How To Finally Stop Being So Hard On Yourself (and get some more sleep at night, too)

I had one of those nights last week. Perhaps you know the kind. When you repeat a conversation over and over in your mind, trying to find the exact moment it went wrong, and wishing desperately that you had responded differently.

Or maybe you said too much and regret a few unnecessary words. Maybe you feel that there was a much better way to handle a situation than the way you handled it.

Usually, when I can’t sleep, I can suddenly craft the perfect response in my head as I’m tossing and turning. Too late, of course. Why didn’t I think of that earlier today? The agonizing is only made worse by the crystal clear quality of what I SHOULD HAVE DONE.

This is the heavy feeling of making a wrong move and not being able to move forward. This is what it feels like when you are too hard on yourself. It’s exhausting. I decided that I wasn’t going to let my mistakes haunt me at night. Here are the strategies that have helped me deal with post-flop regret.

Create a simple statement that you can grow from. I am much more likely to accept my mistake when I reflect on it and clearly state one specific and actionable thing I will do to move forward. Here’s one I am trying now: Listen two minutes longer before I speak. If you repeat a bold, simple statement like this often, it can put you on the path of making peace with your blunder. Think of it as a mantra that guides you through your day.

Fix it- and then let go of the details. I once delivered a presentation and failed to anticipate the questions my audience might ask. As a result, I was unprepared for the Q and A session and unable to speak knowledgeably to a few questions at the end. For a long time, I couldn’t let go of these last few minutes, even though the majority of the presentation was successful. I belabored the awkward moments in my head, wondering what the participants were thinking about such an unprepared presenter.

Finally, I wrote a revision of the presentation that included detailed, thoughtful answers to common questions. Then I filed it in my “next time” file and released the details from my mind altogether.

Reframe the Situation As a parent, one of the most useful books I’ve read is The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Alexander and Iben Sandahl. I found it so helpful that I applied the principles to all areas of my life.

The author spends an entire chapter on the power of reframing, or the ability to see the truth in a new way. Danes find this shift in perception so important that they cite is a cornerstone of resilience.

The authors described people that are able to do this as “realistic optimists.” These optimists are aware that things go wrong, but habitually filter out the unnecessary negative information.

I thought back to some uncomfortable situations I had experienced. Sure, there were a few awkward exchanges and missed opportunities. However, when I reframe them, I see them as potent lessons in leadership. And when I start to think like a realistic optimist, I feel relief that I now have the tools to avoid that approach again when the new situation might have more at stake.

Be aware of imposter syndrome. Just the research alone helps me sleep at night. Yes, you are too hard on yourself. Yes, you are so much more capable than you think. In the past few months that I have been writing about leadership, I have discovered that our audience ranges anywhere from educators, coaches, and administrators, to bar managers, athletic directors, and entrepreneurs. Such a diverse skill set, but the recurring theme that surfaces most in conversations is the feeling of self-doubt. Yet, they are viewed as leaders and masters of their field by their peers. Other people can easily recognize their strengths, but they can’t.

It’s easy to see how a few simple mistakes can make you feel like a fraud, or worried that people will finally see that you are not as experienced or talented as they thought you were. The first step in overcoming this is being aware that this exists in the first place. Then, flip the scene. For every scenario that you feel exposes your weaknesses, think about how the same scenario reveals your strengths. Chances are, that is what people are seeing anyway.

Others feel the same way you do—about themselves.  A good friend and I struggle with these feelings often, and we pass this same piece of advice back and forth to each other when it’s needed: Nobody goes home thinking about the mistakes you made. They are too busy losing sleep over their own.

We all mess up from time to time. We are human, and we are imperfect. In fact, we will experience missteps time and again. That’s what happens when you put pen to paper, or share an innovative idea, or take the lead when others need a guide. And while we can’t avoid minor setbacks, we don’t have to lose sleep over every single one of them. I think I am finally ready to believe that.

After all, who’s keeping count anyway?

