Are You Thinking For Yourself?
Welcome back to Day 4 of the 5 x 5 x 5 ~ 5-Minutes, 5-Days, 5-Ways ~ Innovation Genius Bootcamp where I share a daily innovation-boosting challenge to combat the dreaded "We've always done it that way" syndrome. Missed one of the days? No stress - find the links here: Day 0, Day 1. Day 2, Day 3.
On Day 3, we summoned our inner child, and now for Day 4, we're going to learn to think for ourselves!
Our brains like shortcuts. Many of our daily thoughts are not thought BY us but rather are thought FOR us by our highly efficient brains.
It’s a fact. Our brains aim for efficiency and look for opportunities to leverage what we know. After all, doing familiar things in the same way minimizes risk of failure, but it also limits the possibility of innovating.
These automatic thoughts, are thoughts running on auto-pilot that help us move through our days expending minimal effort on routine or familiar tasks. Automatic thoughts pop into our heads in response to a familiar trigger. These short cuts are helpful when, for example, we know to stop at a red light even though we’re only half paying attention.
Automatic thoughts can also sound like “I’m not good at math/public speaking” or “ I hate working in teams”. They are based on preexisting triggers and surface as TRUTHS when you see a math problem or learn you’ll be working with a team. The thoughts are not brought on by the current experience. In fact, it may be a math problem you could solve in your head and you may actually LOVE working with that new team!
Sometimes, these short-cut offered by our brain’s efficiency isn’t a short cut at all and only serves to limit our thinking and even our willingness to try something new. These are called thought distortions. These thoughts are so familiar and habitual that we don’t even recognize that they’re changeable and in most cases, completely false.
Given that we all have brains and all of our brains appreciate the efficiency of shortcuts and automatic thoughts, we can safely assume that we’re each experiencing the blessing of efficiency and the curse of thought distortions.
Automatic thoughts are the antithesis of innovation and creativity.
When these thoughts are about ourselves, these thought distortions are the equivalent of hidden, negative, and false assumptions that limit our capabilities from ever scratching the surface of our potential. Here is a list of common negative automatic thought distortions to watch out for:
Catastrophizing: Assuming the worst possible outcome. “My boss called me minto her office, I'm sure she's about to fire me!”
Personalizing: Assuming you’re responsible for things you can’t possibly be responsible for, such as bad weather on the day of the company picnic you helped plan, or your boss’ bad mood as soon as you walk into the office on Monday morning.
Jumping to Conclusions: Assuming you know what’s going to happen (fortune telling) or what someone is thinking (mind-reading). “I haven’t talked to Ryan but I’m sure she's angry at me.”
Filtering: Only noticing the instances or parts of the experience that are negative. “The bread rolls were cold and ruined the entire evening!”
All or Nothing: You see only extremes or absolutes with nothing in-between. “They didn’t give me a perfect score/review so it was an absolute failure!”
Generalizing: Taking a single incident as an entire body of evidence. “I had a car accident, so I shouldn’t be driving.”
Here is your day 4 challenge:
It’s time to neutralize some of those automatic thoughts and do our own thinking.
So what do we do about these automatic, negative thoughts?
Much like assumptions, the best way to stop automatic thoughts is to acknowledge that you’re having them, so for the next 24 hours, notice and name the thought distortion.
Once you’ve identified the thought distortions, challenge the thoughts by not taking them as fact, and instead, put them on trial! “Is this a fact or is it just one of many possible outcomes?” “Plenty of people have car accidents, I'd never conclude that THEY should no longer drive, would I?”
Replace them with a positive and empowering thought so “ I’m not good at math” becomes “There are some math problems that come easier to me than others.” This is what I call a "thought pivot" in The Bad Boss Breakthrough Solution, my career empowerment course. One caveat: When choosing your deliberate and improved thoughts, they must be true to you. It cannot be a hopeful affirmation or wishful thinking. In other words, "I'm a math genius" isn't a good deliberate thought because you don't believe it to be true.
You’ll notice that the new, deliberate thoughts are not only more accurate, but they are more empowering, opening the door to creativity and to thoughts that are being thought BY you vs thoughts that are being thought FOR you by your brain's efficiency. The new thought keeps the door open to more deliberate and empowered action on your part.
Because your thoughts drive your actions and your actions drive your outcomes, including your ability to innovate and find creative solutions to personal and professional challenges, being deliberate about your thoughts can help you create the outcomes you want.