We all want our own bit of happiness independent of outside events or the stars aligning right. We know that happiness is down to how with think and approach a situation - so how come we can be masters of our own happiness downfall so often?
A few months ago I was running a training session with a group of people I’d never met before. I’m always a little bit nervous when I start a new session – even though I’ve been training for over 20 years (yikes-am I really that old? Erm...yep) I still get that flutter, that charge or excitement mixed with fear.
I take me job as a trainer very seriously. I put a lot of time and energy into making the learning experience as engaging, enjoyable and impactful as possible for the participants. New trainers can get really caught up in the ‘will they like me?’ mind-set if they’re not careful. I learned early on that I had to kick that one to the curb otherwise my focus would be all about me and always it needs to be all about the participants.
It’s also essential that I’m able to read a group – by observing their body language, what they say and the general energy and atmosphere in the room. I like to think that my experience means I’m pretty good at this. It always fascinates me how groups can be so different from one another and how two courses with exactly the same subjects and content can be radically different just because of the personalities, experiences and needs of the different groups.
But I’m digressing! I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t get tripped up too much any more with those things that messed with my head early on in my career. But that doesn’t mean I’m perfect or not prone to messing with my own head. Far from it.
So this particular course was one that I’ve run a number of times and it usually goes down really well with the participants. But this one just didn’t seem to be gelling. I couldn’t put my finger on it but it seemed to be one lady in particular who just didn’t seem happy.
She asked a lot of questions – usually this is a good thing but her questions seemed a bit ... hostile. She challenged my opinions and wanted to know where the evidence was for the things I was sharing. I gave her some more background and theory and at lunchtime even printed off some of the supporting material for her to look at. I tried to win her over. I was extra super duper friendly. I referenced research papers and academic models as I was talking. I explained in OTT detail the logic behind every exercise and practice I shared. I hustled. I spent the entire day trying to impress this one woman and make her like me.
I said to a colleague of mine at lunchtime:
- “I’m just really not on the ball today. I’m talking nonsense, nothing’s flowing and the participants think I sound like an idiot.”
- “Jo, I really don’t think that’s true!” she replied.
- “Trust me, it is. There’s this one woman, I can see it in her eyes. She thinks I’m a fool. She’s questioning every single thing I say. Honestly, she hates me.” I said
I’d come to this rather extreme conclusion from the following pieces of ‘evidence’
- The group was overall pretty quiet
- This one woman had lots of questions and wanted to debate some of the things I presented.
From those two pieces of information I had jumped to the conclusion that she hated me and thought I was an idiot.
Not only that, the rest of the group thought so too.
You know what I found when I read the workshop evaluations at the end of the day. Not one person rated it as less than 5 out of 5. And the woman who’d questioned so much? Here’s what she put:
"Really enjoyable course with lots of interesting points."
Turns out the battle that had been going on between us was all in my head.
Now insecurity right now is telling me to point out that I’m generally really good at my job and maybe I should also be telling you about all the times workshops go brilliantly and about all of the lovely feedback I usually get. AND that maybe I should be letting you read just a small selection of the positive feedback I’ve had on my work.
But I also want to stress that I’m not a guru or super human being who gets it right all of the time. Hells, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you will KNOW that’s far from the case!
I’m sharing this story with you to illustrate how our minds can sometimes run away with us in a way that’s just not that helpful. And we all do this – every single one of us no matter how long you’ve been studying and working on this stuff.
This type of unhelpful thinking can add to the drama, the fear, the anger, the unpleasantness and general stress of life. It can leave you feeling down on yourself and suspicious of others and convince you that you’re a victim without any power over your life. And it's a perfect way to drain the happiness, calm and optimism out of your work and your life.
The cure is becoming aware of how and when you do it
You might have heard of CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. One of the things CBT does is look at the types of thoughts we have and identify the ones that are distorted or unhelpful.
Before I go into some examples of them, I’ve got to tell you these two things:
We all do some of all of these at one time or another.
The point of this is NOT to beat yourself up for doing them but to raise your awareness so that you can lovingly re-frame some of your thinking.
OK, now that we’ve got that straight – lets look at them.
It’s all going to fall apart now!
Oh my God this is SO awful
This is when you blow events out of all proportion – making more of a situation than you have evidence for. I'm really good at doing this over money or whenever things go wrong with my house - a tile missing off the roof? I'm convincing myself we're going to need a whole new roof!
It’s all my fault its gone wrong
John’s the reason I can’t make it happen
This is when you take ALL of the responsibility for something going wrong or give it to someone else. Even though things rarely go wrong due to just one person or action. Blaming stops the ability to learn from a situation, to grow and prevent it from happening again. If you're blaming yourself it will also do a doozy on your self esteem.
This will never work
I never get what want
This always happens to me
This is where you draw a general conclusion or rule as a result of one or two isolated events. You didn't get the job? You're terrible at job interviews. You spelt a word wrong? You're a terrible speller.
