The past two years has caused many of us to get lost in the struggles of everyday life. Here is an approach to restore your energy, vitality and reclaim your authentic self.
As an executive adviser and mental health professional, respectively, we help the people that we work with in different ways. However, one day over a virtual cup of coffee, we began to discuss the trials and tribulations of the work that we do.
Almost immediately, we recognized that many of the people that we work with have lost some of their identity due to the energy sapping that came with trying to keep it together through this relentless pandemic. As a consequence, we were each helping clients to relearn how to keep it real.
As the conversation continued, we discovered that there were other similarities among what and how we delivered value to our individual clients. It was at that moment that we decided to team together. Since then we’ve brought these ideas forward in a series of seminars and jointly facilitated retreats held earlier in the year.
We whittled down our work together to a simple, four-step process that can help you be all you can be by relearning how to keep it real.
Let us share our approach with you.
Step No. 1: Examine your principles
We start our journey by surveying the core principles that we use to guide our behavior. We do this by:
- Reviewing our current life principles in light of who we are and what we want to become
- Determining which ones need to be carried forward in support of our life’s journey
- Identifying the ones that don’t work for us and need to be reframed or retired
- Crafting new principles that we will more deliberately live by
By being deliberate in developing and documenting our personalized principles, we begin the process of bringing a new way of thinking and behaving to our life. It is through the careful articulation of our principles that we give ourselves the opportunity to create the guideposts that we want to live by and reclaim our authentic self.
Here’s an example that illustrates the approach in action:
Statement: “I will adopt an abundance mindset in all that I do.”
Rationale: Operating with an abundance mindset will makes me happier because I realize there’s enough for everyone, so no need for resentment or envy. This new mindset helps to temper my self-doubt because it reinforces my belief that I can do it. It also serves to takes the pressure off that I put often put on me to perform.
An abundance mindset helps me to remember that I don’t have to “win” everything, every time.
- I must find my own inspiration when feeling threatened by someone else’s success.
- Instead of being filled with doubt, I must work to connect with what I want for myself and take the action to achieve that.
- Because an abundance mindset requires vulnerability, I must work to lessen my need to “win” in every situation.
- When feeling down, I will remind myself about what I want to be and this focus will provide the clarity needed to discover the right path for me to abundance.
- I will have a friend remind me to seek abundance every day.
As you can see, this life principle is well-defined — made vibrant by the rationale and implications. You should aim to develop a set of these (we suggest five to 10) to help you define how you want to live your life.
The science behind being stuck: 3 simple steps to move forward
Step No. 2: Get unstuck
Getting stuck in subpar patterns of thought and behavior is not due to personal weakness or a lack of will. Rather, we tend to get trapped when we hit our own “ceilings.” Our goal here is to offer some of the steps that we can take to blast through those limitations and free ourselves to become all we can be.
Understanding the emotional and mental hindrances that keep us stuck is the first step in creating the awareness we need to begin to create change. We have life experiences, upbringings and biological wiring that make up our “operating system.”
This operating system is the way we behave, think, feel and, more importantly, what we believe about ourselves.
Becoming able to identify those underlying thoughts, feelings and beliefs are important so that we can begin the “rewiring” process (think “software update”) and create a new operating system where we will be able to function out of a place of freedom, confidence, and productivity.
While one’s own negative beliefs are very personal, here are some that tend to be more universally held:
- I’m not good enough
- I am powerless (helpless)
- I am not smart enough
- I should have known better
- I’m a failure
This wiring in our neural pathways can be updated and changed. Here’s how:
- Increase awareness of the source of your negative beliefs: To do this, take time to identify and explore those insecurities and negative thoughts. Write down the earliest time in your life that you remember feeling these certain ways.
- Know your triggers: Now that you know what those negative beliefs are, write down what triggers you in the present.
- Reframe your self-talk: Catch those automatic messages and negative thoughts as they happen. Practice reframing the thought to something more helpful. If you wouldn’t say it to someone you love, you shouldn’t say it to yourself.
- Practice self-kindness: It is crucial to show love towards those wounded parts of self. Have a mantra or saying that helps ground you in more loving and compassionate thoughts of self. It is crucial to show love towards those wounded parts of self.
We get unstuck by owning our truth, and creating a new operating system that support who we want to become.
