(This letter was shared first with the Mindful Ambition email community.)
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
~ Richard Feynman
Although I read it in a book, this question hit me like a slap in the face.
“Why haven’t you achieved what you want to achieve?”
The sting of its honesty was painful at first. It highlighted the fact that I wasn’t achieving the results I’d like in an area of my business.
As I sat with the uncomfortable thoughts that surfaced as a result of this question, I was saw the truth of the matter more clearly: I haven’t seen the results I want to achieve because I haven’t taken the actions that would create those results.
In other words, this question reminded me that I have 100% responsibility for the results (or lack of results) I’m getting in any area of my life.
And if that were to change, I was the one person on earth who needed to start acting differently.
In this moment, I wasn’t judging myself or beating myself up for the actions I hadn’t taken. Although I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I knew that getting upset with myself would only make the road forward more difficult. (I also wasn’t blaming external forces. That would just make me less likely to take positive action.)
“If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing. If we don’t really know where we are standing…We may only go in circles…”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Owning Your Results
If you aren’t seeing the results you’d like in an area of your life, changing that starts by taking ownership over your actions.
Below is an explanation of the exercise I created for myself to do that in this situation, with key reflections you can use to do the same.
1) Facing the Beast (With Self-Compassion)
Connecting with where you are involves getting brutally honest with yourself. (While refraining from judging yourself or beating yourself up.)
Key Reflection: “Why haven’t you achieved what you want to achieve?”
2) Identifying Actions
I made a bullet-point list of the actions I hadn’t followed through on.
In my case, a number of these actions were immediately clear to me. I’m sure there could be others involved, but the core stood out strongly.
Owning up to this was painful, but from that discomfort emerged a clear path forward.
Key Reflection: “What are the actions that would be required of you to achieve the results you aspire to?”
3) Going Deeper — Seeing the Thoughts Behind the Actions
After identifying what I hadn’t done, I was curious…Why hadn’t I done those things if I could easily identify them as important?
To figure this out I first reconnected with the idea that behind every action is a thought or belief about that action.
After reflecting further, it was clear that I had a number of limiting beliefs that were inhibiting my progress. (e.g. “Maybe I’m not actually good at this…” “Maybe nobody actually wants this…”)
Key Reflection: “What are the thoughts and beliefs that hold you back from taking action?”
4) The Truth of the Matter
Knowing that these limiting beliefs weren’t necessarily true, I sought evidence for what actually was true. And for each of my limiting beliefs that came up, I could find multiple clear examples of why the opposite was actually true. Needless to say, this was liberating.
On the paper in front of me were two thoughts: one that held me back, and another, the truth, which would propel me forward.
Key Reflections: “What’s the truth of the matter? Could the opposite of the thoughts that held you back actually be just as true (or more true)?”
5) Moving Forward With Patience
After getting clear on what I needed to do next, I could focus on what was in my control: taking that action.
In doing so, I needed to let go of the impatience that causes me to want to be in a different future state right now. That’s simply not going to happen. But I can take action here and now to take another step forward.
Key reflections: ”Can I let go of a need to be in the future today? Can I embrace that taking action today is all that’s in my control anyway? And if I continue to do that, I’ll be putting my best foot forward?”
Seeing Clearly (Especially When it Hurts)
At it’s heart, mindfulness is a practice of clear seeing.
In practicing non-judgment, you give yourself the opportunity to see the truth of your reality more clearly.
Instead of living in the world of the stories, excuses, and beliefs floating around in your head, you can ground yourself in acceptance of the way things are.
This exercise is a test of your ability to accept the truth of your reality without blaming others or beating yourself up about it.
It’s not always comfortable to face the truth…But the benefits of connecting with reality far outweigh any temporary discomfort you’ll experience.
Here’s to a week of truth-seeking!