Leaders Acknowledge Their Negative Thoughts, Examine Them and Move Through Them 2024-07-08T01:31:35-04:00


We are all human. As humans, we all have a tendency from time to time to be caught up in negative thoughts about ourselves. We can be chiding ourselves for an unkind word to a colleague, berating ourselves for a poor decision with unfortunate results or criticizing ourselves for procrastination that adversely impacted our team.

Sometimes in these circumstances, our dreaded “Inner Critic” takes over. If we allow it to gain control, we can find ourselves traveling down the rabbit hole of self-doubt and we can spend hours second-guessing ourselves or perseverating about our own weaknesses or perceived flaws.

I was reminded of this thinking process during a coaching session this past week. My client is a distinguished leader within his profession, having spoken at conferences across the country, authored numerous papers and articles, and gained the respect and admiration of peers within his profession.

Nevertheless, he professed to me that he felt himself allowing his “negative self” to take over as he thought about a current situation at work and prior similar situations at previous jobs. Since he mentioned previous positions, we examined the pattern itself:

– What had happened at those prior jobs?
-What were the triggers that produced his negative feelings?
-What had he done in the past to successfully address and move through those feelings?.

When we find ourselves traversing down a negative and unhelpful thinking path at work, despite all our past leadership accomplishments, we can take several important actions, on our own or with a friend:

-We can pause to acknowledge that we are heading in an unproductive thought direction – “Here I go again- I am about to allow my Inner Critic” to take over.”

-We can then ask ourselves a question: “What else can I do to prevent that “Inner Critic” from dominating my thought pattern?

-We can take ownership of our tendency to sometimes dwell on the negative rather than observe the same situation from a neutral or positive perspective. To help us achieve this, we can choose to stop using generic “you” statements when talking about this tendency and use specific “I” statements instead

-We can choose to ruefully use our sense of humor and say to ourselves: “Not this time, “Inner Critic.” I know you are underneath there, but I am banishing you to the parking lot now!”

-We can choose to be an astute self-observer and ask ourselves what conditions, behaviors or statements from others tend to produce these negative thoughts within ourselves

-We can identify a trusted confidante – a colleague at work, a close friend from a former job, a great personal friend, a valued mentor, or our significant other – and ask him or her for advice, support or merely a listening ear

-We can journal about our recurring tendency to engage in this kind of negative self-talk and explore personal strategies for addressing it and overcoming it.

-We can determine if counseling or therapy might be appropriate. Sometimes, our pattern of allowing our negative thoughts to take over – even for a brief time – is due to incidents or episodes from our childhood, adolescence or earlier in our professional careers. I know this happened for me when I was a young leader, even into my 30’s. I allowed past traumatic chapters from my childhood to influence my self-image and self-esteem. I knew what was transpiring, but I felt powerless to control my negative thought patterns. I entered into psychotherapy with a wonderful counselor. She helped me examine my assumptions, my beliefs and my triggers. She held up a mirror for me to look at and helped me understand why the mirror I had been using was inaccurate and somewhat warped. Over time, she guided me toward controlling my “Inner Critic” and converting my negative paradigms to positive ones.

Regardless of your situation, I encourage you to consider the various strategies I have cited here. We are all valuable. We are all capable of learning. We are all capable of evolving.

Choose to control those negative thoughts or to ask someone to help you do it.

We all have much to look forward to. Refrain from allowing those negative thinking patterns to take over. You are in charge of your life.

Make it one filled with positivity.

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