Do you ever think about the unwritten rules that run your life? It seems I discover a new one every day – an most of them are not of my making. I’m following someone else’s rules as if they are some kind of unbreakable law. The punishment? I never wanted to find out.
Until I started working on my personal capabilities and discovered that these rules were like a personal glass ceiling.
I could see through the barrier to the thing I wanted – but couldn’t get there with shattering those unbreakable rules. My rules about work and life calcified into a virtual dictator, governing my every move.
I spent the first half of my career “going to the office” every day. Having a defined place and time to do work was both freeing and limiting at the same time. This was an ancient era with no laptop and cell phone to keep me working, so when I was at home, it was NOT work time. When I was at work, it was work time. Easy.
Then I joined a small leadership firm with a distributed, virtual team. By now, computers and cell phones (not smart phones) were the norm and I worked from home. We converted my empty living room into an office, with a desk, computer station, file cabinets and all the things that recreated the office environment of my previous experience.
Along with the office environment came the rules.
Every day, I would sit down at 8:00 and work until lunch. After my very official lunch break, I worked in the afternoon until 5:00 or 6:00 and then be off. When I didn’t have anything pressing to do, I did a great job of looking busy and productive. After all, I wanted my boss, who lived 1500 miles and two time zones away, to see that he was getting his money worth. Could he see me working? No, although you would have thought there was a livestream camera in the corner watching my every move. What did my boss actually want? Results. As long as I delivered on the promises I made and got the outcomes we agreed to, he really, really, really did not care when I was at my desk or how “workish” I looked while working.
The rule I had invented for such circumstances was “look busy no matter what”. I’m sure it came from a previous job and it was completely irrelevant in this circumstance.
Actually, this rule was more than irrelevant. It was limiting.
Why? Much of this virtual job required me to develop insights and be creative. What I needed instead of chaining myself to a desk in an office was to set the conditions for me to deliver on my promises. For me, walking is the most powerful way I’ve found to prime my creativity and put things together in new ways.
Would I have dare take a walk in those days? Not on your life.
One day it dawned on me that my decisions were more often than not based on some stupid rule that I had been taught for different circumstances and then carried forward. Examples:
I didn’t just all of the sudden uncover these rules (and there are many, many more). They were much more invisible and embedded than that. They were more like the dirty film on the window that you don’t notice until after the window gets washed or the dirt that becomes part of the carpet until a good shampoo.
Once I started working from the inside out, I began to look at my decisions differently. What rule is driving this decision? Is it relevant for today? Is it serving me and this situation?
Some rules are easier to change than others. Working with a coach has helped me through some of the deeper work of self-awareness – these rules can turn into beliefs that seem like truth. It takes another person to challenge your mindset. In fact, that’s the best reason to have a coach.
You can’t reach new levels with the rules designed for your past. The inner tyrant is quite convincing – and will keep your glass ceiling in place until you decide to change it.
What is on the other side of your glass ceiling? What is keeping you from living over there? What rules are running you? What would serve you now, in this place and time?
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I was on the phone with my coach yesterday and after listening to me explain an unfixable problem in great detail, she asked me a very simple question: “Have you thought about it this way?” All of the sudden, simply by looking at this problem from a different angle, my thinking expanded. The problem was actually an opportunity.
In fact the problem was never a problem at all – I was just thinking about it in a limited way.
There are really two principles at play in this story. First, even though I’m a coach who helps my clients gain clarity, I need a coach myself. We all do. When we think inside the closed system of our own minds, our world tends to become very small and very limited. So if you are thinking of hiring a coach, be sure they have a coach.
Second, she showed me a way out of what I call “shrinking thinking.”
Never heard of it? Here are a couple of examples:
In response to asking a friend if she would like to ski, she said “I could never do that.” Then she had a litany of reasons – ending with not wanting to get her hair wet. Her world stayed small and her hair stayed dry.
In the second example, I’m talking to a client who has taken on way too much
Me: Have you asked your boss which project needs to move down in priority?
Client: I could never do that.
Me: So you said yes, even though you knew you couldn’t do the project?
