This past weekend, I spoke at a conference in Miami on something I love to talk about—building healthy, strong, relational organizations.
I usually feel at ease speaking about this topic because I not only studied it in college, but I continue to read a lot about it and work hard every day to implement what I learn into this business, with our team.
But for whatever reason, I was unreasonably nervous this time around. When I started speaking, you could hear my voice shake a bit, and I didn’t portray my usual confidence.
When I get nervous like this, my standard mental thought pattern has typically sounded something like this:
“Pat, come on. You know this content. You’ve spoken about this stuff a hundred times. You run two companies with great cultures. You shouldn’t be nervous. People probably think you don’t know what you’re talking about. Now pull it together and do it quickly or you’re going to lose even more people than you already have.”
You can see what I do. I beat myself up. I berate myself for getting nervous.
I should have things under control.
I shouldn’t get nervous.
I should do a better job.
If you’re anything like me, you give the people around you a good amount of grace. You forgive people. You allow people to fail. But you hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others to. When you “fail,” your mental talk track immediately goes into what you should be doing better and how you’re failing everyone around you.
It’s harsh and it’s consistent.
But, something different happened to me this particular time, and I was so proud of myself.
Instead of pummelling myself with the standard negativity, I was actually nice to myself.
On stage, I just thought to myself, “Hey. This is a new group that you don’t know well. You’re not sure how they’ll respond to the ideas you’re sharing. Because of that, you’re a little nervous. You want them to like what you’re saying. So this is normal. Even people who speak much more than you get nervous during situations like this. And remember, they asked you here. They want you to share this information and to learn something from you. They won’t agree with everything you say. So relax and have confidence that you believe in what you’re sharing and your motives are in the right place. You’re here to help anyone who wants to listen to what you have to say.”
See the drastic difference in tone? It’s just so much kinder.
Changing the Tapes
Over the past few months, I’ve realized that when something negative comes my way, I can respond in one of three ways:
I can blame others and be critical of them.
I can blame myself and be critical of myself.
Or, I can be kind to others and to myself.
This past week, Dani needed something and I missed the deadline for getting it to her. It was my monthly expense report. They’re due the first of every month and, unless mine is complete, we can’t look at the company’s expenses with confidence by the middle of the month. When mine was late, I could have gone through each of the first two options above, and it would have looked something like this:
“Dani should have reminded me about finishing the report earlier than she did. I’m the CEO. She knows I have a lot going on, and if we need our finances done by the end of the month, she should have let me know before the middle of the month that my monthly expense report was due.”
“But really, it’s my fault. I know that she needs them. In fact, it’s a thing I know I have to get her every month. It’s not her job to remind me of repetitive tasks. I simply have too much going on. I really do need to slow down. Now Dani’s going to be pissed. But what’s even worse is that we’re not going to have an accurate view of our monthly expenses—all because of me. Come on, Pat.”
Fortunately, I didn’t do either of those. This time around, I was kind to myself. As we were talking through it, here’s what my actual mental talk track sounded like:
“This past month, you’ve had a lot going on. You’re getting ready for your biggest event of the year and you’re heads-down focusing on a bunch of critical stuff. So give yourself a little bit of a break. More importantly, ask what you can do to make sure that you don’t miss the deadline again, which will help us get our finances in order on time.”
We decided to put it on my calendar, on the first Friday of every month, so that I won’t miss the deadline going forward. It means I gave myself a break, but it also means that she knows I’m committed to fixing the issue and getting it to her on time in the future.
My whole tone changed from what I would have done before. I gave myself empathy. I knew I had a lot going on and gave myself grace because of it. At the same time, I realized that missing deadlines impacts our business and that it’s important for our company to hold each other to our promises so that missing deadlines doesn’t become the norm. I was objective about these facts and then I made a change to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
And if you notice, I didn’t lower the bar for myself or let myself off the hook entirely. I still need to do the report—on time—every month. But I gave myself some mercy and made a clean commitment (to myself and Dani) to not make the mistake again.
Why This is Important for Our Businesses
Not only does this kind of reframing help us personally, but it has some pretty drastic effects on our businesses, too. From my own experience, here’s how I see a shift from mental berating to mental kindness playing an important role at work:
It Increases Our Energy
First of all, it gives us more energy. When I’m nice to myself, I’m not looking in the past for very long. When I blame myself or others, I tend to only focus on all the crappy things that have happened in the past. It’s energy-sucking because it brings in anger and resentment, either on yourself or others, which forces our bodies to become defensive and shut off.
It Increases the Time We Have
In the examples above (at my speaking engagement and in conversation with Dani), by being nice to myself, I didn’t dwell on the situation very long. Instead, by being kind, I was able to come up with a solution fairly quickly. I’m going to put a time on my calendar to review expenses. Great, now I can check that issue off my list and move onto the next problem.
It Increases Our Creativity
If we have more energy and more time and are less focused on problems, we’re able to have the mind space to focus on things that matter. As I was speaking, because I wasn’t focused on my anxiety for too long and gave myself grace for having it, I was able to move into a place where my brain could focus on supporting those in the room. So as people started asking us questions during the Q&A time, I could be creative in my responses because my brain wasn’t focused on shaming myself. It had room to think and process and be creative.
It Helps Our Authenticity
If you read much of what we share at GAN, you know how often we talk about the importance of being authentic with ourselves and our team because, if we are, we can feel the freedom to share both our triumphs and our struggles, allowing both the company and us as individuals to grow.
Recently, I came across a study from Serena Chen at the University of California, Berkeley that blew me away. The premise of her research is that authenticity and being kind to ourselves go hand-in-hand. One without the other is not a good combination. Meaning, we can be authentic people, but if I’m being “authentic” while only sharing how much of an idiot I am because I dropped the ball on something, it doesn’t help the situation. But, according to Chen’s research, if I am authentic while sharing how much I’m learning from this mistake and growing from it, there is a much stronger chance that I’ll actually make the change going forward.
It Builds Confidence
I’ve found that the more I’m nice to myself, the more I like myself. The more I treat myself as I would one of my good friends—someone who is valuable and respected—the more I feel good about myself. And when I feel that way, I’m nicer to my team. Nicer to my wife. And, generally, just a happier human being.