Heads up: this is a personal post - which, now that I think of it, actually relates really well to the point I want to make today. Don't worry though - it's not all about me. If you relate to my story, there's an activity at the end of the post to help you recognize your own progress!
I'll give you a sneak peak at the moral of our story.
It's easy to overlook the positive progress you very likely are making, especially if it's not in the part of your life that you were hoping or planning to improve.
In other words, let's say that you're the type of person who defines yourself largely by your professional success and achievements. Now let's say you're not making the professional progress that you were planning to make this Spring. Try not to fall into the trap of thinking that "less professional progress than planned" is the sam thing is "no progress as a human whatsoever." THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Your brain is f***ing with you.
I need to back up and start at the beginning. Here's what happened.
I was catching up with my best friend / therapist Joannah last week when I had a really big "ah-hah" moment. It was one of those moments where I catch myself in a thought or an assumption that I would never let a client get away with in a million years.
Joannah asks me a question - that universally dreaded conversational kick-off, "So, how are you?" (Not Joannah's fault - we all do this!) I'm having sort of an "off" day in sort of an "off" month, so I say, "Eh - I'm doing alright. I'm trying not to be too hard on myself, because I know my brain probably just needs to chill out for a month or two after so much constant change. But I feel like I'm not making as much progress with my business as I want to. I mean - everything is fine. The business is growing, but I'm just not where I want to be with new projects."
She knows this, but what I mean by "constant change" is that in the past year I have:
- fallen in love on a first date with my soulmate on a completely unplanned trip to Miami (I was living in New York, him in Seattle)
- sold everything I own except for some books, clothes, art, and tech, and moved out of the Astoria apartment that had seen me through marriage, divorce, two frenchies, 8 different roommates, four cats, a depression, a business closed, a renewal, a vocation found, and a new business opened
- taken my micro-famous two french bulldogs on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Seattle, then down to Oregon
- lived in our family cabin and spent over a month with my family (the longest we've spent together consecutively since I was 18)
- participated in the Remote Year program, which had me running my business, networking in Spanish, from South America for three months
- managed a long-distance relationship through multiple time zones
- met my partner's family in Miami, and spent the holidays bonding in Spanish
- taken another cross-country road trip over the New Year - this time from Miami to Seattle, with my partner and my dogs
- moved into my partner's downtown Seattle apartment
- found, moved into, and are still in the process of furnishing a beautiful new home together
- hosted my family and friends every month for multiple week(end)s
- taken several day and weekend trips
- gotten (and am still training) a Saint Berdoodle puppy named Merlin Hagrid Severus MacSmooch
- honestly I think I'm forgetting some things, but I digress.
Joannah of course immediately agrees that yes, my brain and person should be expected to need a break after that ridiculous list. Feeling slightly mollified, I begin to switch gears - sharing all the things I'm loving about my relationship, our new home, and life in Seattle. I tell her that I'm painting regularly for the first time, and feeling connected and inspired. I tell her that my partner and I go to classes and make amazing stuff together. Just last week, we went to a glass fusing class, and made this lamp. It was so FUN, and just one of the unexpected creative outlets we've discovered together.
I tell her that I now love yard work and furniture shopping, as they contribute to this amazing new thing, "building a home with your soulmate." I've been gardening. I'm doing a slightly better job staying connected to my extended global network of favorite humans (it's a work in progress). I've been remembering everyone's birthdays. My partner and I cook together, and have started experimenting with new food and cocktail recipes together. I'm getting better at cleaning this big house regularly.
I'm able to host guests in a way that I'm proud of, in a home that I've earned. I'm making and attending all the necessary doctors appointments and generally adulting at a higher level. I'm loving my body in a completely amplified way and experimenting with new styles. Planning the future is totally invigorating instead of overwhelming. I wake up earlier than I need to, just to sit in our garden and soak up sunshine with the dogs. I feel in balance.
And here's where I had that 'ah-hah' moment mentioned above. After sharing all this with Joannah, I casually said,
"I feel like I'm really becoming the person I've always wanted to be and knew I had inside me."
