Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Monthly Archives: January 2012

5 poisons of the mind – #2 – Doubt

When we doubt something, we are questioning its value. When I doubt what you say is true, I am questioning the truthfulness of what you say. When I doubt myself, I am questioning my own value and abilities.

Doubt does serve a purpose. It stops us momentarily as we evaluate something. Where doubt becomes a problem is when it becomes negative. If we doubt that we can do something, but we go ahead and try anyway, our doubt may only be a safeguard. But when we doubt and then give up without trying, we allow our own thinking to block us from growing.

Negative self-doubt is poisonous. If your first response in facing something new is, “There’s no way I can do that!”, then you very likely won’t even try, and you will have already failed. So while doubt can be a tool that serves to guide us away from danger, it can also become a weapon we use on ourselves, which guarantees our failure.

If you always choose what to do or how to think based on pessimistically doubting the value or outcome of an action or plan, then you are allowing your doubt – which exist exclusively in your own mind – to determine your future.

So learn to doubt wisely, that is, to doubt without choosing to let your doubts be your only guide.

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5 poisons of the mind – # 1 – Fear

Emotions can enrich our lives. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of pleasure that comes from accomplishing something difficult or helping someone who is in need? Who doesn’t like the delight that accompanies mastering a new skill? And who doesn’t  comprehend the relief that comes when we forgive someone who has hurt us deeply?

Emotions add color to our lives. However they can also darken our experiences, and we need to understand how to recognize and manage the emotions that don’t serve us well. Here’s my list of the 5 most dangerous ones:

Fear

Doubt

Anger

Hesitation

Surprise

Let’s look at these one at a time:

Fear causes us to freeze, to hesitate and doubt ourselves and our abilities. It is often an instinctive response to new situations and experiences. If we don’t acknowledge it and factor it into our lives it will secretly dominate our lives. What we fear controls us. It distorts our thinking and limits our willingness to grow.

We can’t will fear away. We have to work around it. And we can use it to our advantage.

Personal example: I dislike heights. Climbing ladders freaks me out. But I own a house where I have to use a ladder to do certain jobs. So I have learned to manage my fear. I know I am going to be nervous when I’m 25 feet up, so I factor this into my actions. I acknowledge the fear, and use it to slow myself down and focus on doing things safely, one step at a time. The fear doesn’t go away. I redirect it to help me succeed.

The result? I’m still afraid but I get the work done. I don’t expect the fear to go away. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. And the bonus is that now I know that fear doesn’t have to stop me. I know I can manage it and use it to perform better.

Don’t fight fear. Understand its value in protecting you and redirect its energy toward your goals.

Know when the day is over

We live in a fast-paced world. Many of us work long hours and are always on the go. Technology has made it possible to blur the line between our work life and our personal life, and this is both good and bad. Being productive is great; enjoying some down time and recreation is equally important. Working all the time isn’t healthy and is often not as productive as we imagine. Recreation and hobbies have their place. Burnout is real and more common than we may think.

I believe we need to know when the workday is over. We need to recognize when it’s time to set aside work and focus on another part of our life. If you supervise others, it’s important to know when it’s time to let your team members wind down or go home and focus on taking care of the rest of their lives so that they can come back to work ready to focus on your priorities. They will appreciate this, and will likely be more productive since they know that there is a time for work and a time for their personal lives and recreation – and that you understand this distinction.

And they’ll spend less of their time at work worrying about or actually taking care of their own personal business (instead of working), since they know they’ll have a chance to get to these things.

Respect your own and other’s need for knowing when the workday is over, and when it’s time to focus on the things we all need to do to be ready for tomorrow.

Compared To What?

I believe we all naturally compare ourselves to people we know. We instinctively want to know how much better (or worse) we are compared to them. Do they make more money than we do? Do they have more friends? Do they seem happier than we are? Are they “better” than us?

These are not healthy thoughts. Comparing ourselves and our circumstances to the very limited amount we know about other’s lives is dangerous. It is a set up for failure. Here’s why.

We can never know enough about another person’s life to make an accurate comparison with our own life. We don’t see it when the person earning $200k per year goes home to an empty apartment and drinks himself to sleep. We may see others with more “friends” than we have; but what we miss is the fact that no one really knows the person, and he has no close friends that he can count on. And if we think others are “happier” or “better” than we are, we probably don’t appreciate what we have all that much.

So go ahead and make comparisons if you wish. But understand that you will usually come out looking inferior – because you don’t have all the facts about other’s lives and rarely can get them all. It’s not fair.

There is a better way.

Instead of comparing yourself to another person, compare yourself to the person you were 10 or 20 years ago. Unless you haven’t made any attempts at all to improve yourself, you are probably a better person today than you were then.

Personal example: I knew a lot more 20 years ago than I do now. I was infallible (and probably unbearable at times.) Now I regularly pause and question my own judgment in a healthy way, as I’ve learned that being infallible carries a terrible price in human relationships. Twenty years ago I was going to change the world; now I’ll be grateful to change 1 or 2 of my own bad habits. This isn’t discouraging for me. It tells me I’ve matured in at least one area of my life. My perspective is healthier.

Compared to the person I was 20 years ago, I’m a much better person. At least I think so. And I’m much more effective in working with others than when I was the Infallible One.

So if you want a fair and realistic comparison, look back at who you were and how you have grown. I think this is a lot more satisfying and motivating than comparing yourself to people whom you really don’t know and in many ways can’t know well enough to see the full spectrum of their experiences.

If you are going to make comparisons, make helpful and positive comparisons rather than comparisons where you are guaranteed to come in second – or worse.

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