“The mind is the master-weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance.” — James Allen, As A Man Thinketh
“I have to be twice as good as anyone else to succeed.” “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” “It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’ll always get overlooked.” “People like me aren’t seen as leadership material.”
Do any of these statements sound familiar? Better yet, have you told yourself any of these stories about your advancement opportunities, others’ perceptions of you or the leadership of your company? If the answer is yes, I’m asking you — lovingly and respectfully — to stop.
Hang in there with me. I’m not asking you to stop because I don’t believe these dynamics exist. I know they do. Unconscious bias is very real in the workplace, and anyone who claims otherwise is either not being honest or not paying attention. So these and other statements like them may very well be true. But here’s the thing —they’re not helpful.
What do I mean by that? We know that any thought we think often enough becomes a belief. Our beliefs about ourselves, our circumstances and those with whom we interact cause emotional reactions. Our emotions influence our behaviors. And well, our behaviors often dictate — or at least heavily influence — our results. If Proverbs 23:7 is true, that “as a man [or woman] thinketh in his heart, so is he,” then you can see how repeatedly telling yourself a story like the examples above can guarantee an experience much like the one you wish to avoid.
To be fair, I’m no psychologist. But with intense curiosity, I’ve watched enough people travel diverse career paths to know that the link between our thoughts and our outcomes cannot be denied or underestimated.
So how does this work, practically speaking?
Belief: It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’ll always get overlooked.
Emotion: Hopeless, resentful.
Behavior: Isolate. Head down. May still work hard, but with limited passion or energy. (Because it won’t matter anyway.)
Result: Doesn’t get identified for promotional opportunities or high-profile assignments because leaders may not know you or understand your value and there is a perceived (or real) lack of passion or energy during a time when leadership agility is at a premium.
I was first introduced to the thought cycle by Debra McDermed of The Vertical Dimension during a Hallmark creative leadership session more than 10 years ago. While the concept has been espoused everywhere from the Bible to the school system, bringing it into the workplace was a revolutionary idea for us at the time. We learned to see how our thoughts contributed to our experiences. All these years later, I am highly conscious of the many counter-productive stories that get told and retold along cultural lines, and the role they play in stagnating one’s professional journey.
The reason I want us to stop telling these stories is because they nullify our power. We all have creative power. If you can think a counter-productive thought so many times that it changes how you “show up,” then you can think a productive one and that, too, will change how you show up. For your good, and for the good of others.
Decide today to put a new thought into your own personal thought cycle. Tell yourself a hopeful story about your future possibilities — one you can get excited about. Commit to it, the way you may have committed to some other, less helpful belief. Become conscious of the way this new story makes you feel, and give yourself permission to believe it long enough to experience the surprises that occur as a result. You can do it, if you think you can.