Recently, I’ve offered ideas and tools to help you to know when and how you’re defaulting into self-protective modes of thinking and behaving and why it can be a problem. Once you have awareness and acceptance, you can adopt new practices for making a change that is sustainable and move toward the life you desire.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Defaults are the “looping” patterns and habits that create our ‘comfort zone.’ Comfort zones keep you on a specific — and often predictable — path created by the decisions, relationships, and events of your past, present, and future. Staying on this path while carrying a ton of baggage with people who benefit from you staying the same will most likely never support a big change. It's like driving in the fast lane of the freeway: a sudden turn at a high speed will cause a major accident. Most people avoid making tough decisions and bold changes because they can’t see a way to change that doesn’t feel like a potential disaster.
You know this, which is why you think about change, but are hesitant to act.
Interestingly, only one percent of the possible outcomes of your life fall outside the momentum of this path. This is where radical change, the highest potential, and true innovation lie waiting. This is not only the case for your personal life, but for your professional life as well. Most people marvel at those who have accessed seemingly impossible dream lives and achievements.
I want to offer a technique that is both simple and powerful and will help you to move out of this "momentum tunnel." This technique is often referred to as one of the most effective by my coaching clients.
In a previous blog post, I offered a technique originally presented in the book Play to Win! Revised Edition: Choosing Growth Over Fear in Work and Life by the late Larry Wilson and his son, Hersch Wilson. The process is called Stop-Challenge-Choose. This tool originated from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an effective way to reduce stress, reach a state of calm, and improve relationships.
I want to expand the use of this tool to serve as a process to help you slow down before making a big life or work change. Let’s go back to the freeway metaphor. If you drive, you might agree that it’s best to plan your travel. When it’s time to exit the freeway, you probably slow down and signal before changing lanes to the right exit off-ramp. We can use this process to help you do the same when planning and making personal or professional changes.
Step 1: Stop
If you are like most of my clients, thinking about a major change can create anxiety in your body and bring up fearful, paranoid thoughts associated with doing anything other than what is in your comfort zone. This can feel like a threat to your security and safety. You can interrupt your primal response by stopping to breathe in a specific pattern for 5 to 15 minutes. This breathing pattern will help you think more clearly (every time!) and prepare for quality decision-making.
Step 2: Challenge
You are most likely living life in the fast lane, so stopping to breathe and calm your nervous system may feel awkward or like a waste of time. Taking this moment to breathe enables your rational brain to take back control so that when you are calm, you can focus on the facts of the situation without interference. Our goal is to eliminate all your subjective responses and fear-based assumptions to get crystal clear on reality.
Most of my clients imagine the worst possible scenario and outcomes. As humans, we automatically make up catastrophic future scenarios that have no basis in reality. Your mind believes that this strategy will protect you. It tells you that if you can predict and prepare for the worst, you will be able to handle anything that takes place in real life. Unfortunately, this usually backfires because the emotions this extreme thinking evokes are intense, causing an emotional hijacking, erratic behavior, or being paralyzed into doing nothing.
Examine your thinking patterns:
Do you naturally interpret situations negatively?
Do you lead with assumed negative outcomes?
Do you envision the most extreme responses from other people, including failure in your job, business, or relationship?
Do you confuse what is possible with what is probable?
The act of examining and then challenging your thinking is an important part of this process because the goal is for you to improve your outcomes and decisions. You do this by witnessing what is rational versus irrational about your story.
Step 3: Choose
Once you have challenged yourself, alternative interpretations of the situation will emerge. By asking reality-based and rational questions, a menu of options will materialize. This will give you the freedom to consciously choose the most constructive steps to move forward.
For more detailed instructions, including a step-by-step breathing technique and Rational Thinking Questions, check out our blog on how to improve your work and relationships with this formula.