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In Leadership, Compassion Matters

 

I was three months pregnant with twins when I got a phone call at work saying I needed to come home; my mom was gravely ill. After I hung up with my dad, I tried calling my husband. The gym office was busy each time I tried. After several attempts, I gave up, closed the door to the small conference room, and with tears in my eyes told the secretary I needed to leave. I uttered the words that my father said, “your mom is very sick, and she’s asking for you. I think you need to come now.”

I left that day and didn’t return for two weeks, after my mother’s funeral.

Normally the hour and a half drive is simple and quick. That day, my racing thoughts tortured me for the entire drive. Shelly, the secretary, was able to get in touch with my husband, so he wasn’t too far behind me. His school’s response was the same as mine: “Go, now.”

Each of our respective schools offered so much love and support during our time of need. My coworkers and teammates picked up my work load, sent flowers and cards, and many made the drive to attend the funeral. One friend even reached out to my obstetrician’s office to let them know of my situation, wondering if this stress would affect the twins.

Looking back, it was the compassion and kindness of my coworkers that kept me going after losing my mom.

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I have been extremely fortunate; I have worked in organizations that value kindness and compassion in the work place. However, for many, that is not the case.

The symptoms are everywhere. Work place memes on social media often depict sad employees not wanting to go back to work. “TGIF” is something many can identify with and heard frequently in the work place. Many people dread going to work and look forward to their time outside of work. A recent Gallop poll showed less than 30% of people are engaged in their work. They feel devalued, not listened to and disrespected. How can we change this reality for so many?

Instead of creating a dog-eat-dog environment, focus on compassion, not pressure, to motivate and inspire colleagues. Hidden leaders will be more compelled to step forward in an environment that values building trusting relationships rather than the cut-throat atmosphere that is evident in many workplaces.

A compassionate environment helps create a positive work culture, improves working relationships and reduces stress. A compassionate workplace is a win-win for everyone.

Here are some simple tips to begin creating a compassionate work culture to inspire your hidden leaders.

Make Deposits

Begin making deposits into people’s emotional bank account, a metaphor coin by Stephen Covey. You can make deposits through kindness, courtesy, being honest and keeping promises. Doing this allows you to build trusting, long-lasting relationships with colleagues.

5-minute favors

Start small. According to business professor Adam Grant, the most successful ‘givers’ don’t try to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa. Creating a compassionate workplace can begin with making it a goal to smile and say good morning to every co-worker every day.

Be Kind To Yourself

Sometimes our biggest enemy is ourselves. Negative self-talk can derail our best effort to maintain kindness and compassion. The more self-compassion we have, the more we can give to others. We must also make deposits into our own emotional bank account to be able to make deposits into other’s accounts. Make time for yourself to do the things that inspire and nurture both body and mind.

Assume the best in people

It can be tempting to see negative first. Dwelling in bitterness and negativity seems to be easier than giving someone the benefit of the doubt. However, most people really do have good intentions. People often live up to your expectations. By focusing on the good intentions of others, you are creating a positive and compassionate frame of mind.

Be Reflective

Make compassionate decisions whenever possible. Before acting ask yourself some reflective questions, What is our motivation? Are there any harmful implications from this decision? How would I feel if I was on the receiving end of this decision?

Compassion is contagious. If we begin with these simple steps, creating a compassionate workplace will begin to take on a life of its own. Creating environments where people feel inspired, cared for and celebrated allow for hidden leaders to emerge and be agents of change.

Don’t wait for an illness or tragedy to bring compassion into the work place. The start of the year can be filled with uncertainty and stress. This is a time when colleagues need kindness and compassion the most. As we wrap up this first week of school, reflect on how you can fold compassion into your everyday routine. Compassion and kindness need purposeful, daily practice to become deeply rooted and valued if we want to truly inspire and cultivate leadership.

Lisa

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5 TED Talks That Will Change the Way You Lead Tomorrow

Here at Leading with Imperfection, we believe that you can redefine yourself as a leader in small ways every single day. It doesn’t take much time to shift your perspective. That’s why we are so hooked on TED talks. They deliver big inspiration in bite-size portions. TED curator Chris Anderson describes the average length of 18 minutes as “long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It’s the length of a coffee break.”