Client: Yes – but you have to understand. No is not an acceptable answer in my company.
We went on the show that being stuck at saying yes knowing you can’t really deliver is a form of shrinking thinking – and we talked about ways out of this dilemma. In fact, the boss was relieved to work through the priorities and my client eventually became a more senior player on the team.
My point is not about confronting the boss, though. Yes, overcommitting is a problem. Harvard Business Review did an article on the topic of overcommitting in October of 2017. Organizations and people are overcommitting at incredibly high rates.
My point is that many (maybe most) of our problems are a product of our thinking.
We can look at what is happening and start to feel powerless. The world IS moving faster. Demands on our time ARE becoming greater.
The question is “What are we going to do about it?” Let me make that more personal. “What am I going to do about it?”
Shrinking thinking is fear-based, keep-me-right-in-my-comfort-zone, narrow thinking.
My brain gets stuck in “either/or” options, never seeing the dozens of other possibilities. My repertoire goes from unlimited to one or two strategies at best. It’s kind of hard to learn and grow when you are stuck in shrinking thinking.
What I am working on is moving away from shrinking thinking to developing expansive, possibility filled thinking to solve problems.
Having a coach helps. Meditating daily is huge. Another technique I love is doing a “whiteboard exercise” in my retreat center. It’s amazing what you can see when you have a whole wall to lay things out. Those are just a few of the things I’m doing.
How do you get out of shrinking thinking? What are your best tools and tactics to gain clarity for yourself? How do you know when the problem is really just in your thinking?
I would love to hear from you! See that box below? Share your best tactics for moving from shrinking thinking to a holistic viewpoint!
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By: Jennifer Maneely
I recently started embarking on this journey of finding that creative outlet that motivates and inspires me to work on this thing called Mastery. I make jokes with people all the time about how I am a jack of all trades but a master of none. I can do a little bit of everything, but I master none of it.
Here is the thing I am acutely aware of, I have all this talent welling up inside of me and I don’t know where the outlet is.
This idea has gotten me thinking more about the things I wish I could do, or the person I wish I could be. I have found myself circling AROUND the person I wish I could be. I try to take characteristics of other people I admire and wish I could be more like and attempt to live like them. And it fails miserably because these characteristics are not the things I’m good at. Do you ever do that? Look at someone with envy and wish you could do that too? Then try to be like them, only to realize you are nothing like them and it looks awful on you.
My biggest envy are those people who seem to be incredibly empowered and handle conflict so eloquently and grounded. They say things in the heat of the moment that are so powerful and well-said that makes me want to stand up and cheer right there. They ask all the right questions and when continued to get backed into a corner, they get themselves out so gracefully and walk out of the room with a little mic dropping action.
That is not at all how me handling conflict looks like and when backed into a corner, there is no mic dropping. It looks a lot like a confused chicken with the head cut off running around in circles. And the more I try to be like the person I wish I could be instead of more like me, the uglier it gets.
I had this friend that made me think of myself differently. She was such an oddball and really could care less what anyone else thought of her. She would say things just to make people uncomfortable and watch their awkwardness. She would dance in the middle of the street, and pushed people out of their shells or sent people running for the hills. Initially, I thought I wanted to be more like her, free and stuff.
But then I had this realization, there was no way I could ever be more like her. She was so far away from the person I want to be, which got me thinking about this idea of maybe I don’t want to be more like her. But I do want to be more of myself. My true self. Not the parts that are covered up with insecurity and jealousy. Not the parts where I hold myself back because I’m afraid to show anyone my true self for fear of judgment. And not the parts where I feel like I am not good enough so I don’t even try.
When it comes to finding my creative outlet, what I have to remember is that someone else’s creative outlet will not work for me. I can’t be like anyone else. That is their outlet. That is their ways. The only way I am going to find what I need is to continue to uncover who Jen is and uncover what Jen can do.
I started this book called “Core Transformation” by Connirae and Tamara Andreas. This book was given as a suggestion to help uncover who Jen is and clear out some of those voices that get in the way.
