Making Your Mind Your Friend
There are technical challenges. There are conflicts that impede workflow. There are organisational culture issues. There are staffing barriers. All sorts of external obstacles impede growth, progress, and empowerment. And then there are internal battles. These are doubts, uncertainties, inexperience, low self-esteem and bad habits that seep into the mosaic that makes up individuals including leaders. Sometimes these bad habits impair daily performance. Other times these behaviours pop up when there’s a crisis or a difficult situation. Making your mind your friend is crucial to the meaningful personal development of both leaders and followers.
It seems strange to say that your mind can be at times your opponent. But it happens more often than you realise. You talk yourself out of something you know full well you’re capable of doing. You let the person you were 5 or 10 or twenty years ago make the decision for you today even though you are no longer that person.
Wrestling with your thoughts and harnessing their power doesn’t come easy but when you can implement techniques to do so your performance and impact will increase significantly. I’d like to share with you the insights of Abha, Katharine, and Michelle whom I’ve had the privilege of interviewing as part of a larger leadership study.
Abha Banerjee, India’s first international woman motivator, and best-selling thought Leadership author NUCLEUS: Power Women Lead from the Core, had to condition herself to shift her thoughts from being problem-oriented to being solution-oriented. It wasn’t an easy process for her; Abha explains “I come from India, eldest of three daughters in a conservative middle-class family. I had to wrestle with that conservatism and open-mindedness. Unless this is resolved, I can’t move forward. It was difficult for me as a young person to accept both (conservatism and open-mindedness). We cannot live in conflict all of the time. I wanted to take a stand, have an opinion. Life used to be black and white.”
In Abha’s case, she had to come to terms with the friction between her upbringing and her personality and disposition. Abha had to come to terms with this internal conflict, improve her awareness of its dimensions and reconcile it with herself.
Katharine, a social entrepreneur, strategist, and consultant focused cross-sector collaboration for social change, had to learn to distinguish between her thoughts and her emotions. “Depending on the circumstances I can go from feeling normal to feeling guilt and shame almost immediately. Sometimes, I also wrestle with I should have known better thoughts. While I try to check those feelings at the door, I haven’t always done so. I ask myself is this feeling rational? Or is it instinctive? I try to identify the source, name the feeling.”
When Katharine is able to correctly identify what she feels, she’s in a better position to calm her thoughts and feelings, deconstruct them, and perhaps more importantly, better understand why she’s thinking and feeling that way. Having a name to put to a state of mind is crucial to her being able to remain in control and aware of the totality of her experience.
Michelle, the founder of Citizens First Inc, a social enterprise that advocates for, educates and consults on participatory strategies to support social change, provided the inspiration for the title of this article. She observed “In my late 30s, I think it was that understanding at that point that your mind is not always your friend. You can work on your body, your diet, but your mind has a lot of crazy things. Meditation is a great way of getting to know patterns of thinking. Sometimes it’s your thinking that is moving you in the wrong direction.”
Michelle encourages meditation and curiosity. Meditation helps her become more aware of her thoughts and their consequences. Curiosity helps her challenge her thoughts by getting more information and seeing the situation from different perspectives.
All four leaders have learned different techniques to improve their self-awareness and to bring to the fore the relationship between their thoughts and their performance. While it does take time, persistence and effort, it is possible to make your mind your friend.