1. Unpack Your Emotions
The first strategy I want to talk about is the importance of moving through your emotions.
“It’s okay to not feel good. It doesn’t mean I’m bad. It doesn’t mean that I’m never going to succeed. It just means that I don’t feel right, right now, and I need to address that. [I think] The worst thing you can do is not address it.”
– Dani Balenson in an interview with 99U
A common example we see at school or in the workplace is when someone says, “I’m stressed.” But is it stress? Or are you overwhelmed because of the amount of work on your plate? Are you feeling defensive because of something that upset you during the day? Or is it dread because you’re not getting the kind of work that you want to be doing?
What is the actual emotion you are feeling, and why are you feeling it?
Researcher, Susan David, explains:
“Emotional agility is more than just an acceptance of emotions. We also know that accuracy matters. When we label our emotions accurately, we are more able to discern the precise cause of our feelings. And what scientists call the readiness potential in our brain is activated, allowing us to take concrete steps forward.”
At work, sometimes I find myself thinking, “Get it together. I can’t be anxious, right now. I shouldn’t feel this way.” And instead of working through what I was feeling, I’d end up spending way more time and energy trying to disassociate myself from my emotions.
In order to identify the problem, give yourself the permission to feel and move through your emotions.
The next time you feel pressure, take a second to show up and sit with yourself. Think of it as a Q+A session with yourself:
What feelings do I notice?
What do I think caused it?
What actions do I need to take to move forward?
Do I need to reach out for support?
It’s also helpful to write out your thoughts or talk it out with a friend when you’re having a hard time processing your emotions on your own. It acts as a sounding board to help you better understand what you’re feeling and why.
2. Set Your Intentions
The second strategy is getting in the habit of evaluating the intentions behind your goals. It’s important to be able to distinguish between:
A healthy-striving goal that focuses on your growth and self-improvement.
An unhealthy goal that is driven by perfectionism and the approval of others.
Case in point–it’s easy to get in the habit of approval seeking when it comes to delivering work to an authority figure. In school, you might have a habit of catering your work to your professor because you know that if you do x, y, and z, you’ll get a good grade. Instead of continuing that habit of approval seeking, what if you picked a healthy striving goal?
When I first started working in the design industry, a mistake I used to make was centering my goals around the approval of others on my team. I used to ask myself things like: How can I impress my boss? How can I be recognized for my skills? How can I make my coworkers like me?
What I failed to recognize at the time, was that these goals were ultimately tying my self-worth to the approval of others.
Author, researcher, and psychologist, Brené Brown, explains it like this:
“If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble. But if the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. I get going by making authenticity the priority.”
Now, I try to set goals that are rooted in personal growth. Instead, I ask myself:
̶H̶o̶w̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶I̶ ̶i̶m̶p̶r̶e̶s̶s̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶b̶o̶s̶s̶?̶
How can I do work that I’m most proud of?
̶H̶o̶w̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶I̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶r̶e̶c̶o̶g̶n̶i̶z̶e̶d̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶s̶k̶i̶l̶l̶s̶?̶
How can I continue to master my skills and create value for my team?
H̶o̶w̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶I̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶c̶o̶w̶o̶r̶k̶e̶r̶s̶ ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶m̶e̶?̶
How can I create meaningful connections with my coworkers while expressing my authentic self?
3. Plan Not Only for Success, but for Failure
When it comes to mapping your goals, it’s important to consider the potential obstacles you might face to prepare yourself for the mistakes and roadblocks ahead. After all, you’re human.
In an activity known as “fear-setting,” author Tim Ferriss outlines a series of exercises to help plan for failure:
1. Think of a goal you want to achieve. This could be a small task, a deliverable, or even as big as picking up an entirely new skill.
2. Define the obstacles to your goal. What are some of the worst things that could happen?
3. How might you prevent those obstacles? Or at the very least, decrease their likelihood. What actions would you need to take? From here, you’ll start to develop a list of steps that’ll help prevent those fears or obstacles from happening.
4. How might you repair the situation? Consider the steps you might take to move forward if you came face to face with that fear or obstacle. Who could you ask for help?
By going through these four steps, you’ll get a better understanding of the immediate obstacles and start preparing an emergency list of steps to take to even during your worst-case scenario.
4. Stay Grounded
Now, sometimes things don’t always work out as planned. You might make a mistake, and sometimes that mistake can trigger self-criticism.
Maybe you applied to an internship and didn’t get it, triggering the thought, “I’m not good enough. Nobody wants me. I’m getting left behind.”
The best thing you can do in that moment is to counter your negative self-talk with grounded statements that bring you back to reality.
But I don’t mean overly positive statements like, “It’s ok, you’re amazing!” because in those moments, you’re going to find it hard to believe. In order to rationalize with yourself, these statements need to be realistic and grounded in facts (not to say you’re not amazing).
For example, you might think a negative, self-critical statement like:
“I didn’t get the job. I’m not good enough.”
In that moment, reflect on the facts, and reframe your thoughts:
“I didn’t get the job, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. Just last week, I got positive feedback on an assignment that I was really proud of.”
“I showed up and did the best I could and that’s something to be proud of.”