After interviewing a number of accomplished leaders, Warren Bennis stated, “I believe..that everyone, of whatever age and circumstance, is capable of self-transformation.” This accurately and succinctly defines my mindset and is the foundation upon which I begin constructing personal growth for my clients and students.

Ironically, this belief, at once so powerful and positive, also creates a barrier to growth. This simple sentiment seems so affirming and “right” and yet when we sit with the statement it reforms and is seen as being overwhelmingly audacious. The reason behind this misshaped mental perspective is that we have become socialized to believe in the myth that being exceptional is reserved for the few. We quickly revert back to cultural common sense and remind ourselves that this magical act of transformation cannot in reality be accomplished by all of us. It is as if to accept the notion that we all can be exceptional is not only ludicrous, but also ultimately unattainable.

So a deeply held truth, “all are capable”, is drown out by cultural messages of conformity, resulting in the majority of people accepting mediocrity of self. We quickly throw off our mindset of wonderment that we gladly wore in childhood and become content, sadly, we willingly become average.

There are many reasons for this, and the majority of them tend to reside in the self. We all are ultimately accountable for how we think. Yes, early on we are instructed and shaped, but all of us grow up and have a choice. We can look at what we believe and how we think, and more importantly why we believe what we believe. Once reviewed we can then reshape our thoughts and beliefs from what is, to what is possible.

This is not an easy process, as we develop we condition our minds to think a certain way and like any habit, it takes concentrated effort to change.

The process begins by specifically identifying what our mind is telling us versus what we deeply hold to be true. Once we separate our “story” from our embedded truths we can then accept that we all struggle with cognitive distortion, and then confidently move forward to change our thought process and perspective.

Many of my clients and students struggle with and are guided by the specific distortion of jumping to conclusions. This is a proactive defense mechanism they have learned from experiencing disappointment and not being “seen” by others. This commonly shows up in one of two ways. The first way is when a person makes negative assumptions about how people see you without evidence or factual support. The second way it becomes visible is when individuals make negative predictions about the future without evidence or factual support.

I struggled with this mental distortion early on in my corporate career after being manipulated by others that played politics as a means of positioning themselves for promotion. It did not take long for my mind to be trained to not trust and to question the motivation of others. The result was I learned to rapidly jump to conclusions as a method of getting the upper hand, believing this would protect me from getting hurt. Of course this did little to help and actually caused me to damage relationships and business because of misreading situations and intent.

Reshaping how we think is not only possible, but also critical to experience true growth. When you commit to this, you must also commit to redefining failure. Failure must shift from lacking competence or potential to as Ken Robinson says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” What is so significant about this perspective is that it supports the truth that we are all uniquely gifted to become what we were always meant to be. It is essential that we give up and let go of the belief that trying and failing at something equates to “you are a failure”.

So when we objectively look at why we jump to conclusions, it boils down to fear. It makes sense. Most emotional issues have to do with rigid patterns of thinking associated with the body’s fear response.

What follows are four steps to help you think and feel a different way.

  1. See your response patterns as learned brain-strategies.

Cognitive distortions are learned strategies that your brain adapted because they ‘worked’ to protect you. Giving them up is a matter of reshaping your thoughts.

  1. Be objective, see your behavior as a problem located outside of who you are as a person.

Take a moment to consciously sit and reframe a certain thought or behavior pattern so you can clearly see what is true and what is not true.

It’s about taking back control of your mind and emotional states, and consciously navigating your responses to life.

  1. Maintain a clear vision to refocus your energies on your core values.

With a clear vision and understanding of your core values, your body and mind galvanizes, and focuses your emotional energy to create thoughts, ideas, and actions that align with your new, positive vision.

  1. Vision without the courage to act is aimless; so take action to express your commitment to this new vision and value.

Action solidifies the thoughts. It confirms that the first three steps really matter. Your mind follows your lead the more you persuade it that you can handle feelings of inadequacy, rejection, loss of control or abandonment. The more you practice a behavior, the more likely it becomes a learned pattern and the quicker it becomes the preferred response to a situation.

The bottom line is, you can conquer toxic thinking and reshape cognitive distortion by consciously shifting your views and actions. As I tell my clients and students, and remind myself daily, you get to consciously choose what you will create or change.

It is only when we step back from the chaos that we begin to see the patterns previously hidden from our view. It is only then, removed from the cultural noise, that we can begin to consciously act to create a new life.

-- mike


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