Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

Our Mental Scripts

A dangerously underweight fifteen-year-old girl looks into the mirror and sees herself as disgustingly fat. 

Such extreme conditions as anorexia nervosa are shocking in their effects upon people. However, could we all have milder distorting self-beliefs about ourselves, perhaps? 

How about this: We walk into a room and believe everyone is looking at us critically? Or, we believe that we are not creative. The reality may be otherwise. The mirror doesn’t lie, but our perceptions might be.

Most of us carry distorting self-beliefs.

As we grow in self-awareness, we become aware of our internal mental narratives. These are mental scripts or thought habits. Now, some of these scripts serve us very well; they are empowering. Some scripts, though, undermine us. Some of our scripts are about who we indeed are, and some are lies that we have come to believe about ourselves. Such internal lies limit us; they prevent us from being the best we can be.

Truths about ourselves

So, how do we know the truth about who we truly are? There can be many sources:

  •   What we believe about ourselves in the context of our spiritual faith
  •   An objective record of our achievements, as perhaps we might summarise in our CV or resumé
  •   The people we serve and how they express their value in us (for example, returning to “buy” from us)
  •   The evidence we have in how people speak about us and act towards us.

Of course, we have to sift the truth from the lies carefully. For example, what people may say to us may be pure flattery, which is self-serving deceit. Some can be a criticism of us from ignorance or prejudice. Healthy close relationships can speak truth into us, that we come to believe. Equally, abusive, manipulative relationships close to us can have a very distorting self-image.

Healthy close relationships can speak truth into us.

So we need to have a care how we receive the evidence, and what we genuinely buy into as truth about ourselves.

Writing down our scripts

One route to sifting the truth from the lies in this sensitive and complicated area is to write them down. When we write something down, it objectifies that script. It enables us to assess these statements with greater clarity and distance. Ultimately, we can resolve these statements into two lists:

  •  Positive, affirming truths about us, that are constructive, if sometimes challenging
  •  Negative beliefs that could remove any hope of our ever learning and improving

These two lists can grow as we grow. We discover more about ourselves as we step into new situations of challenge and develop our skills.

Speak it out loud

So what we can do with the positive truths is to declare them over ourselves. For example, we can say – out loud – something like: I am very competent in leading one-to-one appraisals. So, if we encounter a new, difficult relationship with a new team member, we can back up our positive declaration to ourselves from past evidence.

Speaking these truths out loud privately is very powerful. Purely mental assent does not seem to go as deep into our self-belief as if we speak it out loud. There is some evidence that as the mind hears us speaking, it begins to adjust its frames, its mindsets, to align with what we have spoken.

Asserting positive truths about ourselves – out loud – can be very powerful.

So, I invite you to declare positive statements about yourself over yourself in a private place. Then notice the effect it has on your confidence, the you that you bring to your different work situations.

The negative scripts we have about ourselves

For most people in challenging leadership roles, this list can be quite long. List everything out anyway. We find that some things happen as we do this:

  • A negative statement or lie about us begins to atrophy as we write it down. It starts to look ridiculous. Good! It should do. Most of us harbour nonsensical negative beliefs about ourselves. Often, as these lies are allowed to persist, they then limit our performance. They are embarrassing. They are faint lies that unspoken in the back of our heads. So the best deterrent for these is to expose them to plain view. They shrivel with full-on scrutiny.
  • We discover more lies as we write them down. This experience can dismay us at first. There seems to be a multitude of them. Persevere. Let them come. Write these little devils down. Expose each one for the fraud it is. We can say something like, “Bring it on.” We can let these lies lay themselves out on our list. Exhaust them. We can then say, “Is that all you’ve got?”
  • We may well discover some rather more painful, deep-rooted negatives. These can seem too painful even to write down at first. We know where they come from. We refuse to be ashamed. We may need professional counselling to help us articulate these. There is no shame in seeking this kind of help either. Making such an appointment is courageous, and we are hunting down these most potent harmful scripts. We remember that these negatives survive by living in the dark, in our liminal consciousness. A good counsellor or therapist can help us learn to destroy them. They help us find healing and freedom from these distortions by walking that journey into the spotlight with us.

Laughing at the lies

So, what do we do with this grim list of negatives?

We weaken distorted lies about ourselves by laughing at them.

Laugh at them. The lies are not us. We can laugh at them. Often they grip us because we have taken them so seriously. If we can find the opposite truth on our other list, we can laugh knowing the truth about us is otherwise. Again, do this out loud in a safe place.

Some common objections

  • Who’s to say which are lies and which are true?
    Well, we need to go back to those external sources we trust: what people have written about us, the trust others have placed in us, the belief system to which we adhere.
    In this relativist age, we have been sold short. We have been told that whatever is true for us is the truth. There comes a point where we need to take account of external sources; this is faith.
  • Is this such a big deal? Do we really need to do all this writing and speaking and laughing out loud stuff?
    Let me ask you this: Who is the you that you bring to places where there is danger or threat? As a leader, you need to bring your best you, your best identity, to those situations. Others that you lead deserve that from you. We all deserve you to bring your best self to the world.

