Some time ago I wrote an article on LinkedIn entitled ‘The Power of Negative Thinking’. It was for all those negative thinkers in my life who deserved some sort of recognition for the particular ‘gifts’ ! they bring with them to the world. The article was written from the perspective (mine!) of someone who believes in the positive, even with the most challenging people or situations. However, I have to admit that I was confronted with my own negative thinking recently.
I had to face my fear of flying head on, once and for all, just before Christmas. I had tried hypnotherapy, drugs (the legal kind!), relaxation techniques and so forth over the years but the anxiety persisted with the result that I avoided flying if possible. My nephew was getting married on December 21st in Edinburgh and in spite of my best efforts to negotiate rail, sail, car and any other land and sea based options I could think of, I realised that if I was to attend the wedding I needed to fly. I also realised that as a coach supporting others to challenge their self-limiting beliefs, I needed to challenge my own if I was not to be a hypocrite.
The evidence was clear – flying is still the safest form of transport in spite of recent tragic exceptions. I told myself that all would be well. I chose positive statements about the experience of flying to feed my mind and within a few days all nervousness, stomach churning and anxiety had subsided. My rational mind, rather than my primitive reactive mind, was now in charge. I continued to feed my mind with affirmations which supported my goal over the weeks leading up to my take off on December 20th!
Around the same time, a client came to me for coaching, very distressed after thirty five years as a successful business woman. She had lost her self-belief and her confidence to the point that she believed she was a failure and wanted to walk away from a hugely successful career. My first question probed what had caused this loss of nerve and my second asked what evidence or data supported her belief that, after thirty five years in her career, she was a failure.
My client laughed when I asked her for all the evidence to support her view that she ‘would be found out as a failure’, particularly as she saw I was ready to jot down all the ‘data’, just to make the point! She gradually accepted that the loss of self belief had come from an adversarial confrontation which she felt she had handled badly. Worse still, for her, she felt she had let others down. What became clear to her through the coaching process was that she had allowed a particularly negative experience to take over her thinking to the point that she was unnerved and incapacitated.
Through our coaching sessions she realised that she needed to believe in herself again, devise strategies to deal with her fear of confrontation in the sometimes adversarial work she was involved in. She gradually took back control of her thinking, acknowledging the reality of her successful career as well as harnessing her own innate resourcefulness. She eventually accepted and was enthused by what a leader she is in her particular speciality and embraced both her past success and her future with renewed enthusiasm.
Through the coaching sessions, by using helpful tools to set goals, she came up with some amazing approaches to deal with her anxiety about managing confrontation and adversarial situations. These included using positive affirmations daily, managing her breathing and her appearance, setting aside time to meditate, doing vocal exercises to control her voice projection, writing up rules of engagement for meetings and so on.
The parallel with my fear of flying was clear. I had allowed one particularly rocky flight to paralyse my experience of flying. I challenged myself with the same questions I had asked my client and very quickly felt the shift occur in my own thinking. I made the journey to Edinburgh and, apart from the inconvenience of security checks, the experience was exhilarating and life enhancing as I knew I was no longer ‘caught’ in the web of that particular negative (and untrue) thought pattern.
The reality is that many of our limitations are caused by the way we think, the tendency of the mind to swoop onto the negative and foster or ‘mind’ it as though it was true. So often we achieve far less than our potential by dwelling in barren thinking patterns. Another client came to me totally devastated by financial issues caused by failed investments as the Celtic Tiger collapsed. These had impacted on his marriage and family life. Everything was going wrong and he had lost hope.
Again through asking some powerful questions and listening with intensity, the reality of how great this person was came through. However, he had created a completely negative ‘script’ for himself that held him captive, unable to soar as he had once done in all aspects of his life. One reality was that he owed mega money to the Banks but the other reality was that he had a great wife, family, friends, talent as well as huge resources within himself.
He also had core values which he had lost sight of but once recovered gave him the direction he was looking for. By challenging him to look at what really mattered to him and what it was he really wanted from life, my client began to step back from the darkness of his near dispair.
Session by session this client grew in confidence and optimism, making SMART plans, setting achievable and realistic goals, including a long-term plan to pay off his debts. Thankfully he has a great sense of humour and seeing the funny side of things helped him put things into perspective. By the end of our coaching he was walking tall and with renewed energy feeling life is worth living and even exciting. He still checks in now and then when he feels the need to be reminded of his flight path!
When someone comes for coaching, the issue of negative beliefs are often lurking under the surface. In each case a shift is possible because it becomes clear through the process that we all have the inner resources to achieve almost anything. I say ‘almost’ because obviously no matter how positive my thinking, I will never sprout wings and fly! However, I can fly with the aid of technology and a positive attitude. I can also ‘fly’ in achieving goals which may seem beyond me. We have all been made incredibly resourceful with abilities that may be hidden from us at times but with a little prompting, a few good questions and a willingness to embrace change, we can really soar!
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