2. Is this thought empowering or disempowering me?
Many of us operate on autopilot, often relying on ingrained thinking patterns and self-talk to direct our day-to-day lives. The problem with that, of course, is that these patterns may not be serving us very well. The way we think about things might be sabotaging our happiness, effectiveness and sense of fulfillment, yet we persist in thinking the same thoughts because they are familiar and comfortable.
We can help snap ourselves out of ingrained thought patterns by first identifying them and then asking, “Is this thought empowering or disempowering me?” says Debbie Ford, author of The Right Questions: Ten Essential Questions to Guide You to an Extraordinary Life (HarperOne, 2004).
For example, say you regularly experience “blame thoughts” when your spouse leaves old coffee grounds in the coffeemaker. When you isolate your thought (“It’s all his fault!”) and ponder Ford’s question, you will find that what you initially take for empowerment (“I’m right and he’s wrong!”) is, in fact, a disempowering, self-victimizing thought. The thought only isolates you further (“Me vs. Spouse”), deepens your resentment (“He is thoughtless and doesn’t care about me!”) and leaves you mired in frustration because you’re no closer to finding a real, workable solution.
If you can shift your thinking away from blame and instead focus on solutions (“What’s the best solution to the coffee-ground conundrum?”), you will feel — and be — infinitely more empowered. “We are always moving toward something or staying stuck where we are,” Ford explains. When we can identify how our thinking is keeping us stuck, we can adjust those thoughts.
3. How can I leverage this experience to become even better?
When faced with difficult circumstances, leadership expert Robin Sharma, author of The Leader Who Had No Title (Simon & Schuster, 2010), suggests thinking strategically. Sure, a situation may be tough, but there’s almost always a way of reworking a negative scenario so it can catapult you forward.
Take the current economic crisis: While the recession has had countless negative effects, it continues to hold opportunities for those entrepreneurs who are willing to think beyond the rhetoric of “times are hard, money’s tight, and nobody’s hiring.”
“Every challenging experience carries an opportunity to leverage it into an even better situation than before it occurred,” Sharma says. Even personal loss, he notes, brings our attention to resources we didn’t know we had. The secret is to focus on the opportunity, not obsess about the problem.