To be clear, I am very stubborn and resented picking up this book because even though I know I need help, I resist it. I resist it just for the sake of resisting it. I resist it because I am different and it won’t help me. Nothing can help me. No one can help me. I am hopeless. Ok Ok enough dramatics Jen.
I was supposed to start reading this book a week ago. But in my usual stubborn-self ways, I said F***It and F***you I ain’t doing it. I hired a personal coach by the way, to help me with this stuff and this is her assignment. I knew I couldn’t do this self-awareness crap by myself and yet I resist the people that are trying to help me. WHAT IS THAT ABOUT???
But I knew I needed to get on my assignment because I am supposed to be letting her know I am working on this stuff and what I’m doing. I haven’t done S**t since she gave it to me.
When I was finally able to step out of my own stubbornness and pick the stupid book up, first chapter was like singing hallelujah to me.
I’ll sum it up. When someone tells you about a good restaurant and suggests you go eat there but you don’t know where it is, you get directions to the restaurant.
Many people and self-awareness guides may take you through the process of trying to figure out why you are a bad cook and maybe you should visualize the restaurant and discover why you want to go to the restaurant in the first place. Before you go to the restaurant maybe you should spend months pondering and visualizing the restaurant and see what made you a bad cook.
OMG Shut the front door. My whole life I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m a bad cook and not getting directions to the restaurant.
I haven’t gotten to the directions part of the book. Just knowing I’m going to get directions to getting out of my own way, and maybe someday I might not even be a stubborn resistor to the people I AM ASKING TO GET HELP FROM has given me a new sense of freedom and hope that I can uncover my creative outlet and be more like me.
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Choice is a good thing, right? I’ve built my entire life around keeping my options open, in the name of “freedom.” Recently I’ve been reminded that too many options can be as bad – maybe worse – as no choices. So what brought this insight into sharp awareness? Mahjong. So how the heck did an ancient game remind me to recognize that too much choice has some serious limitations?
The point of the game of Mahjong is to build a winning hand with tiles. What constitutes a winning hand is governed by a prescriptive set of cards (which are difficult to decode - don’t get me started!) Early in the game, you start deciding which of several hands you want to play. This is where the prison bars start closing around you. The more hands you try to play, the more paralyzing it becomes to sustain those options in order to win. In fact, I’ve lost more hands that I can count (and seen others do the same) by keeping my options open too long. Every time I have won, it was because I committed early to a specific direction –even when it seemed like a long shot.
Optionality diffuses commitment – and commitment is what wins the game.
When I first started my business, I had many, many options for the types of clients I would serve and the work I could do. All were very attractive to me. So how did I choose which path to follow? I had one client that had a specific set of needs, and built from that. All the other options fell by the wayside as I became fully committed to meeting this client’s needs. When I further developed my business to broaden my client base, it was from this initial seed. I’m incredibly grateful for the way it unfolded – it allowed me to commit to a specific direction early in the game and that commitment harnessed my energy and attention.
When faced with too many choices, you have to recognize when it’s time to fish and when it’s time to cut bait. (An oldie but goodie from my home state of Texas.) Several times in the course of my business, I’ve found myself at choice points. More than once, I’ve been paralyzed.
What I’ve learned to do is start seeing the choices as the starting point of clarity, not the end goal.
Once the choices are in front of me, it’s time to go inside and decide. And by inside, I mean get quiet. Breathe. Feel. Be grateful. Breathe some more. Feel some more. What do I really want? What is more important to me? Breathe. Feel. Decide. Commit.
Clarity is an inside job. Clarity brings the freedom of focus.
So here’s a question for you. Where have you given yourself choices? Hurrah! Choice is a good thing. And where have you found that your choices are keeping you from fully committing to one path or another? Where are you putting “should” into equation based on someone else’s logic?
Do you have a story about having too much choice? How did you decide – or how are you going to decide? How has choosing a specific path helped you? Share it on our Facebook page or Twitter.
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Lynn Carnes accelerates change and unleashes leadership performance in organizations, especially in context of challenges without easy answers. She loves to hear about how your experiments with these ideas turn out. To contact her or share your experiences email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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