At which point my coaching brain kicked in and said, "HOLD UP. That's kind of amazing! Think about what you just said! You're over here giving yourself a hard time about the level of professional progress you're making (Which, keep in mind, is still progress - business is thriving, and my roster is booming in the new market. There's no emergency at all.), when you've completely overlooked the fact that you've been doing the work of BECOMING THE PERSON YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE.
WHAT? That's huge! At least, that's what I would say to a client if they said something like that. And they do, on the regular. One I hear all the time is, "Well, if I could do ANYTHING, like in a fantasy world, I would be [insert your dream thing here]." Then they just brush it off and move right past it, wearily accustomed to assuming there's no possibility of that dream being a practical possibility. They're too old, it's too late, they'd have to go back to school, no one will love them again if they get divorced now, they're not a "real" artist - whatever excuse has been hardwired into their brain for so long, they've forgotten it's not actually a fact. At the very least, they don't know yet because it hasn't happened.
As a coach, I always interrupt at those moments to say, "wait - is that #worsecasescenario you're obsessing over real? Let's take a look at what assumptions you're making, whether they're correct, and whether this line or thinking is either accurate or helpful."
In my case, my unhelpful assumptions were negatively impacting my self-perception and hampering my forward motion. The story I was telling myself is that I wasn't making any progress, when really I've made enormous personal progress. I was also assuming that I was definitely going to make progress. With all of the change I've chosen over the past year, I could have gotten overwhelmed and lost my business. My mental health could have become unmanageable. My best friends could have given up on me when I couldn't figure out the many time zones. So in making these assumptions, I wasn't just denying myself credit where it was due, I was allowing my self-image to be affected by information that was inaccurate.
Critter Brain: You haven't made any products yet this year like you said you were going to, you imposter. You're not making any progress in life.
Evolved Human Brain: Wait, but is that accurate? Have you made any progress in your business other than making products?
Critter Brain: Yes.
Evolved Human Brain: Cool. Let's explore those in a minute. Have you made progress in any other parts of your life other than just your business?
Critter Brain: Now that you mention it...*writes extensive list*
Evolved Human Brain: My work here is done.
At the end of the day, brain-based coaching is all about taking a step back to assess the quality of information your brain is delivering.
For example, if you don't know that your brain is evolutionarily wired to fixate on the negative, you might relate to your brain's anxiety as real information. An accurate read on the situation. If you know how your brain works, you can investigate where that information comes from and act accordingly.
For me, the real story is evolving. The progress I made took a lot of work, a lot of really honest, open conversation, and a lot of saying "yes" when my brain said "no," It meant taking risks that made me super uncomfortable. But I've always believed the immersion method is the superhighway to growth, and I practice what I preach.
Recognizing that I was getting bad information has shifted my perspective in a really helpful way, which is the first step. The next step is staying disciplined around this new (accurate, logical) belief. Make this your new "go-to" thinking habit instead of being a d*** to yourself all the time.
Here's the first question to ask yourself: are you making any assumptions about your progress just because it isn't where you expected, planned or want it to be?
Here are the next questions.
- Where in your life do you expect yourself to make progress right now? (i.e. at work, in your relationships, with your friends, with your parents, with your health...)
- In way particular way? (You expected yourself to lose 10 lbs by May 15th.)
- Have you made progress in that way? (Yes, partly, or no.)
- If not, have you made progress in any other part of that area? (Maybe you haven't lost 10 lbs, but have you gotten stronger? Have you gotten better at being disciplined about going to the gym? Are you physically more comfortable and confident? Did you realize you needed help and reach out to a trainer?)
- Either way, have you made progress in any other parts of your life? If so, explain. (So maybe you've made no progress with your health, but you really showed up when your friend went through a recent divorce, and your friendship has really been strengthened, and you're proud of yourself for living up to your values as a friend.)
Now you simply have to practice reminding your brain of the correct information next time the negative (assumption-based) thought comes up!
Not too hard, and a super helpful way to shift your perspective so that you are acknowledging the real progress you've made and continue to make. This isn't about lying to yourself about how great you are. This is about acknowledging that the worst possible outcome you're fixating on isn't necessarily the truth, and doing the work to surface what IS happening. Good or bad, this information will help you identify and take the most helpful next steps. Good luck!