Most of us live in a culture that gives the message that our thoughts control our actions. This assumption seems benign but it actually creates a problem for us. The problem is, if we treat this assumption as true, then, if we want to be successful, we have to first get our thoughts ‘right’ (‘I am capable of being a great team leader'; ‘I will do a good job of giving this feedback'; ‘I am going to write a really good blogpost’) and that is actually really hard. I tell myself ‘I am capable of being a great team leader’ and my mind says ‘Yes, but what about the time you...’
A more useful approach is to build our capacity to observe our thoughts and then choose which thoughts to act on and which ones to just let play in the background. To get some space between ourselves and the endless stream of thoughts our minds come up with.
The more skilful we can become at observing rather than acting on our thoughts, the more freedom we have to take actions that create the outcomes that are important to us.
In this beautiful TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, (author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘) explores the strategies she used to get some distance from thoughts that were plaguing her that her ‘greatest creative success was behind her’ and ‘creativity is inherently linked to anguish’.
As she explores these idea’s, she uses the gorgeous phrase:
‘You look at it even from half an inch away’.
It is in that space. The space between you and your thoughts, even if it is only half an inch, that freedom can be found*.
When that space is available to you during your next feedback conversation, you can be present with the other person. You can really notice their responses. You can observe your own behaviour and shift it from moment to moment as you see what is and isn’t working. And in the background your mind is gabbling away – ‘She is going to hate me'; ‘This is going terribly'; ‘I hope I can get out of here soon'; ‘What if she puts in a bullying complaint against me’ and having those thoughts is okay because it is just your mind doing what minds do and you don’t have to pay it a lot of attention.
(*For any ACT experts out there – this is a quote from someone but I can’t remember who! Let me know so that I can credit them!)