It’s All In Your Head

 In Personal Insights

By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.

I have to start this writing with a bit of shameless self-promotion – I am training to run the Boston Marathon this year.  (A personal link with more information is available below.)  Why share a personal story in a business email?   These ideas crystallized on my long run this weekend, and I had to share.

As I was struggling to keep myself moving over the long haul, I heard a voice in my head say “I need a break”.  And, then I heard a smarter voice inside my head say “Does my BODY really need a break or is it my HEAD that is tired right now?”.  Invariably, when I ask myself that question, it is my HEAD that is tired and not my body.

I kept running.  And, I kept thinking about the impact of my current mindset on my marathon training and I gained some pretty solid insights for myself.  First, I have been using language such as:   “I just hope to finish”, “I just hope to finish before the street cleaners come to close the course”, “I am petrified to miss a workout”, and I have always put the word “running” in quotes when I say I am “running” the Boston Marathon this year.

So, you know what that mental approach gets me?  It gets me exactly what I am exactly what my language is asking for – the LOWEST BAR possible and language that reflects the idea that I might just not accomplish the goal!  How’s that for motivation?  Frankly, it’s not been that encouraging for me so far.

So, I have decided to change my MINDSET and I am so confident my ACTIONS and PERFORMANCE will follow.

I am RUNNING the Boston Marathon.  And, I can’t wait to celebrate at the FINISH line.  Long and strong.  Slow and steady.  That is my new mantra.

So, what does that have to do with my work?  Everything!

There is such a magic in mindset.  When you observe someone behaving in a particular way, you can bet the behavior reflects a mindset and that mindset is likely based on a belief.  It is possible to start with a change in behavior and, over time, your mindset and beliefs will also shift.  And, sometimes that is the best route to take – if you just need to convince yourself or someone else to ‘try it and you will see’.  But most of the time, this is not going to work – it is going to lead to frustrating attempts to change behaviors or scenarios that will not be sustainable.  I work with many leaders who have tried to ‘fix situations’ or ‘change how they respond to situations’ without addressing the underlying motivation for the situation.  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t stick.

So, I typically work in the other direction when I work with teams and leaders.  I observe behaviors, then help the team or leader determine the mindset that is behind the behavior, and then get to the beliefs that underlies the mindset.

For example, if I observe a leader and hear a lot of ‘I’ statements – “I did this” and then “I did this”, I dig-in to the mindset of the leader with regard to his or her beliefs in the benefit of working with others, the confidence he or she has in team members, etc.  Once the leader recognizes what needs to change, their mindset changes and they believe in the value of making the change.  They change behaviors and it sticks.

When I work with teams and I observe language that reflects a lack of real or perceived empowerment, I dig-in to help the team discover the source of the perception and then address what needs to be addressed.  Language that reflects a victim mentality comes from somewhere – it is either real, in an environment that is hierarchical and authoritarian, or it is perceived, and the team needs to change its language and behavior.

As I was training this weekend, my workout reflected my mindset (“I just want to finish”) and was based in the belief “I’m not as strong a runner as those other marathoners”.  And, I was getting just that kind of workout.  Ugh.

But, I’ve changed my mindset and I can’t wait to see what happens in my next long run!

Click here to read more about our Boston Marathon story and fundraising efforts.

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