During the first session in the new year, a coaching client told me how useless he felt.
Having reflected on last year, he could not help concluding that everything he touched, went
wrong. And thinking about it, this was not the story only for 2020 but actually for most of his
life. New Year’s resolutions seemed pointless since he knew he would not be able to stick to them and he certainly was not smart enough to sort out the mess he had made.
Reflection on the past is a great tool to understand what went right, what went wrong and
how things could have been done better. However, it is also a process that can easily derail
into self-blame, self-pity and procrastination. And as soon as that happens, reflection
suddenly becomes destructive. Why is that? Do you recognise any of the following:
- How could I have been so stupid? Why am I not as smart as she is? Why am I too shy to speak up like he does?
- If only they had listened to me, this would not have happened. What an idiot, what was he thinking? I could see this coming from miles away.
- There was nothing we could do, COVID-19 just killed the market. Competition is doing worse so it is actually OK.
If you have come across any of these, you are in good company. Many, if not all people we
work with, have these thoughts. Some people call them ’demons’, others call them
’gremlins’, sometimes they may not have a name but simply be a combination of bad
experiences that people do not want to go through again. It is common to come across
them when looking back. It is a defense mechanism that is intuitively triggered and either
results in ‘this is all my fault, I should stay out of these situations’ or ‘this is all happening to
me, I am not to blame’. Obviously, neither one is accurate or helpful.
What is helpful? Try looking back at things that happened to understand them objectively but
without judgment. There will be lessons that can be learned but spending time and energy on ‘what could have been’ is fairly useless.
My coaching client thought of John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy
making other plans”. And of course, he is right to an extent. When we discussed the
decisions he made last year, with the benefit of perfect hindsight, it was easy to conclude he
could have made other decisions. But when he put judgment aside and looked at
himself with a bit of empathy, it was clear that he made decisions that
were based on personal beliefs and conviction and therefore right for him at the time.
So, how about you and 2021? Can you embrace the demons, the gremlins, the
voices from the past? Remember, they are here for a reason, they are protecting you from
taking risks and trying to keep you out of harm’s way. So, recognise them for what they are
but try to not let them take control. It is only human to be more empathetic and less
judgmental with others than with yourself. If that sounds familiar, you may find value in
having an independent, skilled listener to help you get clarity in your thinking. To
help you look back at facts, without judging but with compassion for yourself and others. To
go forward focusing on things you can control. Let that be your New Year’s resolution.
Sounds daunting and difficult? Know that you are not alone. At Betterpreneurs we are a
phone call away for support. With all our best wishes for 2021.
Written by Erik Bosman, Investment and strategy aficionado