Tag Archives: affirmations

In Search of Optimism

optimism

optimismI was working with a client recently on his public speaking. As part of an exercise, I asked him to recount a sad memory.

He paused. And then he paused again. And then he paused some more.

“Wow, that’s really tough,” he said, visibly struggling to call up a sad memory. “Something sad…hmmm. Give me a sec.”

After a minute or two like this, I finally interrupted him. “Can I lend you one of mine?”

The Importance of Reframing

This guy is lucky. Clearly, he hasn’t experienced as much sadness in his life as I have.

At least, that was my first thought. But the more I worked with him, the more I realized that it wasn’t just that he’d somehow managed to escape tragedy, even well into his 60’s.

It was that he’d made a conscious choice to be optimistic.

I’ve noticed a similar quality in one of my colleagues. We will deliver a workshop together and afterwards, he will immediately declare, “Well, that should translate into a business opportunity.”

Regardless of how well the workshop actually went, I’ll find myself responding, “Yeah, maybe. But what if…the CEO is felled by a tree/I contract a life-threatening case of meningitis overnight/Brexit wipes out all communications consultants now and forever more/Fill in the blank…” You get the idea.

We’ve experienced the exact same workshop. And yet one of us walks out and shouts “Hooray!” while the other one worries, “What if it all goes to sh#$?”

Choosing optimism

This same colleague has taught me a lot about the power of positive thinking.

I had already discovered the power of affirmations in my writing life — courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way — long before I met him. But I’m now regularly applying affirmations to work life as well.

On a daily basis, I’ll find myself uttering things like:  “I’m a great salesperson” or “I enjoy client relationship management” and “I’m highly skilled at empowering people to achieve their full communications potential.”

Even when I only half-heartedly believe them, I find that these affirmations help.

As does meditation. One of the great virtues of the mindfulness app I listen to every morning is that it encourages me to discover the “blue sky” inside  – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill my world.

A lot of the focus in mindfulness is on accessing that blue sky feeling. Over time, you come to realize that it’s not something you need to reach for outside yourself; it’s something that’s already there.

The Power of Hope

The research bears this out. I was struck by a couple of recent experimental studies which show that if you induce people to be optimistic, they can actually change their behavior. In one such study, providing simple assets — such as a cow or other livestock — to poor people in developing countries led to increased labor and other investments on their part.

In another, respondents in U.S. soup kitchens were asked to recall a time they felt positive about themselves. This in turn resulted in more effort in playing simple games compared to those who did not receive the “optimism prompt.”

Hope, it turns out, is a powerful motivator.

Dreams of Hope

Perhaps this message is beginning to sink in.

As someone who is haunted by recurring dreams about test anxiety and getting lost, I recently had one of those classic dreams where I was in a play and didn’t know the lines.

But in this dream, the ending was different. Instead of freaking out and succombing to the performance anxiety, I chose instead to improvise the scene at hand. And, lo and behold, it worked out.

Just as with affirmations and blue sky thinking, maybe my bad dreams are trying to tell me something:  I’m actually OK. All will be fine.

Perish the thought!

Image: Sunbeam Sun Shadow Light Mood Sky by meineresterampe via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Tools for Adopting a Growth Mindset

working woman

working womanOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the things I enjoy most about my new life as a communications consultant is the variety it brings. One day I’m coaching a student on how to write a doctoral thesis …another day I’m editing a policy briefing…and the next I’m delivering a workshop on life skills for offices to a group of statisticians.

But dealing with that variety also has its challenges. Lately, I’ve been spreading my wings outside of the higher education and non-profit sectors to venture into commercial work. And as I begin working with a different sort of client, I am learning how to operate in an entirely new world – one that has its own vocabulary, mores and ethos.

I’ve long been a huge fan of  Carol Dweck’s concept of “the growth mindset.” This is the idea that we shouldn’t think about our basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, as fixed traits that are unalterable. Rather, she encourages people to embrace a “growth mindset,” one where people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. So as I make my foray into London’s financial center, “The City,” to drum up new clients, I am in full-on, growth mindset mode.

Here are five tools for adopting a growth mindset:

a.  Think of it as part of your lifelong learning. Dweck maintains that a growth mindset fosters a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. In a similar vein, one of the key takeaways from reading Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s brilliant book, The 100 Year Life, is that we need to abandon the traditional idea of a neatly arranged, three-staged life comprised of education, career and retirement. Instead, we need to embrace a multi-phased life course in which people keep learning throughout their lives, take lots of breaks and dip in and out of jobs and careers.  I think about my immersion in the private sector right now as a form of life-long learning, albeit one that doesn’t happen outside my job, but within it.

b.  Create some affirmations. One practical step that can help cultivate a growth mindset are affirmations. Affirmations are short, powerful statements of self-belief.  I adopted this practice – (which, like many others, I stole from Julia Cameron) – when I was writing my book manuscript last year. Telling myself things like, “I’m a good writer,” “I like my book,” and “My writing engages and connects with readers” was really helpful on those off days where I didn’t have flow or lost confidence in myself. But affirmations don’t have to just be creative. They can also apply to work, e.g.: “I am a great salesperson,”…”I enjoy client relationship management,”…”I love empowering people from all walks of life to achieve their full communications potential.” As a friend of mine who spent 30 years as a consultant in the private sector put it, “Don’t think of the Private Sector Delia as different to University Delia or Non-Profit Delia. She is the same person, who happens to be applying her skill set to a different sector.”

c.  Join a group. Another way to build confidence and gain insight when you’re embracing a new professional identity is to join a group of other people facing a similar challenge. Last year I joined a global network of professional women called Ellevate, right when I was launching my business. Ellevate operates chiefly through “squads” – groups of women of different ages, sectors and stages of their careers who meet virtually over 12 weeks to provide advice and support to one another. I found it incredibly reassuring – and useful – to bounce ideas about marketing, business development and networking with other women who were either going through – or had already been through – a similar set of challenges.

d.  Get a new wardrobeResearch has also shown that what we wear to work affects the way we are perceived by others and the way we perceive ourselves. So if we want to adopt a new mindset – “I am the boss lady now!” – changing our clothes can help change our mindset. I’m already well on my way to rocking the City

e.  In the end, of course, if you really want to lean into your growth mindset, there’s no substitute for Nike’s motto: “Just do it!” I was listening to the Creative Class podcast the other day, when host Paul Jarvis observed that “the cure to fear is action.” Although I normally dislike cold-calling people – hearing this clarion call – I grabbed the phone and adopted a “smile and dial” mindset. And guess what? I landed three leads in 24 hours.

How about you? What strategies have you employed to get yourself in the right mindset for a new professional identity?

Image: Woman taking phone call via Pexels

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