Strategies and Behavior

Did you know that you have a strategy for how you do everything?

You may not know this but I once had pretty severe test anxiety. I was always a pretty good English student when I was in high school but then I went to college and I failed my first English class.

We had a grammar test we had to take weekly and I failed it each and every time.

In fact, I got worse with each subsequent week.

I knew I had to pass to pass the class. It didn’t matter how well I did on the other tests, or how well I wrote. Passing that test was a requirement.

So, I thought about it a lot.

I pictured myself taking it and how nervous and anxious I would feel.

I imagined red marks on the wrong answers and big red F at the top of the page.

I saw my mind going blank. I told myself I couldn’t learn grammar, that I was stupid, that everyone else would pass.

My hands would get all sweaty.

My guts would tie in knots.

That was my strategy to fail my grammar test and eventually my first English class. It worked really well too although that wasn’t the outcome I wanted.

And the key is, it all happened beneath the surface of my total awareness. All except the resounding sense of anxiety, fear and dread of taking tests.

Don’t worry, I later found a class that didn’t require a grammar test and I got an A. But I had already left that first experience with a strategy for test anxiety that because I did not know I had the strategy, it took a really long time to overcome.So, why is it important to know about strategies?

Because normally they run unconscious in the background creating all kinds of behavior.

Sometimes we label that behavior with words, as I did, like anxiety, which then limits what’s possible. Test anxiety created a box around what I thought was possible. I ran my test anxiety strategy for a long time and eventually, I became anxious going into classrooms, which impacted my college experience. It created new labels I gave myself and those labels created limits. It impacted my self esteem and what I thought was possible.

Now I know different. I can unpack my strategies, learn how I do them and make changes not only in how I label and respond to them but the meaning they have and whether I run them or not. To be honest, just having the awareness changes everything.

Some strategies can be helpful but others, like my test anxiety aren’t. Imagine if you overspend and could identify your shopping strategy. Or maybe you want to spend more time being creative and finish your novel or paint that painting but you find you always put it last on your list. There’s a strategy there keeping you from taking action.

This is one of the powers of coaching; unpacking unconscious strategies that are impacting your behavior and leading you away from what you consciously want for your life.

Leaning In to Leadership

To be a leader you must hold a willingness to have people not like you. You have to be able to take a stance and have opinions that will not be popular or received well by everyone.

You can’t always play ‘nice’ and you won’t always be ‘good’ as a leader. When there is a job to get done, sometimes you have to make hard decisions and take actions that may not be correct in the moment but may lead to the greater good. Or perhaps you may support things that are correct and necessary in the moment but detrimental over time.

A great leader will always have an eye on what they don’t see, or they will invite people in who can give them the perspective on themselves that they are blind to and they will be willing to learn, grow, and make amends.

In the big picture, you do not get to choose whether you are the hero or the villain in another person’s story. You have to do what you are called to do.

It’s not my job to judge others, although I am human and have judgements. It’s not my job to decide what other people’s lessons are or the acts they take that lead them to the final destination. It’s not even my job to decide what is right or wrong.

It is my job to stand up into my own leadership and own my power. It’s to use my voice and the leverage I have in my own unique way. And that way will not be for everyone. There will be people who will be hurt, pissed, and triggered and that may be exactly what they need.

One of the greatest acts I have done has been to recognize when there is someone who has hurt me and it caused growth in me that was far better than the pain the hurt caused. I can be thankful for the growth and not continue to subject myself to the pain.

One of the greatest gifts I have received was to be held in safe space while someone I was angry with witnessed but did not take on my pain, my triggers, or my experience. It allowed me to discover my part in the issue and to learn, grow, and trust that person more.

It’s disappointing to me when I see places where people I admire could step up and they don’t seem to but it’s not my place to judge their journey. It doesn’t mean I have to continue to participate. It also doesn’t mean I abandoned my path because their leadership has become wrong for me.

It means I am my own leader. I find my own way.

My light does not dim because I am able to see the flicker of someone else’s.

Neither does my light dim when I witness the depth and brightness of another’s.

Being a leader, to me, encompasses these things but this is not all. Leaders show us who they are more than they tell us how to be.

Coffee and Boundaries for Codependents

Boundaries are very important and often we think of setting boundaries as protecting ourselves but knowing, sharing, and enforcing our boundaries, no matter how small, can actually help to create safe space and trust for others.

One of the things I like to know about my friends is how they take their coffee. Having coffee with another is an intimate experience of getting to know someone that I truly enjoy and it warms my heart space.

“I will build your coffee but I won’t sit and drink it with you,” he said.

I’ve known him for ten years and this finalizing statement at first triggered some fear in me. If he wouldn’t have coffee with me, how can we stay friends? What if he was telling me that the long phone conversations we sometimes shared were no longer a fit for him? How could I fix this? What could I do to make this different?

All these messages, these stories I had about what he said and what it means happened in an instance. Almost too quickly to identify in the moment but I felt it in my body; the freezing and the tension.

But in the midst of my tense response, I also heard, “He goes for a walk.”

Oh yes, he does. I might sit and sip my coffee while we talk and he goes for a walk. I can hear the scuff of his boots and the crunch of leaves. He’s done it for a long time now. I felt myself relax in a new way, it wasn’t just the physical tightening of my body in response to the stories I had, I realized I could relax more because I could trust him to take care of himself.

It wasn’t my role to fix, figure it out, or decide how to make things different. I realized that his not wanting to have coffee with me wasn’t about his not wanting to spend time with me, in fact, it meant he really valued our conversations enough to find a way for it to work for him. It meant more that he was willing to do that than if he had capitulated and done something that was wrong for him just because it was correct for me.

The automatic messages I had from my mind were a result of my own filters and conditioning. It had nothing to do with his needs or desires. Had I acted in response to them, it may very well have hurt our long-standing friendship as I tried to make things better, or control, the situation.

I’m so grateful I have learned the skills I need to navigate my own behaviors and have had the realization that the only person I can change is myself. I’ve learned I can allow others to have their experience and that rushing to take care of things doesn’t always get me the response I desire. I value that I can help my coaching clients heal in a way that they can learn to do the same thing.

When we trust those we care about to take care of themselves, even if it doesn’t work out, we give them the opportunity to find their own way; to overcome challenges, to shift, and to grow. They also have to stop relying on us so much, which means we are free too. Change yourself and you change the world.

Today I was making my own coffee and as I waited for it to settle into my cup that says Trust on it. I texted him, “I was thinking of you while making my coffee and I thought about your coffee boundaries. I think I would take a clue from Ford for mine. I’d love to hear about your coffee preferences and I’d gladly make it for you, just the way you like it, as long as it’s black.”

“That sounds about right,” he responded.