she committed Kelley knew that simply participating wasn’t enough; she wanted to row as well as she could. After 6 weeks of early morning workouts with Quinsigamond (while continuing to practice with Community Rowing and work full-time) Kelley rowed the Head of the Charles, putting heart, soul, body, and mind into it.
The experience changed Kelley’s life. Setting and working towards goals, such as trying out for a competitive team, is now routine. While telling me her story she refers to herself as an athlete and smiling, says that it’s still hard to believe that she can—finally—call herself an athlete.
On November 12 I had the wonderful opportunity to facilitate workshops on preparing for competition with the Tufts University swimming and diving teams.
A few days later I discovered that I had been quoted extensively in the following article, which will serve as my blog this time. Enjoy.
Photo by Nicole LeBlanc
To refresh your memory, take a look at my most recent post. (http://kwelling.com/?page_id=116) See below to address overgeneralization using the questions we’ve been talking about.
1) What’s the evidence that your thought is accurate?
“Never” hasn’t happened yet so you don’t know if you’ll never practice or compose/write/ draw/design. (Note: this is also jumping to conclusions because you’re predicting the future.)
If you practiced yesterday or last month or 5 years ago, then the statement that you “never” practice is clearly false. Also, if you are ruthlessly honest you may find that you have already composed/written/drawn/designed and that you have gotten some good calls from officials.
2) What are alternative explanations?
Not sure if this applies. What do you think? Let me know if you see the relevance of looking for alternative explanations here.
3) What are the implications?
Not career changing or life altering. You can practice again any time you choose. You can take another look at what you put on canvas/paper/computer. Calls by officials will probably vary from fair to unfair.
4) Is the thought useful?
Again, hard to see how such thoughts are going to encourage and motivate you.
This multisyllable thinking error has a lot in common with all-or-nothing thinking. You interpret one thing as “a never-ending pattern of defeat.” (David Burns, MD)
Remember my story of dropping out for 4 bars while accompanying the chorus on piano? I made it into a never-ending pattern of defeat by never even trying again. By, in essence, “retiring” at age 13. (Though, happily, I came out of “retirement” eventually.)
One of your teammates blows his coverage assignment and you say, “He never stays with his guy.”
You have a day when you don’t like anything you put on canvas/paper/computer and you say, “I don’t have what it takes to paint/draw/write/design.”
A referee makes a lousy (in your humble opinion) call and you think, “I’m always getting the lousy calls. I never can get a break.”
When you find yourself over-generalizing ask yourself the questions we’ve been going over, such as: What’s the evidence? What are alternative explanations? What are the implications? Is this a useful thought?
Next time I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on some of these questions.