What can we learn from past experiences?

The way we act and react in situations today, is often the result of years of hardwiring.

This week, a client related how powerless she felt to voice her opinion to senior peers, even though she was the project lead and had to offer her advice and guidance.

She didn’t want to speak her mind because she didn’t want to seem disrespectful. As a child, her mother told her she should hold her superiors in high regard.

If you have a strong memory of an experience, you may have hardwired a response in your brain.

My client was hardwired ‘not to challenge’ and to ‘act respectfully around her superiors’, albeit that she disagreed with them and knew her advice was sound.

In instances like this, our amygdala is getting in our way. The amygdala is our fight, flight or freeze mechanism. I like to call it our ‘caveman brain’. Anytime the caveman sees danger, it will sound the alarm in your brain, to make sure that you defend yourself; whether that means saying nothing (flight or freeze) or becoming defensive (fight).

The caveman chooses to protect us in situations that seem familiar or that it considers risky. The problem with the amygdala, is that it often bases its reaction on past experiences that are not relevant to our current situation.

My client was confusing hierarchy with the nature of her role and whilst she has no reason to fear her peers, her caveman (the amygdala) was ‘forcing her’ to always react in the same way she always does i.e. acting respectfully and avoiding any form of possible conflict.

Often just acknowledging the ‘caveman’s presence’ is enough. It’s like saying, ‘Hey there caveman. I hear you, but this is not a scary situation. I can handle this!’

Next time, she will remember to breathe and to act in the way that she intended i.e. being respectful whilst challenging her peers, offering sound advice and hammering out the best solution for their mutual client.

Becoming aware of where your emotions, thoughts and feelings stem from and challenging them, is a good start to understanding why you may act and react the way that you do.

Your strengths are not what you think they are!

Throughout your life, you may have been fooled to believe that your strengths are what you are good at and your weaknesses are what you are bad at. 

But, that’s not entirely true!

I’m sure, that if you were to list your strengths right now, that there would be a number of activities on that list that you don’t even enjoy doing. If you’re good at something, that’s performance; it’s not a strength, and as such you are the least qualified to identify your strengths, because you’re not the best judge of your own performance.

So let’s look at this slightly differently. 

Think of yourself as a Superhero. Your strengths are activities that strengthen you, and your weaknesses are activities that weaken you, much like kryptonite. If you define a strength as an activity that strengthens you, then the person most qualified to identify your strengths is you.

Those tasks that you put off and don’t like doing – those are your weaknesses – even if you are GOOD at doing them.

I challenge you to keep a log this coming week. On one side of your log, write LOVED it and the other side write LOATHED it. Each time you look forward to carrying out an activity and it gives you pleasure and energy, log it under LOVED it; these are tasks that strengthen you. Every time you procrastinate about a task, delegate it to someone else or feel exhausted when you’ve done it, log this under LOATHED it; these are tasks that weaken you.

You may find yourself becoming more aware of what your true strengths are, and you can start really enjoying what you do and adding lots more value at work!