Sometimes it’s the decisions you make in small moments that create the biggest transformation.
These micro moments add up to the difference between thriving and executive burnout. The difference between meeting and missing a critical goal that has been months (or years!) in the making. I’d like to share with you a core belief, and a set of questions for processing what is happening in these moments, that made a huge difference for me as a leader.
I vividly remember a day (well - more than one day) where I left a meeting at my company at the time and thought - what on EARTH am I doing here? In the movie version of my life, I have a sudden epiphany. I play through a montage of all the moments illustrating why this isn’t a good situation for me. Then, a glorious “aha” moment where I realize…I am in control. I walk back into the room, announce I’m leaving, and walk straight out the door with my head held high and inspirational music playing.
That’s not how it really happened, of course. It was a LONG road of learning to embrace this new core belief: “I am in control.” Then, it took a lot of practice making decisions with my new belief to change my situation.
By definition, leaders are supposed to have more power. And yet, it’s still very easy to forget there is a choice. It happened to me, and it happens to everyone: you get so caught up in the cycle of whatever decisions you have made, you forget that at any time, you can choose to make a different one.
When you feel you don’t have a choice, you get demoralized. Your brain can make you feel that everything is spiraling out of control. When you think about things that went wrong in the past, you are more likely to interpret the future negatively. On top of that, what’s on the other side of a choice that is ultimately good for you is not always easy in the short term. A stressed brain may urge you to remain in default mode.
But the good news is that you can interrupt the pattern through awareness and self reflection. During these situations, you can break down what is happening. When you avoid getting sucked into the emotions or the drama of the moment, two things happen: First, you realize you have options. Second, you gain clarity on the best path forward.
Here are some reflection questions I’ve gotten used to using:
What is objectively happening right now?
What thoughts am I having?
How am I feeling?
What thoughts and feelings would I like to have instead?
How can I change course to get to the end goal I desire?
Note: Many people are tempted to skip “How am I feeling?”. This is the one most of us have the least muscles for practicing, and it is fertile ground for understanding yourself and ultimately making a transformation. So give it a try! Here is a list of feelings to help you name what is going on.
You may want to start by using these to reflect on past situations and prepare yourself for similar ones in the future. Over time, this process will become more of a habit and will serve you even in a difficult moment.
Over time, you can learn to get better and better at recognizing when it’s time to pause and redirect. But it takes practice. And it often starts with the encouragement of another person who can compassionately challenge you to recognize your freedom of choice.
For me, it was my coach, and many other people reminding me time and time again. And now I am very proud to have created a company where we can be that mirror for our clients.
Where in your life do you have freedom of choice you may not be exercising? I wonder if you can make one change, even today, that will help you avoid burnout and put you in a better place.