I’ve been through lots of ups and downs in my life, many of which I talk about in my book, Do a Day. As tough as some of those moments have been, the experiences have made me really good at seeing problems before they arise and jumping on them to contain their impact.
But it also had a downside–I was being conditioned to point out the negative in everything I saw.
The thing is, we all do this, especially with ourselves. Listen to how people talk about their workload or the hours they work. It almost becomes a competition for who is the most beaten down.
You often hear things around the office like, “My boss is the worst! We just got a pile of work to do that’s going to keep us here all weekend!” Then a coworker will respond with all this pride in their voice with something like, “Just this weekend? Wow, you have it easy. I haven’t been home on a Saturday or Sunday in like three months.”
Let me ask, which one of them is the winner in this debate?
Or when you try to commend someone on doing a good job, they often point out where they went wrong rather than just taking the praise. I did a race with a friend who blew me out of the water. I praised his incredible time, and he just looked down and listed off all the ways he messed up and cost himself time.
And it is not just at work or in competitive situations. Next time someone has you over for dinner, compliment them on the food, and watch what happens. You are likely to hear something like, “Thanks, but I overcooked it.”
This has become a major focus of my coaching work–helping people to get comfortable with being good at things. We are so entrenched in self-deprecation or denying our achievements that we end up framing ourselves with mediocrity at best or incompetence at worst.
And we don’t stop there. We feel like we don’t even deserve good things or aren’t capable of making them happen.
How can you possibly be successful if you see yourself as undeserving and incapable of achieving it? The answer is obviously that you can’t.
However, you can change the situation. Here is the exercise I give people I work with. I call it “Stop the But.”
Stop the But
Here’s how you do it. Say something good about yourself or something you did. As soon as you feel the word “but” forming in your mind, stop yourself. Just say the good part without anything to downplay it, take away from it, or negate it. Just allow the good.
Do the same thing when someone else says something good about you. Just thank them for saying that, or tell them you’re glad they liked it. Don’t try to dismiss it with by bringing in the But.
Here are a few examples from people I work with.
The first is from working with a woman who was so caught in her not being smart enough for the job she wanted, she thought they made a mistake or there was something wrong with the company when they offered her the job.
So I asked her about how she did in college. She said, “I got good grades, but…”
I jumped in there and cut her off by saying, “Stop. You got good grades. Leave it there.”
But she could not do it, and responded with, “No, that does not matter. It was so long ago. And what I studied is not relevant to what I want to do. So who cares?”
The point is just to allow the good thing about you to sit unchallenged. Of course that good thing may not be relevant in every situation, so why bother naming specific reasons for it to be invalid in any one context? Good grades are also not relevant to whether she is good at basketball, can fly a plane, or any number of other unrelated things. So choosing one to focus on to discredit the good is no more rational than just letting the good be as it.
Another person was having trouble getting along with his boss, and was broadening that out to a general issue with people, and then catastrophizing that he was unemployable, and his career was doomed.
So I asked him, “Do you have friends?”
He said, “Of course I do. But–”
I cut him off right there. “You have friends. People who were not born into knowing you actively choose to be connected to you. Are they close friends or more like acquaintances?”
“Good friends. In my circle of friends, I am kind of the go-to person when people are really struggling with problems in their lives. They all turn to me.”
I said, “Ah ha! So people are specifically turning to you for advice about big things. People who have made a decision based on the kind of person you are.”
Through this exercise (which we repeated a few times) he stopped seeing himself as doomed because of his inability to be a relatable person, but rather realized there are people he does get along with well and others that may take more work.
This is something I have people do daily to start to counter-act the years of negative self-talk they have been engaging in throughout their lives, let alone their careers.
If you want to be successful, you have to allow for the possibility that you are actually good at things and capable of success. You cannot discredit every little attempt to credit you with a win and expect to have hope that you can achieve what you aspire to in your career.
And when you live your life with a sense of your deservingness and capability, opportunities start arising and quickly turn into achievements.
Go out and do it!