Sheila (not her real name) is an incredibly intelligent, successful doctor. She has years of experience in a role that greatly impacts and influences a varied, large number of people. It wouldn’t surprise me if many of those people look at Sheila and admire her quiet confidence, strength of character and ability to get results.
What they might not expect is that Sheila, like many of us, has “that voice inside” that increases her anxiety, diminishes her confidence and dilutes her focus on priorities. She has discovered that when she tunes into that self-talk, she usually discovers why she’s not being her best self.
Then came the Aha! moment—make that THREE!
Sheila recognized the power of self-talk and determined to combat negative messages with empowering mantras. She crafted three that bring her back to a place of confidence, calm and focus. Like Sheila, you may find them to be a shelter in your storm.
When freaked out, scattered or afraid, Sheila asks herself what more she could possibly do in the moment to address the person or circumstance that is creating anxiety. If she lands on something actionable, she either does it or schedules a time in her calendar to fix the situation. If not, she breathes deeply and repeats:
“I’m doing my level best and that’s enough.”
At first it may feel vaguely true. As she concentrates on how she’s done her best and recognizes that she really is enough, however, that truth crystalizes. Her emotional energy calms and clearer thinking returns. She’s doing her best and that’s enough. She’s enough.
Recently, while working on a statewide initiative, she found herself agitated and unhappy. Too many issues were out of her control. So she asked herself what more she could do. She had provided all the information in her expertise and answered all the questions she could answer. She concluded that she had done her best, and—guess what?—that was enough. She felt a tangible melting of anxiety that started from her head, flowed gently through her neck and disappeared as her heartbeat slowed and muscles relaxed. Calm, blessed calm.
It’s not always easy to remain calm during the storms of uncertainty. When teaching health professionals to develop and use coaching skills with their patients and clients, I emphasize that we help them most when we teach them it’s okay to be uncertain. It’s natural for them to seek answers, cures and solutions. Most people may prefer to skip the struggle, the discomfort.
As their coach, though, it’s often our discomfort, not theirs, that motivates us to skip the messy parts of their struggle with uncertainty, change or difficulty. We need to feel like we’re doing something more tangible to help. However, it is far more empowering to show someone they can persevere through the mess and make wise decisions—even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
Leaning into discomfort like this was something Sheila never learned. In fact, just the opposite. She learned in medical school to simply dismiss the fear, anger and anxiety that pushed its way into her psyche. Although she learned to persevere, she could not live fully with discomfort. Recognizing this, Sheila repeats, out loud:
“I know how to persevere. I can and will manage this discomfort.”
She then pauses and acknowledges the discomfort. Accepts it. Explores it. Asks what it wants to teach her, and what she needs to remedy it. She may not desire the discomfort that accompanies negative emotions, but allows it to provide the wonderful gift of insight.
Negative emotions played a role, literally, in Disney’s Inside Out. It was fascinating to witness the positive impact of Sadness. Her usefulness. Her impact. Her necessary role in informing Riley (the main character) of her needs and wants. The movie also featured Anger, Disgust, Fear and Joy.
As fans of the movie’s exploration of emotions and how they impact our behavior, Sheila and I used those characters in a recent discussion to help her make an informed, aligned, wise and important decision about her career.
Assessing her options, Sheila asked questions such as “What does Sadness need?” “What would fuel Joy?” “What does Fear need to know?” “What would Anger want in this?” “How would Disgust respond and how can I address that?”
Sheila’s willingness to explore the emotional aspects of decision-making was refreshing. So often the executives I partner with would rather eat worms than discuss their feelings. Yet here’s a successful, influential leader who’s willing to recognize when she’s doing her best and be satisfied that it’s enough. She’s enough. She acknowledges that she’s learning, and discomfort plays an important part in that.
Another refreshing trait is Sheila’s spiritual perspective, and her desire to keep it front and center in her life. For her, that means honoring God. Intentionally seeking to discover how her gifts, experiences, temperament and current role allow her to glorify Him. Trusting He has created her for a purpose.
This knowledge of being divinely created, even with our perceived flaws, convinces Sheila that limitations are not bad or wrong. They just are, possibly to keep her from believing she is so self-reliant that she doesn’t need others. To remind herself of this, she repeats:
“If I really desire to live a God-centered life of wisdom, limitations are part of the human experience.”
In this mantra she also addresses the wisdom of self-compassion. She is human, flawed, interdependent and capable of showing herself the same grace and care she shows others. This calms her mind and heart, while encouraging her to continue learning and growing without labeling herself inadequate.
Pretty cool, huh? I’d rate her Aha! moments up there with the best of them! Thanks, “Sheila”, for graciously allowing me to share them.
- In what area(s) of life might you acknowledge you’re doing your level best? What can you tell yourself so you believe it’s enough? That you are enough? It doesn’t mean you’re done growing, changing and evolving. It just means that for right now, today, you are worthy. You are enough.
- Think of a decision you need to make and “speak” to your own emotions of Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger or Disgust. What does each of these emotions need to move forward? To diminish the negative emotions while learning from them? To fuel the positive emotion of Joy to increase your energy and commitment through change, uncertainty or tough times?
- We each have a deep need to make a difference, to matter to others, to pursue a purpose and find meaning deeper than ourselves. We must find a way to serve and love beyond ourselves to feel we are a part of the human experience in a meaningful way. How do you desire to live? For what purpose?
I describe ten M.A.P.s (mantras, attitudes and perspectives) in my book Progress Not Perfection: Your Journey Matters that work for me. What mantras work for you? How do they make a difference? I’d love to hear!