I have made it a practice to think of one clear, actionable step I can take from a TED talk and make changes that matter. Below are some of my favorite speakers and how they can change the way you approach leadership—the very next day.

  1. Brené Brown helps us embrace vulnerability

In Brené Brown’s insanely popular talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability,’ she categorizes people into two groups—those who feel worthy and those who don’t. The difference between them? The courage to be imperfect and the willingness to embrace vulnerability.

Her talk is hilarious, yet startlingly raw and honest. She urges everyone to stop chasing perfection and trying to control and predict life. You will laugh and nod in agreement through her delivery. And then in the very last minute, Brown’s steady and reassuring words will lift a burden from your shoulders that you may not have even known was there.

Lead differently tomorrow: Identify something specific that makes you uncomfortable in your work with others. Acknowledge it. Decide to be vulnerable. Choose courage and give up comfort. At the end of the day, you can’t choose both.

If this talk inspires you like it did millions of others, check out her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

 

  1. Adam Grant teaches us how to be original

In ‘The Surprising Habit of Original Thinkers,’ Grant focuses on what we can all learn from nonconformists—people who “not only have new ideas but take action to champion them.”

He puts a new spin on procrastination by renaming it “thinking.” This time that we allow ideas to develop in the back of our minds before taking action is the sweet spot for creativity. He explains, “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”

Another quality of original thinkers is their fear of regret. Grant explains that we are all afraid of failing, but innovators are more afraid of not trying. “They know that in the long run, our biggest regrets are not our actions but our inactions. The things we wish we could redo, if you look at the science, are the chances not taken.”

Lead differently tomorrow: I’ve been experimenting with the word “yet” and it opens up so many opportunities to continue after failure. We started this blog in May and we don’t have a large amount of readers—yet. That one simple word gives you the freedom to be original instead of shutting down after a setback. Think of a problem you previously defined as a roadblock. Approach it again. This time around, take your time and continue to doubt yourself in order to improve. Innovators are the ones that fail the most times.

 

 

  1. Celeste Headlee reminds us to listen

We spend a lot of time avoiding conversations we don’t want to have. In ‘10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation,’ Headlee encourages us to stop avoiding connections with others by teaching us how to talk and more importantly, how to listen.

She keeps it simple. “You need to enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn.” This can be a shift in mindset in leadership, where we often believe we must arrive armed with all of the answers.

Lead differently tomorrow: Start with her advice to genuinely be interested in other people. Make a stronger connection tomorrow by releasing everything you want someone to know about yourself—and inspire by letting them truly, and without interruption, show you who they are.

 

  1. Simon Sinek urges us to ask why

In How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, Sinek tells us to look inward and ask, “Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”

This fascinating talk on how to move people to believe in what you do will turn your approach to leading others inside out. Give it a watch and prepare for a thought-provoking experience that will keep you reflecting on the “why.”

Lead differently tomorrow: Start just one day with this perspective in mind. Instead of mentally going through your to-do list tasks and how you are going to accomplish them, ask yourself why you are showing up in the first place.

  1. Drew Dudley puts leadership in perspective

‘Everyday Leadership’ encourages emerging leaders to value the impact they have on others-no matter how small. Listen to this talk when you are not feeling adequate. Don’t make these excuses for not feeling like a leader.

‘Everyday Leadership’ encourages emerging leaders to value the impact they have on others-no matter how small. Listen to this talk when you are not feeling adequate. Don’t make these excuses for not feeling like a leader.

 

It’s time for that coffee break. Go get inspired 18 minutes at a time. And if you just can’t get enough of TED, add Want to Talk Like TED? to your summer reading list.

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3 reasons why

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Start a Blog (and Why We Ignored Them)

3 reasons why“Sometimes when we dare to walk into the arena, the greatest critic we face is ourselves.”

~Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

When you finally decide to venture into the arena, you walk a very fine line between courage and panic. Here I am, an almost-leader, thinking I have enough experience about leadership to write about it–and actually hit publish. In the weeks leading up to the start of this journey, the critic inside my head was relentless.

I tried to silence the critic by reminding myself why I am here. I thought about the many hidden leaders in education. I wanted to give them a voice. I was excited by the idea that we could call others to leadership by writing about it as something that absolutely can, and always will be, imperfect. Still, the doubt, fear, and excuses flooded in. It felt easier not to hit publish at all.

It turns out that I was not alone in my self-doubt. When I listened carefully to the dedicated educators around me, I heard things like this:

“There are so many better candidates for that position. I don’t think I’m going to apply.”

“I just don’t feel like what I’m doing is making a difference.”

“I’m not strong enough/smart enough/tall enough to be a leader.”

(Actually, “tall enough” came from me. I’m 4’11 and I used to think this all the time.)

And then a mentor of mine who works outside of the teaching profession shared a confession with me: She said she has always wanted to start her own business, but it was on her “I want to, but I’m too chicken” list. I couldn’t stop thinking about that. How many of us have a list like this? How long are these lists? Why do they even exist?

So many of us feel insecure, inexperienced…and imperfect. Maybe this is the reason so many leaders remain hidden in the first place. There were endless reasons to avoid starting this blog. Here are the three that whisper in my ear the loudest and why I (all of us) should stop listening:

  1. Nobody will read it/approve/support your work/care.

This might be true. However, I like to think of that well-known phrase that was adapted from the movie Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” Except my own personal adaptation goes like this:

If you build it, they might come, and even if they don’t, at least you’ve built something.

Success is about getting started, not about lack of failure. This reminds me of my painfully slow 5K when I first started running. I jogged into the finish line while the race organizers were cleaning up the refreshment table. I was deeply embarrassed by this until a friend noticed my shame. She asked, “Do you know how many people are still sleeping?”

Get started. That’s all that matters.

 Shorten your chicken list: Reframe how you look at criticism. Instead of letting it define you, celebrate the fact that you pushed your limits. You will not get criticized or rejected when you stay inside your comfort zone.

      2.  Your ideas will not inspire others.

Drew Dudley, founder of Everyday Leadership, has a very down-to-earth perspective on what it means to be a leader. His TED talk on Everyday Leadership explains how simple it really is to make a difference. We may be overlooking and devaluing the impact we have on others. He said, “We’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it.”

Of those 6 or so billion, you only need to change one. If you can inspire one student to feel like an author, one colleague to try teaching for another year, one administrator to stick with a vision even when it gets difficult, then according to Dudley, “You’ve changed the whole thing.”

Shorten your chicken list: Pull out your “feel good” folder, and if you don’t have one, start one now. Keep every letter of thanks, student card, principal compliment, or parent email that celebrates your everyday leadership. Reread them anytime you need a reminder that inspiring others is not something that is beyond you.

       3.  You might fail.

I used to have this misconception that leaders had all the answers. You have to know what you are talking about. All the time. What does it even mean to know enough, to be good enough? Nobel prize winner physicist, Niels Bohr, defines an expert as “…someone who has made all possible mistakes in one field and there are no more to make.”

I don’t think I’ve heard a more appealing invitation to fail over and over again. If we look at mistakes as the necessary training for expert status, we might stop trying so hard to avoid them.

Shorten your chicken list: Before you take action, predict three potential ways you can fail. Say them out loud, and then ask yourself, “If I make these mistakes, what is the worst that could happen?” The answer to this question might surprise you.

If you wait until you are fully ready for something, you will never get started. This isn’t about creating a blog, being a writer, or even leadership. It’s about starting. Imperfection is guaranteed. Take one thing from your “I really want to but I’m just too chicken” list and do it anyway.

Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do—but haven’t yet? Tell us about it! Your first step starts right now.

 

Ali

Ali

I am a lifelong educator on a mission to start believing in myself. I write to inspire others to abandon perfection and lead anyway. I am attempting this daily at home as a mom with three toddlers in Berlin, Maryland.
Ali

 

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