Watch out for words like always and never - they're big red flags for this one. If you're really good at generalization try this:
look for the exceptions to the rule.
Do you even spell things correctly?
Well yes, but not often.
So in the report, how many spelling mistakes did you make.
loads - at least 6.
Out of how many words?
Well, the report was ...about 1000 words long.
So you spelt 994 words correctly then?
I know the meeting’s going to be awful
He’s going to make me redundant, I know it
This is where you assume you know what the future holds. The fact is you don't. None of us do - that's what can make it feel so scary. But attempting to anticipate what's going to happen doesn't help with this, it can just lead us to worry and stress.
If I don’t do a great presentation next week they will see me as the fraud I really am
I’m worried that they’ll find out that I’ve just been really lucky up until now with the projects I’ve been on
This is where you are waiting for the tap on the shoulder when they finally discover that you're not worthy of the position you have. This is way too common but rarely based on truth or facts. Start looking for evidence of what you do well. Own your achievements.
If I say no I’ll get sacked
She hates me
He couldn’t look me in the eye, I know he thinks I’m not up to the job
This is what I was doing on my training course. I convinced myself I could read the woman's mind and she thought I was an idiot. The fact is, we are all pretty lousy mind readers.
I can’t stand this anymore
I’ve had enough of this
I’m sick of waiting for the axe to fall, I’m going to tell them where to stick it
This is what I sometimes call ‘I can’t stand-it-itus’ . It's when you have a very low tolerance with a situation. This can either stem from fear or uncertainty ('I'm going to break up with them first so that they don't have chance to reject me') or lack of tolerance of frustration. Hold your nerve and develop your comfort zone for accepting uncertainty. If you're really frustrated by a situation try and look for ways to influence and change it instead of bailing.
All or Nothing Thinking
I do it all now or nothing at all
It’s completely useless
If it’s not the best ever I’m a failure
There are a million shades of gray (Stop thinking of that book!) in the world and evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes is one of the ways we can kick our self confidence in the teeth. As a recovering perfectionist I know this only too well. Nothing is ever black or white.
If our team doesn’t win the account it’ll be all my fault
I must have done something wrong
This is where you take events personally – Taking personal responsibility for failures even when others have been involved or events were not fully in your control.
If I don’t get excited about it I won’t be as disappointed if I doesn’t come off.
I feel nervous about it - I just know this project isn’t going to work.
– ' I feel it, therefore it must be true' , 'If I feel ugly and stupid, then I must actually be ugly and stupid'
– or ' I feel guilty, therefore I must have done something bad and be a bad person'.
Feelings are not facts. They can't alter the future. So if you're preventing yourself from feeling excited about something in case it doesn't happen you're robbing yourself of the job and hope and possibility that comes with it. AND you're still going to feel disappointed if it doesn't happen.
I’m a complete failure
They’re a real lightweight
This is when you come up with global ratings or labels for yourself or others. It's an extreme form of 'all-or-nothing thinking' and overgeneralisation'.
It's a way of shaming, minimizing and containing ourselves and others. Labels are so restrictive - think of the more neutral labels you may have been given in the past - daughter, kid, father, manager, blonde etc. They don't sum up the whole of who you are - they can't possibly. But the labels that we give ourselves (and others) reduce us down to just one aspect.
Labels can be really unhelpful and can lead to anger, guilt and, importantly, are so absolute that there leaves no room for change.
Try loosening some of the labels you might have for yourself. e.g.
You may do messy things sometimes but that doesn't make you 'messy.
You may talk excitedly and animatedly sometimes but that doesn't make you 'loud'
You may have made some mistakes in your time (who hasn't?) but that doesn't make you 'bad'
You are NOT your behavior.
It must have been an easy test if I passed
Thanks, but it’s not as good as if John had done it.
'they are just saying that to be nice' or that 'they are trying to get something out of me'.
This is when you play down your achievements, contribution or events. This one usually starts off with a belief in being modest. Modesty is OK - denying your achievements and the joy of them isn't.
Should’s & Must’s
She ought to know that I need the information now
I should have been able to complete it by the deadline
Everyone knows that’s the way it should be done
'should get full marks on an exam',
'you shouldn’t have made so many mistakes',
'the doctor ought to be on time'
'I must please everyone'.
These types of words are great big bell clanging signs that you're working to a set of rigid rules - sometimes for yourself and sometimes for others (usually both.)
Often these are ‘rules’ we’ve carried around unconsciously from childhood.
These rigid views or rules can generate feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, disappointment and guilt if not followed.
What's more, they can seem so absolute to us that it often takes someone else with a different viewpoint that they're not 'fact'.
Over to YOU
How do you see these aspects of unhelpful thinking showing up in your life? We all do some if not all of them and the trick is to be kind and loving to yourself when you are looking at them. How would your happiness level increase if you were able to change just one of them? Let me know in the comments.