Step No. 3: Fashion your story of you
What’s the story of your tomorrow? Is it vivid and compelling? Are you energized and excited by the possibilities of what lies ahead? Is it developed enough that you can share it with others? Are the details so clear that, they too, can see what you are striving to become and to achieve?
Your story must be so riveting that you will not be satisfied unless you’re doing the work necessary to make it come true. So, write it!
This is typically eight to 10 pages in length. Your story must be a vast and detailed enough that it covers the whole of which you are and what you want to be tomorrow. Futuristic in its tone and loose and supple in its organization, your vision story must be written as if you’ve already achieved your vision of your future you.
Here’s an outline that can be followed:
Just remember that your vision story describes what you are to become. So, work at describing how you have achieved and instituted these new characteristics that now make you up.
Here’s an example that comes from one of our seminars:
“I focus on looking forward and imagining the possibilities that the future may bring in order to set direction. Once the direction is set, I will do my all to inspire and motivate others to work together in achieving our goals.
“This is done by both words and action — inspiring confidence and commitment among the people whom I have entrusted to lead others on my extended team. Once my team is ready to accomplish what needs to get done, I get out of the way and cheer them on. However, I remain present and am there if they need any further guidance or assistance.
“Further, I recognize that decency counts. That said, I am committed to leading with empathy, patience and a desire to do the right things for my people. I set a high standard and I hold myself and my team to that standard of excellence.“
Notice there is a lot of detail describing how she lead others. There is no information about how she came to develop these leadership traits. Nor is there mention of specific training or aspirational pursuits required to make these characteristics hers.
Instead, the passage simply states how she leads and describes the attributes that she possesses in providing that leadership to her team.
Your vision story should follow this lead. Indeed, write your story like you already own it.
Step No. 4: Breakthrough action planning
Now that you have your vision story down, it’s time to put things into action and create a plan to keep you accountable and on track. Many of us try to go big and go hard when motivated to make changes in our life, but this typically ends abruptly. True lifestyle change happens because of consistency.
If the steps are too dramatic it will be more difficult to keep it consistent. On the other hand, if they aren’t challenging yourself enough, it means you’re not growing.
Here is a straightforward approach to help you structure your action plans:
- Compare the work done in steps 2 and 3 and determine the gaps between who you are now (where you’re stuck) and what you want to be in the future (your story of you);
- Translate every gap into an opportunity for change;
- Document every opportunity for change as an action plan using this basic format:
- Give each initiative comprising your plan a name
- Describe it
- Define your objectives for doing the effort
- Pinpoint outcomes that demonstrate achievement
- Identify constraints that may prevent you accomplishing the effort
- Determine your timeline
- Decide how you will measure success
To illustrate, let’s say you want to be less anxious and stressed and more productive at work. Here is an example from one of our retreats of how you might create an action plan to achieve this goal:
Project name: “My Personal Freedom Initiative”
Description: “My Personal Freedom Initiative” will help me have a more focused mindset so I can be more productive, less anxious, and better connected to loved ones.
- Set boundaries: I will structure my day out and be intentional with priorities. I will create a “to-do list” and be honest with what should be prioritized for the day and set specific times those tasks will be accomplished.
- Exercise for mental and physical health: I will wake up in the morning at 7 a.m. so I can do my workout from 7:30-8:30 and begin my day.
- Accountability: I will identify one or two people who will know my plan and check in with them twice a week.
- Doing work that is meaningful to me
- Living with less stress
- Gain more time to do other things I enjoy
Constraints: My own excuses, lack of sleep and unforeseen work demands.
Timeline: I will implement this plan over the next 30 days and assess what needs to be improved.
Measurements: I will measure my success by improvements in my outlook on life and work.
To close, we hope you use this step-by step-guide is to help you keep it real and reclaim your authentic self. After all, we are creatures of habit, and there is no quick fix for the suboptimal behaviors that we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into.
However, this simple four-step approach has proven to work with the people that we coach and counsel. We believe it will work for you, too.
James M. Kerr is a management consultant and executive coach. He helps clients reimagine the way work is done through his work at Indispensable Consulting. His latest book, “Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without,” focuses on leadership mindset, culture and business change. Email Kerr.
Mandy Morris, LPC, is co-founder and co-clinical director of Mosaic Counseling Group. She is a practicing therapist, speaker and champion for mental health. Her work as a corporate psychologist has included work as the official team support for a reality TV show. Email Morris.