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Stop breathing your own exhaust


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I once heard a comedian say his brain was his favorite body part – but then he questioned the source of his thought.

Breathing your own exhaust is dangerous. It has nothing to do with your car and everything to do with an isolated mind that starts believing it is your favorite body part and infallible. If it thinks it, it’s fact. As in, I think I’m always right. Or, I think I’m a fraud. Or, I think all of my people are weak. Or, I don’t need evidence; I know what my customers want. I’m really good at X. I’m really bad at Y. The list goes on and on.

You’d be amazed at the number of extremely talented people I’ve worked with who’ve had terribly wrong thoughts about themselves, others or their situation that they were sure were true.

Gary Harvey, who writes for CoBiz, has an amusing way of addressing this from a sales perspective. According to Gary, many of these wrong thoughts are our parents’ fault. Mom said: “You should never ask difficult questions!” so you internalize her message and fail as a result. He further says that when you get out of your car to attend a meeting with a prospect: “Lock Mom and Dad in the car. Crack the window a bit if it’s hot, but don’t bring them into a meeting.”

The messages that rattle around in your brain can either help or harm. The challenge is knowing which is which and how to correct the harmful ones. You have to work on getting out of your own way.

What harmful messages are you repeating to yourself? Although you might need some help identifying them, you probably know one or two. Here are a few I’ve encountered frequently in otherwise extremely successful executives over the years:

  • I must appear to be in control all the time.
  • I must have all the answers.
  • Conflict is bad.
  • I cannot learn how to communicate well.
  • The company is failing. I must be an idiot!
  • The company’s success is all because of me. I must be brilliant!
  • I can do everyone else’s job better than they can, so I should.
  • I’m the CEO – I shouldn’t need help.

Once you identify the incorrect or limiting thought, it doesn’t do much good to just say, “Stop it!” You must replace the thought with an appropriate one and make yourself believe it. (By the way, one of the funniest clips I’ve ever seen on YouTube is Bob Newhart playing a psychologist dealing with this issue. Here’s the link.)

This is not easy, often requires help and takes lots of repetition, but it works. There are, however, limitation: I’ve been telling myself I look like Antonio Banderas for years, but my wife says it’s not working.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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