As always, let me know in the comments below if you do this. Let me know if you try this for the first time, and what your experience was.

Photo by Ivan Karasev on Unsplash

Positive Outliers

How much breakthrough skill do you really have?

Have you ever wondered whether your efforts at self-development are really paying off? Do you sometimes feel like you are just treading water in getting better at your job? How we really get better at something is a critical issue of time, money and effectiveness.

How we get better at some things, becomes a critical issue or time, money and our effectiveness.

For years now I have been a student of how we truly progress in skill… in anything.

In particular, I’ve looked at these skill sets:

  • communications skills,
  • the skill of leading people through big changes, and
  • the skill of working on my own personal organization in the face of sometimes seemingly overwhelming busyness.
The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work
The Seven Keys eBook

The Seven Keys eBook

Revealing the Seven Key Areas that High Performers Pay Attention

One professional accreditation body that I have worked with is the Association for Project Management(APM), the UK’s IPMA professional body. The APM has put a good deal of work into recognizing skill in the field of project management. News broke last week that the APM is finally progressing towards Chartered Status. This means that if you gained APM’s Registered Project Professional (RPP) qualification, as a few of my clients have through my company, pearcemayfield, then you soon may be able to call yourself a Chartered Project Manager.

I like the way APM have designed and graduated their qualifications. Much of this is built on their Competence Framework. However, there are a number of practical challenges in using the whole Competence Framework as it stands. With our clients, we tailor this Framework quite heavily. But there is another reason why we look for a simpler, more general pattern of development.

When I was attending one of their approved training organization events, a member of APM’s L&D team told me that the

A Skill Acquisition Model

In my latest book, Click here for a paper on skill acquisition and growing in self-leadership.

We must move beyond tick-box assessments for professional skills and competence.

I commend the APM. I believe they have got this broadly right. We must move beyond mere tick-box assessment to prove our skill progression, in project management as in other areas such as being able to influence and lead stakeholders through effective change, and in our personal ability to manage ourselves.


Who do you think you are? Be Unique

One of the key chapters in my forthcoming book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out, is on Identity, the whole matter of how we see ourselves, our make-up and how we come to be unique. I believe this is pivotal because out of our own self-identity comes so much of what we do and how we do it. My self-identity is the “me” I think I bring to the world, to be unique not least to my work.

The book is about how we can do our best work in this VUCA world. When it comes to moving towards our best performance there is a real paradox: our identity is not in our performance.

Being unique is not about what I do. Who I am is not what I do nor is it how well I do it. This is crucial. If we cannot separate the two we become addicted to our work, and our self-worth suffers if events don’t go so well. Another manifestation of this confusion is the high mortality among people within a year of their retirement. No job, no identity. No, health comes through knowing who we are independent of our work.

We must find a way of discovering our true identity apart from our performance.

We must find a way of knowing our true selves independent of our performance. We must find a value in ourselves that transcends what we do.

I have come to realise that for each of us our identity is in at least two parts: the general and the unique.

For example, regarding my own general identity, I am British. I am growing a deeper appreciation of this as I travel around the world. I am a post-war baby boomer, which has meant I’ve carried around some generational baggage, such as a scarcity mentality. (I was born during rationing, and it informed the value system I was raised in.)

Also, being a post-war Englishman meant I was vulnerable to a post-imperial mentality, where we seemed to live in the shadow of America, marginal to much of what we used to lead. I have, to a degree, grown out of both of these limitations. I now appreciate a positive, abundance frame of reference as being a more real and healthy one. Also, over the last eighteen months, I have been privileged to work with the outcomes of a new kind of Britain, with such clients as the British Antarctic Survey, with various British research bodies and universities producing truly excellent science and learning. In the UK, we seem to have a knack of producing excellence on a shoestring. All this, at a general level, informs the identity I bring to clients all over the world.

The British seem to have a knack of producing excellence on a shoestring.

For our unique identity, we need to look elsewhere. The title of this post is taken from a BBC TV series of the same name. In each episode a particular media personality is shown discovering their family roots and ancestral lineage. This can be a powerful means of understanding part of our unique identity. But that is by no means the sum of where our uniqueness comes from.

Personality profiling also can help, particularly if the profiling tool is positive and non-judgemental. I will soon announce how subscribers can access one such tool, the AEM-Cube© to better understand themselves; even gain a better understanding of how they work with the team they are a part of. And there is Strengthfinder 2.0. This weekend I took my own assessment. I’m happy to share the results with you. My top five themes are:

  1. Connectedness
  2. Ideation
  3. Strategic
  4. Relator
  5. Learner

I’m pretty comfortable with that, but it’s real value to me is that it leads me to an awareness of aspects of my personality that I had hitherto taken for granted. More and more, I have the freedom to play to my strengths, rather than work on my weakness. Out of this comes true performance and fulfilment.

So, my conviction is that Solomon was right, Plato was right, Jesus was right.

Having a right understanding of who we are really, really matters.

What examples do you have of connecting with your unique self? What has helped you?

And how has a greater sense of your self-identity helped you?