Note: We recently added to this post an audio version, as the latest installment of our Soundwaves podcast. Listen via the audio player at the bottom of this post, and be sure to check out the entire library of Soundwaves episodes available on iTunes, or via your favorite podcast player.
There is this voice inside my head, telling me things all the time.
Sometimes that voice is telling me good things. I hear “nice job, you are good at this, buddy.” I love that voice. When I hear that voice, I am calm and confident. My work performance is at its best when that voice is speaking to me.
At other times, the voice is saying something different, something destructive that chips away at my confidence. Sometimes that voice is telling me I am not ready, I am not good, and that failure is possible. I hate that voice. When I hear that voice, I am stressed, and quite predictably my work performance is at risk.
And there are other voices that sometimes creep in, variations on these two extremes. Does this sound familiar? We all have these voices. We all have confident and insecure days, so I am sure you know exactly what I mean.
This all came up for me last week, while my colleagues and I were presenting at a client conference in Arizona. Amy and I were scheduled to co-present on the first afternoon in front of 300 of the company’s top sales people. It was a big opportunity for us, and we had a great message. We were talking about some of our core content, topics we know extraordinarily well. We were practiced, our slides were fantastic, we were ready.
And yet in the two hours before we went on stage, my head was a loud and complicated place. That negative voice was screaming at me, telling me how risky this session was, reminding me not to screw it up. Why was I hearing this voice then? We were ready, and we knew it. But the negative voice would not shut up.
I stepped outside to call my personal muse, my wife Emily, and we talked for about five minutes. Emily knew that I had recently been feeling the normal business stress of a new year, from the challenge of repeating and building on a great prior year’s performance. And even though I was ready for this specific presentation, subconsciously I was connecting this meeting with the larger issue of having another great year.
Emily helped me realize this, and reminded me of the importance of staying “task oriented,” something I learned throughout my 18 years with the US Olympic Program. Stress for many athletes and performers comes from lack of preparation (not my issue in this case) or a fear of the consequences (definitely my issue this time.) I was worried too much about the consequences of, perhaps not outright failure, but rather not maximizing the opportunity and doing an outstanding job. I was worried too much about outcomes, and what might happen if…
Emily got me back focused on the task and not the outcome, and our team preparation took over. The voice inside my head was quieted, and we had a great session with our client.
The point today is that everyone has moments of stress. I speak professionally about 150 days per year, and I know I am good at it. My colleagues and I are always prepared and we take our work very seriously. And yet there are days when that negative voice shows up and makes my head loud and confusing and negative.
No matter how good you are at something, the negative voice may never go away. It may always be there for you. Even some of the top athletes in the world have moments of self doubt. The key to high performance is having strategies for managing that negative voice inside your head. For me, I need to be prepared and practiced, and I need to stay on task. I need to stop thinking about outcomes, and just stay in the moment. I think those are important things for everyone, not just me. So I share them with you today.
And it always helps to have someone you trust who can help you get back on track. For me that person has always been Emily, and often my colleague Whitney. But regardless of who it is, having someone play that role is crucial.
Good luck, and have a great day.[audio: http://thelatimergroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Soundwaves020816.mp3]