I often ask my clients, “If anything will get in your way, what will it be?” It’s an important question, especially during this time of year.
Holidays can be both joyful and complicated. Expectations are high, and we can feel tangled and conflicted. We daydream things like, The holidays will be perfect! Our family will enjoy special times together! All my gifts will bring joy and excitement! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
And then reality happens. But did the situation really not go well, or did we just expect too much?
Ah, internal roadblocks. These mental obstacles are thoughts no one else can see, but they reappear again and again, and they change our responses and the decisions we make.
We expect too much. We conclude that the problem is bigger than us. We have ideas we never act upon. We get in our own way, and the great thing that could have been never was.
I spoke to a college MBA class this week and asked them to share their “favorite” internal obstacles:
- Expectations that make anything less of a disappointment
- Perfectionism that makes us feel we are never quite ready
- Risk aversion that convinces us we need to know a little more
- Procrastination that assures us we have plenty of time
- Lack of confidence and belief in ourselves that tells us we surely don’t know enough
- “I’m too ________” syndrome that keeps us stuck believing that we are too young, too old, too female or too different to know the right answer
In my research about “Wave Makers” for my book Make Waves, I discovered that those who started big changes were extraordinary because of their thoughts that drove optimism, resilience, belief in themselves and others, and the confidence to keep learning.
So how do you keep moving forward in a constructive way when your head is telling you no? A very important element of productive thought is staying focused on contributing rather than looking for the approval or acceptance of others. You show up differently when your only objective is to contribute.
Here are tips to stop your head from tripping you up before your next big meeting, event or even a holiday gathering:
1. Ask yourself how you can contribute.
You don’t have to be the smartest or the most experienced person in the room to contribute. What do you bring to the party?
2. Think about the problem to solve, not the people.
What problem needs to be solved or what opportunity is there to pursue? Keep your mind there. This keeps your energy on the results. I loved the recent advice I heard for new graduates: Rather than focusing on the job you want, focus on the problems you want to solve.
3. Stop seeking approval or validation.
Not everyone will agree with you or love your ideas or suggestions. Don’t expect appreciation for being a contributor when that is what you are supposed to do.
4. Don’t wait to be asked.
Expect that you have a role to play and that you are there for a reason. Don’t give your power away by waiting for someone to prompt you to contribute.
5. Stop the comparisons.
It isn’t helpful to evaluate yourself against others or a situation to how you hoped it would be. Thoughts like they are so much smarter/so much more experienced than me and I’m the youngest person here are self-sabotaging and irrelevant. So is hanging on to the thought that I pictured this so differently. These thoughts get in the way of what you are there to do.
Keep your mind set on what can I do? and how can I help?—it’ll keep you focused on what you can influence and control.
You are in charge of you. Your actions begin with your thoughts. Get out of your own way and contribute, especially during the busy holiday season.
This article was published in December 2015 and has been updated. Photo by Gustavo Frazao/Shutterstock
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.