Coaching Tool 1: Train the Brain for Accomplishment
I’m kicking off a series highlighting the tools I use to coach executives. They are skills everyone can use. Here we go!
Have you ever had a boss/teacher/coach/parent who only told you what you were doing wrong? Who never gave you a pat on the back for what you accomplished? How did that affect you?
I’ll go out on a limb to suggest that it probably made you feel lousy. It may have caused to give up or stop trying. Maybe it caused you to self-sabotage. It could have even caused you to feel hate for the person who was constantly picking at you. There are people who respond differently to hyper-criticism. They work harder and harder for approval and live life chronically feeling not good enough. They are not even good enough for themselves.
Too much emphasis on problems, mistakes, and what is not going well isn’t helpful. As with much in life, there has to be balance.
The challenge is that our brains are wired to see the problems. It is what keeps us alive. We automatically see threats so we can fix or work around them. When things are going well, we are on auto-pilot — often not taking time to notice what is making it all go smoothly — what we are doing right.
Imagine if you were trying to get someone involved in a new activity. You would be encouraging every step of the way to make it inviting. You would tell the person “keep doing this,” “good job with that,” “yes!” Why? Because the person would need to know what to keep doing and not just what to stop doing.
Now imagine that person is you. Since you are your own coach, how are you coaching yourself? How are you celebrating the daily wins? How are you cheerleading yourself along the way in solving life’s problems? We hate it when our bosses or co-workers don’t say encouraging things to us, but what encouraging things are we saying to ourselves?
I say this with all seriousness. How many people have been proud of themselves that they are surviving in a pandemic? Sometimes our minds cannot comprehend the sheer magnitude of global deaths and losses. We distance or minimize. Everyone reading this is a survivor, but we forget because we are so focused on what is not getting done — what is not going well. I’m sure no one actually set a goal of staying alive because we take for granted life itself, but I’ll say it again, “Staying alive in a pandemic is big news! Congratulations!” It doesn’t have to be pretty to be a win, but it’s actually a pretty big win. One day you will look back, and it will sink in. But the opportunity to recognize the accomplishment will be long passed. Take just a moment here to let this sink in.
Maybe you want to grab a notebook and write down a few thoughts. “Hell yeah, I am a survivor!” comes to mind. What got you through so far? What behaviors? What character strengths? What friends? What family? What did you do that might have helped someone else survive?
One day, kids will read about this Covid-19 pandemic just like we read about plagues and crises of the past. They’ll be talk of healthcare providers, teachers, front line workers, caregivers, food pantry workers, and on and on who stepped up. There will be talk of people who did their part by staying home and checking on neighbors and sharing toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There will be talk of virtual holidays and cocktail hours to remain connected. There may even be a movie about the scientists who saved the day by developing a vaccine in record time.
Yes, you survived something huge. Take just a moment to acknowledge yourself.
Acknowledgement is hard stuff for most of us. Part of it is that we don’t want to feel narcissistic. Part of it is that we brush it off as no big deal. Then, there is the fact that we are fighting efficiency in brain function, which is to focus only on the problems.
It takes a lot of effort to remind ourselves of what we are getting done because the list of things that aren’t getting done seems ever-increasing. We can lose sight of each and every thing we accomplish on a daily basis because we skip right past it.
When I ask executives to intentionally write one thing every day that they accomplish, an interesting thing happens. The executives find that they are writing about small moments that they helped someone, connected on a personal level, encouraged, shared. It is the human piece that feeds their soul, and they find benefit in pausing to remind themselves of the real impact they make in others’ lives through small acts of kindness. The benefit is the feel good energy to keep fighting the other battles.
Before this exercise, the executives had only taken opportunities to acknowledge big wins before moving on to the next crisis. The problem is that these big wins don’t come around so often; therefore, acknowledgements were rare. Plus, celebrations of big wins were short-lived because the ever-existing problems still took up so much space in the brain. Daily practice of acknowledging small wins adds up to monumentally big wins that were previously not seen as big.
It’s like a rain drop. By itself, it seems almost nothing, but when saved up over the course of time, the accumulated rain drops literally feed life.
The executives tell me that daily writing about one thing they accomplished or are proud of each day rewires the brain to see things they were previously blind to. They find they are more likely to say positive things to their team members as well. The executives become sensitized to the flip side.
Daily writing about an accomplishment leads to feeling just a little more happy and effective. Part of this is taking time to acknowledge, and part of it is writing it down. We too easily forget as time goes by. The record becomes official.
I challenge you to retrain your brain by writing down an accomplishment every day. At the end of the year, you will have 365 accomplishments, and you may be blown away when you add it all up. It may, in fact, make your list of problems look just a little more solvable.
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