Losing Control of the Vehicle: Your Negative Thoughts

I’m an extremely cautious person. My mother has done a fine job of instilling in me a healthy respect, and perhaps a wariness, of things running the gamut from motorcycles and skydiving to interacting with most topography including deserts, bodies of water and mountains. Also, a keen awareness that most animals, particularly those who are not domesticated, don't really view you as a friend. (Nor should they) Sure sheep might look cuddly, but I wouldn’t turn my back around them, nor should you. 

Losing control of the vehicleYet she failed to warn me about the most dangerous place I visited often, my head. And after decades of helping people through work trauma and doubt let me say, our heads. This is the place from where we manage this vehicle, our body, to make all kinds of decisions from super-sizing and saying yes to helping your friend move their heavy couch to increasing the amount of cardio or getting a great recommendation for a mover. 

Below is the ‘accident report’ from the scene of a rather gnarly accident in my brain.

(Some time ago/15 years ago) I was out on what I called then an Empathon. It was 10 days of coaching (empathy) members of a professional association in San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I would see 10-12 members for an hour individually each day and fly to the next city in the evenings. It wasn’t what most would call an easy schedule. I love helping so many people start to work through issues in a short period of time.  

And then I had a problem.

On the sixth day I arrived in San Francisco. My first meeting on the first day was not good. The person I was trying to assist couldn’t quite seem to hear me. I kept reframing and yet nothing seemed to work. The meeting ended early and without the usual adrenaline rush from doing good work and kind words about how much this helped.

And then my head took over. And it said in its usual deep bass, but with much more frenzy than usual given that I had ten minutes before the next meeting.

That’s the first session of the day. I wonder if they are all going to be like that

And then. 

What if this is a Bay Area issue and what worked in these other cities won’t work here. 

And then.

What if I was really good at this and then suddenly like a pro-athlete, I lost my ability to do this.

I had lost control of the vehicle.  I was catastrophizing and needed to pull things together before my next 10 straight sessions.

I called a friend and colleague to help me to try and restore a bit of order. The conversation follows:

Him: How many people have you coached thus far in the network?

Me: About 400

Him: Is this the first time you’ve had a bad session

Me: Yes

Him: Well then. It’s about time. 

And damn if he wasn’t right. 

The rest of the day and that trip went as well as usual. That experience was an outlier. However, the way that anxiety surged through me that morning has always stayed with me. My best lessons tend to come from my most chilling moments. 

I realized that if someone had offered me a 99.998% success rate, I would take it immediately. However, in that moment I was allowing that one moment to overshadow all my other experiences. To lose control of my brain and given in to fear. So, what then are my takeaways for you.

We have the tendency to create expectations of ourselves that can be unrealistic. We will ‘fail’ sometimes. ‘Failure’ is a product of learning and pushing yourself to try something new or something done in a new way. We are mostly better from controlled experiments and hopefully, we learn from them.

We can initiate negative self-talk. We need to get out of the weeds of ourselves and think about what would happen if a friend came to us with a similar problem. How would we react? What would we say? Why don’t we accept that same truth or advice when proffered to us by us?

When you are feeling a loss of control reach out to those you trust and respect for their wisdom and support. They often know the terrain of your brain and can help you navigate complex situations more quickly. 

Finally, don't trust furry smaller animals that the popular media has presented as cute and ok to be near - rabbits, sheep, beavers, koalas. Given the tactical advantage they would do awful things to you. 

Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021. 

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