How many of us struggle with believing we need to think in a way that doesn’t come naturally to us?
How many times have you felt like the way that you tackle problems has left you feeling like you were not enough? Early on in my career I was labelled as a “breakthrough thinker that can’t deliver”. Anyone who has had a bad appraisal knows that the sting of criticism lasts longer than the glow of praise. Multiple studies have shown that people pay keen attention to negative information — I read only recently that when asked to recall important emotional events in their lives, people remember four negative memories for every positive one.
The sting of this comment has lasted many years and it’s something that still makes me wince. To be honest, even today, many years later I’m left wondering whether I should really be sharing this skeleton or not. A big part of me fears judgement, but I have a niggling feeling that I should as it’s an opportunity to vanquish it once and for all. I recently watched Stutz (2022) on Netflix — a documentary with Jonah Hill interviewing his psychiatrist, Phil Stutz. Aside from the plethora of actionable tools which could make us all think and feel better, the biggest thing I connected with from their conversation was when Phil Stutz says “You can’t move forward without being vulnerable”. Oof, that really spoke to me.
I’ve spent many years feeling under the heavy weight of expectation to work in a way that does not necessarily come naturally to me
Some of this projected onto me, but some of it invariably self-inflicted. Consequently, I’ve spent way too long trying to stamp down my strengths and lean into my weaknesses. Early on in my career I had a boss who would send me off to a meeting room, ordering me not to come out again until I’d written a one pager of the points I wanted to make, before allowing me to translate it into slides. I would go and sit in that room and my head would go blank — I’d be on the verge of tears, getting more and more frustrated at myself for the words just not coming.
I was left feeling like there was something wrong with me.
Thankfully I had enough grit and determination at that time to not be completely crushed and I kept going. It encouraged me to find somewhere else to work that celebrated individual differences and didn’t try to enforce some cookie cutter view of what a strategist should look like. A place that celebrated cognitive diversity.
As an extrovert, I get a lot of energy and inspiration from riffing with those around me to road test my ideas
I do some of my best thinking when I hear myself speaking explaining my thinking out loud, sharing my ideas for others to build on, getting input and iterating. It helps me strengthen my arguments, spot any gaps or errors in logic to get it to the strongest place possible.
I used to think that road testing ideas at an earlier stage was a sign of weakness, but I’ve managed to reframe that over the years — being open early on is in fact a sign of strength which takes others on the journey with you. Taking a more conversational and iterative approach enables faster decision making, and saves time later down the line as everyone feels more involved in the solution and has some skin in the game. It also serves as a great learning opportunity for others by laying your thinking patterns bare for others to see how you do it and help them find their own unique flair.
If you’re feeling locked in a way of working that doesn’t fit your natural style, it could be time to switch things up a bit:
- Try adopting a more experimental approach — share hypotheses and thinking early doors with peers and people you trust. My partner, parents, friends, colleagues and even my 12-year-old son are some of my go-tos to help me see gaps in my logic and uncover what I’ve missed
- Mix up your environment to uncover when, where and how you do your best thinking. For me, I go for a walk, take my phone and chat into the voice memo app. I might look a bit odd mumbling to myself, but it helps me get a breakthrough when I am feeling stuck, so it’s worth the occasional funny stare
- Fight the urge to fit in. People pleasing might not feel so bad — a little self-editing or altering of your behaviour here and there, but it all adds up. If you don’t agree with something, try standing your ground on the small stuff at first — this will naturally build your confidence and you’ll get more comfortable with being the one to share the uncomfortable truths
As January has now drawn to a close and 2023 is laid out ahead of us, what are the things that you could let go of this year that no longer serve you? There has never been a better moment to step into your power.
Featured Image: Vanessa Jimenez / Diversifylens