By Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed.
I’ve always been an over-achiever. That’s how I managed to work my way up to run a national company from an entry level position. It was no easy feat and certainly not easy as a single mother with two young children. But I persevered. Never took no for an answer and always found ways to overcome any obstacles. I was a fighter who took control my career, and it worked.
That is, I thought it worked. I believed it was the best way to be successful and in fact, I’ve coached hundreds of women using this model for success.
But then everything changed overnight. Everything changed one year ago when a spider bit my foot and subsequently gave me Lyme disease. Little did I know then that my traditional approach of taking control and tackling any obstacles in my way would no longer work for me. In fact, I discovered that the only way to take control of my situation and my health was to let go.
That’s a novel idea! Taking control by letting go.
Of course it took me a while to realize this. My revelation didn’t happen overnight. I stayed in my comfort zone and tried all my well-worn approaches to solving the new problem that I was sick. I took the antibiotics but refused to accept the scope of my illness. I attempted to work and kept my travel schedule to deliver keynotes. I denied reality and continued to work out, run, and spin until I hit a wall, a very formidable wall and wake-up call that this approach wasn’t working. And it wasn’t until I let go and accepted my new reality that I started to heal. It was then that I learned a new approach that would help me going forward; practicing mindfulness and starting each day with meditation, journaling, the expression of gratitude each evening, and celebrating every accomplishment.
Adopting these practices helped me take control in a new way, by letting go. These practices will not only reduce your stress, but will help you move beyond the distraction of your negative limiting beliefs and outlook to achieve greater success.
Mindfulness and meditation
Google, Monsanto, Marie Claire, National Grid, have discovered many positive results from mindfulness training as outlined in this article from Wharton. Mindfulness has helped employees make better decisions and let go of their negative judgments about themselves and others. Companies such as General Mills and Target have found that employees that practice mindfulness have more compassion for others, are more productive. The many benefits of mindfulness for employees and business are well documented.
There are some surprising benefits to journaling that go beyond mindfulness. These include improving your communication and writing skills along with boosting self-confidence and memory. Julia Cameron recommends “morning pages” to spark your creativity. For me, journaling has been a path to healing each morning. Both meditation and journaling provide a refreshing way for me to start my day; to renew my energy, optimism, focus.
Scientists have studied the effect of a gratitude practice on our well-being as well as our relationships. The benefits are many including blocking toxic thoughts and improving our attitude about our lives, our careers, and relationships. A regular practice helps us to see the glass half full instead of half empty and see the opportunities in failures and disappointments. By calling out my gratitude each day, I have moved beyond beating myself up for being sick to a more open acceptance of the life lessons I am learning.
Celebrating your accomplishments
When we are stuck in a negative mindset for whatever reason, keeping a success journal is a powerful way to silence the dangerous negative self-talk that holds us back from reaching our full potential. I have recommended this practice to my clients for years with great success. A daily entry of a minimum of one thing you’ve accomplished that day and then a weekly review of your entries helps you to focus on your value and strengths. It quiets the inner critic that undermines your success and boosts your self-confidence. You begin to see your life and career through a new positive lens that supports your continued progress.
When I was first diagnosed with Lyme, I beat myself up daily. Why wasn’t I writing more? What was going to happen to me if I couldn’t work out or run? I was focused on everything I couldn’t do rather than what I was learning about myself. We are all guilty of this negative thinking. We all have certain patterns of behavior that may no longer be effective but we’re comfortable with them. We expend useless energy hitting our head against the wall, which only makes us feel worse. In my own journey of self-discovery, I uncovered ways that not only helped me heal, but in the process, I learned new methods to better understand and connect with my clients as well as myself.
Sometimes success is more about letting go than taking control; letting go of what is no longer serving us.
Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed., is an internationally recognized executive coach, speaker, and author of The Politics of Promotion (Wiley 2015). She is a contributing writer for Forbes and many other publications.