Mind Management: Beat Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly – but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (” busy-ness”) when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “mind over matter”. Or mind matters!

Mind fabrication
I’m not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don’t know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase “drowning in my own thoughts” to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times ” being out of work for 2 years” and a need to explain a ” 2 year gap on my CV”. I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we’re now July 2009 – how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

Self sabotaging
At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was ” opting out” and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is – a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you’re reading this!)

Re-frame with questions
So if you feel that anyone doesn’t understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can’t see what you’re about – perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you’re choosing to work with. Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

Write things down
So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let’s pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

Track the message !
ORIGINAL THOUGHTHmmm… I should apply for that job” write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait… if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won’t know what to say … **then I’ll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview… **then they’ll know how useless I am..** then I won’t get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone….**then everyone will know I’m stupid and laugh at me.. **then I’ll let my whole family down… ** then I won’t get any job anywhere, ever… **then I’ll never work again… then I’ll have no money so I’ll be bankrupt … **then I’ll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I’ll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box … **then everyone in the world will hate me…then Hmmm … OK…. I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower …I’ll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Look at the facts
Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you’re a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn’t know you. Keep a job search log so you can’t convince yourself into thinking that you’re active when you’re not. Facts talk.

Reality check
The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink into job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don’t want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

6 responses to “Mind Management: Beat Negative Thinking

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