Do you see obstacles or opportunities? And, how do your thoughts shape the way you think, feel, and act in a given situation? Our thoughts do matter, and they play a very important role in how we see ourselves and the world.
In working with peak performers in sports, business, and life, the place we often begin in coaching our clients is with their thoughts and their mental approach to what they are doing. Their thoughts and mental models can help or hinder their performance based on how they rely and depend on them. Too many negative thoughts and old ways of thinking can often blind us from realizing the truth and seeing a clear path forward. As Dee Hock, the former CEO of Visa said: “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.”
Based upon the organizational behavior research and experience of Peter Senge at MIT and our own sports psychology experience, we know that mental models shape our thoughts and affect our actions. We all have “mental models,” as Senge refers to them, and we must carefully examine them to make sure they are valid. A key question that can be helpful is:
What assumption, mental model, bias, or perception am I making that is limiting my potential – that is limiting my possibilities?
We have used this question with athletes, teams, coaches, business leaders, and high performing companies and organizations as a way to uncover obstacles and discover possibilities. Some of the answers that we often hear include:
- “I can’t hit my driver.”
- “I can’t trust my team (or a certain employee) with responsibility?”
- “I have to score a lot in order for us to win.”
- “I am not sure if I am a leader or if I have influence.”
- “This person doesn’t like me!”
- “This situation is unsolvable.”
- “We can’t change our culture.”
- “I have reached a level where I don’t need to grow or learn.”
In many of these situations, these statements are formed based on misguided perceptions, unfounded truths, and a reluctant mentality. Upon further evaluation, these thoughts can be examined, reevaluated, and often removed and replaced with thoughts of truth, potential, and possibilities. The technique we use with athletes is the same one that you can use at work and in your personal life. It begins with asking these questions:
- Is this thought really true based on evidence and facts?
- Is this thought helpful and productive?
- Do I recognize that I have a choice about what thoughts I dwell on?
- What is the truth in this situation?
- How can I focus on what I can control, influence what I can, and flush the rest?
- Am I stuck in a bad mental model, and is there a better way of thinking about this situation that would lead to a different outcome?
- Who is a trusted advisor or stakeholder that can I talk to who may offer a different perspective?
- What are my strengths, gifts, talents, and opportunities?
- What are the strengths, gifts, talents, and opportunities of my peers, teammates, employees, colleagues, organization, and family members?
When you walk through some or all of these questions, you begin to identify possible solutions based on a different way of thinking. New and improved thoughts lead to better decisions and actions. But how do you get the old thoughts out? You can’t just press them down and try not to think about them. They will just come back up like trying to press a beach ball underneath the water. You have to replace the negative or limiting thoughts with your new thoughts of belief, trust, confidence, and possibilities. We call this technique Replace, Not Repress.
The key is making sure that your new thoughts are grounded in truth and shaped by potential and possibility. In certain situations, the new way of thinking may be aspirational and forward thinking. You may have never led a team of people before but the experiences that you have had have prepared you for this moment. Other times, you will have to look past the anguish of the current moment to rediscover a time when you have been successful. It is often hard to see through the cloud of doubt to rediscover the clarity of determination, but it is possible for those who dare to think differently and replace the old thoughts with new and innovative thoughts about the opportunity of today and the hope for tomorrow!