How To Quiet The Negative Thoughts That Are Killing Your Career

If you ever wondered why that nagging voice of self-doubt and fear of failure inside your head won't quiet down, you are not alone. Shirzad Chamine, chairman of CTI, the largest coach-training organization in the world, calls it "the universal condition"—and shares useful tactics for silencing the saboteurs.

 

If you ever wondered why that nagging voice inside your head persists in plaguing you with self doubt or worse, fear that you won’t succeed no matter how hard you work, you are not alone. Far from it.

Shirzad Chamine, chairman of CTI, the largest coach training organization in the world, calls it "the universal condition" because he’s witnessed hundreds of otherwise intelligent executives fall victim to these so-called "saboteurs" over the course of his 30-year career. 

"It saddens me," Chamine tells Fast Company, that only 20 percent of teams and individuals achieve their true potential, despite team building retreats and leadership workshops. In a series of lectures at Stanford, Chamine found that over 95 percent of participants confessed that these negative thoughts were causing "significant harm" to their ability to achieve happiness and success. 

On index cards, he encouraged attendees to write down (anonymously) their deepest fear. What he received were statements such as "I feel my success has been a result of luck and circumstance and one day everything may come crashing down" and "I fear dying at an early age from overwork and stress" to "what I am doing doesn’t matter to anyone" and "I fear I will die without having any impact on my world."  

Chamine pauses after reading this sobering list, then says, "Think about it. Only 4 percent said they don’t have [these thoughts]. The most dangerous is the one you don’t even know that exists."

After years of research and work with executives at Hewlett Packard, Wells Fargo, and Visa International, among other Fortune 500 companies, Chamine concludes that it all goes back to our ancestors’ mindset. "Sooner or later you were going to be eaten by tiger. That’s good for physical survival, but evolution doesn’t care if you are happy," he explains. What’s needed now he says, is a shift from fear-based survival mode to positive self actualization. To break the cycle, Chamine recommends tapping into your positive intelligence (PQ as opposed to IQ) to help ward off the self-doubt and get out of our own way. 

In fight-or-flight mode, the brain automatically constricts peripheral vision designed for escape. Unfortunately, Chamine says, when your mind is telling you to run and look for signs of danger, you have to work harder to see opportunities. The results of this positive vs. negative pull have been measured by different researchers and are outlined in his book Positive Intelligence. For example, salespeople with higher PQ scores sold 37 percent more and teams led by higher PQ leaders perform 31 percent better. Here are some pointers.

Cultivate Strength

Chamine’s regimen for strengthening the positive part of the brain is like doing simple, repetitive exercises at the gym. For instance, if you hear that voice telling you that you’re stupid or a fraud after a misstep in a meeting, take a moment to acknowledge what you hear, then reset to the empathic part of your brain by tuning in to your breathing or counting your toes. Chamine says it should only take three weeks to retrain your mind by doing positive reps every time the negative thoughts come crowding in. 

Have Patience

Setbacks are inevitable, says Chamine, because in business we make mistakes all the time. "If you get mad and impatient you are activating the ‘judge,’" his term for the main saboteur doing a number on our minds. "All I want you to do is just label it and use it as a signal to do a PQ rep," he says, to turn an agent of destruction into one of transformation. "Empathize with the fact that you are imperfect, then you are not falling into the lie that you have to beat yourself up in order to get things done."

Focus Better

In many businesses "we mistake urgency with frenzy," says Chamine. But in order to achieve the best results what’s needed is a calm focus. Chamine points to Star Wars character Yoda who, when getting attacked from all sides, retained total calm focus in order to vanquish the enemy. "The only way you can go into urgent action is to be totally centered. If Yoda, even for a second, gets pissed off or anxious, in that moment of hesitation they are going to get him." 

This is an especially important point for leaders, says Chamine, because if they are anxious their staff tends to mimic the mood. "Leaders are the central energy generators, literally without saying a word," he says.

Take Smarter Risks

Organizations and leaders need to ask what the relationship is with mistakes, Chamine maintains. Acknowledging that you may reach greater success if you think out of the box also comes with the risk of making more visible mistakes. "If you are run by a saboteur you will stay in the box," he says. On the other hand, if you work every day without fear of mistakes, especially in areas that deal with rejection like sales, the time it takes to recover and pick up the phone to try the next prospect is shorter and more productive. 

Be a Thought Leader  

Chamine says cultivating this part of the brain can help anyone, not just leaders. "It’s better than active listening. It’s a new conversation," he observes. Silencing the saboteurs not only helps us get out of our own way but also allows us to be led by self expression. "There is a joy and curiosity in succeeding while having fun and getting the life you want."

[Image: Flickr user Paul Hart]