We can spend a lot of time, energy, and emotion trying to look good to others. “What will people think?” “What if I fail?” “How will I be judged?” becomes the endless loop we hear in our minds. This line of thinking keeps us incredibly busy but doesn’t make for a very happy existence.
When how you’re perceived by others matters most to you you’re likely to make consistently poor decisions about where to focus, where to invest your time and energy, and who to connect with. If you’re lucky you’ll realize early on that you are not the center of the universe and, in fact, no one really cares about you. This is not to say you don’t have friends and family but at the end of the day no one cares about you nearly as much as you do. This is a very, very good thing.
Why? Because it means that your definition of success is the one that matters. After all only you know what’s truly important to yourself and what will make you happy. When you achieve what matters to you you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction instead of never being satisfied no matter how many promotions, awards, or honors you receive.
It also means that you are free. You can make mistakes, change directions, try again, and create yourself ad infinitum. Since no one is really paying close attention and most have very poor memories, you can learn from your experiences and use them as stepping stones to your ultimate success.
Best of all those voices in your head go away. It’s ultimately not about what others think. Can you live with yourself and the choices you’ve made? If so, you’ve achieved success.
Comfort zones as defined by the esteemed Wikipedia are:
“a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk….A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security.
Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside their comfort zone, a person must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that occur within their environment.”
While business experts suggest we regularly step outside our comfort zone, in my experience very few do. After all, most of us aren’t comfortable with ambiguity. We’d rather stay in a bad situation than take a chance that the next one might be worse. When we choose to only play within the boundaries we’ve created for ourselves we deny ourselves growth, new experiences, and opportunities. The irony is that, as the definition above noted, we’re doing so because we believe in “an unfounded sense of security.” A comfort zone is just a mirage we’ve created to provide us with a sense of order, security, and risk-free living.
When you really think about it, isn’t everything you really want outside your comfort zone?
I’m not suggesting that routine isn’t important. It can provide a sense of security and be an efficient use of time. But when routine is the entirety of your life it can become a problem. Inertia is very powerful. Instead why not consciously recognize the box you’ve put yourself in and take regular small steps towards what you really want? Then you can take comfort that you’ve done what you could to live a life with no regrets.
About the last thing achievers ask for is help, yet it’s often the best strategic move you can make. If you do it right, you’ll get better results, those who help you will feel good about their efforts, and others will learn more about you.
When you make requests, the onus is upon you to know what you want and to express it in a way that makes sense. Resist the urge to make blanket requests; instead, think strategically about who is best able to help you in specific areas. (By the way, this goes for job transitions too.) Usually people make requests but in a very vague way, e.g., “I’m looking for a job in marketing,” “I’d like another senior position with a good company,” or “I’d like to work somewhere close to home.” While all of these statements may be true, they don’t give others enough direction to allow them to help you.
At work, identify who you think will be most helpful to you by considering what expertise is needed for your project, what your project has in common with past successes, and which coworkers can provide you with the political help you’re going to need to get the job done. If you’re not sure who fits the bill, identify those who will be able to advise and direct you.
Remember, you’re not asking anyone to do your job, you’re asking for a specific contribution, so be sure to clarify your expectations. Make it easy for people to help you by creating a short summary of your situation. Tell them why you are asking for input and then make the “ask.” Your request should be specific, clear, and actionable.
For instance, say you’re launching a product in another market for the first time. You might want to ask the team lead of the last successful launch what they wished they’d known during the launch. You could speak with someone who is an expert in the new market and ask what they believe is the biggest inaccurate assumption marketers make when dealing with that audience. You are gathering intel, learning from others, and making others appropriately aware of what you’re up to. Win-win-win.
When people take action and focus on their careers, it’s almost always in response to dissatisfaction they’re experiencing at work. And that dissatisfaction often gets in the way of finding a solution. You’re so consumed with what isn’t working that it’s difficult to let go of it, clear your head, and focus on what you really want.
Ruminating on what isn’t working, spending time evaluating what others are (or aren’t) doing, and imagining that it will be difficult to resolve your situation saps your energy. It also takes a surprising amount of time and can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have no energy to address where you want to go so you just remain there.
Focus. Use your time wisely. Prioritize yourself.
Tackle your personal thinking projects first thing in the morning—come to work early and start the day by putting yourself first. It is a powerful message to send yourself and it puts control back in your hands. You’re being proactive instead of reacting to the events of the day and the agendas of others. Decide what you really want, and don’t discount the possibility that you may find it within your present company. If you’re clear on what you want, you may just need to tweak your job duties to increase your happiness at work.
If you catch yourself going down an energy-wasting thinking path, stop. And if you can’t stop immediately, give yourself a time limit: “I am going to spend 5 more minutes trashing x, y, z and then I will move on to more productive things.” Sometimes you need to process what is happening to move beyond it—but keep those thoughts to yourself, try to be objective in what you’re saying, and then move on to what you can control…your future.
Many of us forget that we have a choice in how we view the world. Imagine how different our experience would be if we believed the world was full of interesting people and lots of opportunity instead of filled with people who are out for themselves. It would feel much different wouldn’t it?
Knee-jerk negativism can be seriously detrimental to your mental and physical health. If you spend time listening to the conversations around you I guarantee you that 99% of them will be fear-focused—fears about what may happen, what’s not working, interpretations of what the actions of others may mean, and reiterations of what isn’t possible. Whether these ideas are accurate or not, we go through exactly the same emotions we would if they were true. Negativity drains us. Literally.
When you’re surrounded by negativity it is difficult, if not impossible, to see opportunities. You’re so conditioned to looking for the bad that you automatically filter out anything that contradicts that idea. It’s not surprising, especially when you look at our influencers in the world, and in particular, the media. It has become increasingly focused on the negative, partly due to the advent of the 24/7 news cycle where bad news draws much higher ratings than good news.
Because there is so much information coming at us and we have so many demands upon our time, we don’t always think about the perspective of those who are providing information—whether they’re newscasters, peers, friends or family—it just seems easier to believe whatever they’re saying. Do so at your peril. (How’s that for drama?)
It takes effort to remain positive and open in the face of relentless negativity. But it can be done. It’s a habit, like any other. The first step is becoming conscious of your environment and the influences you allow into your mind. Consciously challenge them and think about the perspective of the people providing information before you choose what you want to believe.
Are coworkers who constantly focus on what isn’t working trying to justify why they’re not succeeding? Are they looking for reasons not to try different things? Are they threatened by the very idea that trying hard could achieve results? Or is it just a habit with them?
Negativity is an energy vampire. Emotions, attitudes, and perspective are contagious. Be careful what you choose to focus upon so that you can reserve your energy for people, activities, and ideas that fill you up, not deplete you. The upside is that not only will you benefit, you’ll be able to spread your positive energy to others.