If you are in leadership, sales, education, team sports, or are pursuing any sort of dream, I’d like to talk specifically to you today. We’re going to discuss what I believe is one of the most challenging things for anyone and everyone in the pursuit of personal excellence: managing our thoughts. In my opinion, every attempt we make to reach and sustain a life of victory will ultimately end in frustration until we can master this one skill.
This is a tough enough feat in and of itself, but it becomes even more critical when we are responsible for leading others down the path of life. Before we even launch into this discussion, we should first clarify who a leader is. It has been said that leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less. Whether you’re leading a family, a classroom of kids, an athletic team, co-workers, a group of sales people, a local office team, or an entire company, the same principle applies. If you allow yourself and your results to be determined by the state of others, you will live a life that is tossed around like waves in the ocean. If you choose instead to become proactive and intentional with your life, you will influence others in that manner as well.
One of the founders of Starbucks was once asked how the coffee business was treating him, to which he replied, “I have no idea. I’m not in the coffee business, I’m in the people business.” Regardless of your particular business or endeavor, if you are leading others, you are in the people business. This is one of the biggest reasons why developing the skill and habit to manage your own thoughts is crucial. People are often the best and worst piece of any business. We are all susceptible to human nature, and when we don’t proactively and intentionally direct our thoughts, we end up on a path driven by default and neglect. People are emotional beasts, and we must have the fortitude to be the calm in the storm, instead of being swept away by the storm.
As leaders, this is one of those skills that falls into the “make or break” category. One of the most basic and fundamental truths we must learn to accept is that not everyone will stick around. Your employees and team will come and go. Your peers will come and go. Sometimes even your mentors may come and go. You cannot put your dreams in someone else’s hands. Don’t attach your dreams to anyone else. Period.
After you’ve been pursuing your dream for awhile, the newness wears off and the reality of hard work begins to settle in. At this point, the velvet curtain has been lifted and you will now be exposed to things that you seemed immune to before. When everything that could possibly fall apart does, refocus your eye on the prize, put your blinders on, and re-center on what you want. No matter what you’re pursuing, human nature is human nature. Some will play to win the game, some will watch the game, some will quit the game, and some will merely sit on the sidelines and criticize everything about the game. Would you agree that there is probably someone in every single occupation on earth that hasn’t done well while others did? So, when you see people come and go, you can’t let it rock your boat. Most of the time, their lack of success has more to do with their own personal situation than anything else. Ask yourself this question: have you ever worked with someone at another job who failed or quit? Did their quitting keep you from being successful at your job? Probably not. We each have our own opportunity. You must choose to take advantage of yours and not allow yourself to be distracted by what other people are doing around you.
So, what does this have to do with managing our thoughts? Remember, what you think about almost always spills over into your conversations, and what you talk about drives your actions, which determines your results. Don’t let yourself slip into scarcity mentality. Surround yourself with like-minded people who choose not to get sucked into their own life drama and really minimize the time you spend with negative, minimal thinkers. This is a ‘do or die’ life skill as far as your dreams are concerned.
Pessimism is a lethal poison to the pursuit of any victory. Have you ever met a person who claims (and perhaps even truly believes) they have a winning attitude and perspective, but in reality they seem to be a magnet for drama and dissension? These people say they are “trying” to make it work, but there seems to be more effort spent explaining the lack of success than on creating actual victories. Pessimism often comes disguised as “caution”, but any wise person will recognize negativity in the “trying” person from a mile away. Napoleon Hill, one of the most respected success experts of all time, describes it as “the habit of looking for the negative side of every circumstance, thinking and talking of possible failure instead of concentrating upon the means of succeeding. Knowing all the roads to disaster, but never searching for the plans to rise above. Only dwelling on those who have failed, and forgetting those who have succeeded.”
It should also be noted that you don’t have to start at the bottom in order to get to the top. Managing your mental state is directly linked to getting past the bottom rung on your climb to success. Most people never do it, therefore they just unknowingly settle for life at the bottom. But rising above the first or second rung is one of the most critical parts of the journey and one of the most strategic components of victory. The idea of starting at the bottom and working up may seem logical, but the problem with this conventional “wisdom” is that too many who begin at the bottom never manage to lift their heads high enough to even see the clear path of opportunity, so they remain at the bottom. Mr. Hill also has some very wise words to anyone who is discouraged at this stage: “The outlook from the bottom is not very bright or encouraging. It has a tendency to kill off ambition”. We call it ‘getting into a rut’, which means that we accept our fate because we form the habit of defeating daily routines, a habit that finally becomes so strong we cease to try to throw it off. This is another reason it pays to start at least one or two steps above the bottom. Choose to start at the beginning, not the bottom. The beginning of your journey doesn’t have to mean you’re starting at the bottom. Simply by shifting your mindset and opening your eyes to personal awareness, you can propel yourself several rungs up that proverbial ladder in an instant.
And lastly, we can’t discuss a mental makeover without at least touching on belief systems. Identifying and overcoming our limiting belief systems is a whole personal development series on its own. But for now, we’ll just skim the surface with a word of encouragement. Behind almost EVERY single “failed attempt” at success in our life is a limiting belief. And most belief systems are impossible to recognize in ourselves without deep inner work. Just like a fish doesn’t know its swimming in water, and a bird doesn’t recognize its ability to fly, we are so entrenched in our own beliefs, that we have no idea they are limiting us. Remember, “it’s easier to believe a lie we’ve heard a thousand times than a truth we’ve only heard once”.
A good way to begin the process of unearthing those limiting beliefs is to stop and take inventory of our unhealthy patterns. If we have repeating patterns of start/stop, try/fail, relationship disasters, not fully executing our plans or (never fully starting to begin with), or perpetually not manifesting our dreams and goals, then there is 100% a limiting belief (or beliefs) behind the scenes. Start looking for clues as to what those barriers might be, and perhaps we should dig deeper into this conversation in the near future. This is a mental and emotional marathon for sure, but if you’re willing to dig deep enough through the process, it can be the makeover that makes your future!