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Up Until Now & Absolutes

Opening the Door to the Possible.

Many times, we undermine our own legitimate desire to change with the language we use. We cue ourselves internally in a non-helpful way which increases the likelihood we will shut the door to change, or at least make it harder. We fall in with the habits of the brain, cueing confirmation bias and the tendency of the brain to catastrophize.

Fortunately, there are workarounds you can use to help trick your brain to think more broadly about possibility.

Here’s how it works.  I often hear clients say, “I’m not very good at this,” or “I hate this,” or “This is really not my strong suit,” or words to that effect. Just this morning, I heard a client I’ll call Jocelyn say “I have never been a good public speaker.”

There are two problems with this.

Problem #1: Confirmation Bias

Let’s look at Jocelyn’s situation.  First, because of confirmation bias, when Jocelyn’s brain “heard” her make that statement about never being a good public speaker, it automatically began looking through her memory vaults for examples of what she was describing.  It went on a search for examples of all the confirming data – mistakes, shaking voice, tripping over a mic wire, losing her place, etc. – from her life, and confirmed her statement: “Yep, look at all this data – we’re clearly terrible at this!” Without intervention, her brain did not look for the times when she did well.  She hadn’t asked it to.

In fact, when you go through this process, your brain, like Jocelyn’s, is likely to ignore any data that disproves whatever “allegation” you have made.

Problem #2: Catastrophizing

Also, the brain likes shortcuts and simplification. Yours may, like Jocelyn’s, start doing what is called “catastrophizing.” Jocelyn’s brain “rounded up” and said has she never been a good speaker.  She could have also said she was always a bad speaker, either way, making it into an absolute – “I am bad at this forever.”  “Catastrophizing” makes whatever it is much worse than it actually may be.  This is part of our threat assessment system, where the emotional-reactive parts of the brain pile on reasons to avoid something perceived as dangerous…like public speaking…or networking or asking for what you want. That doesn’t make it right.

The Workarounds.

Up Until Now…

I asked Jocelyn to insert one phrase in front of the negative blanket statements she was making about herself and her talents, my phrase of possibility: “Up until now…”

“Up until now, I have never been a good public speaker.”

“Up until now, I have hated this.”

“Up until now, this really has not been my strong suit.”

That funny little statement causes the brain to say, “Huh. Perhaps there is another possibility for the future.” It may be a tiny possibility, but it does open the door just a crack to change!

Remove the Absolutes

If I were there as your coach, I could question you, as I did Jocelyn, and ask if she had really never given at least an okay talk. It’s very, very rare that “never” and “always” are true.  It might be 99% true, but that isn’t always, and it can provide you with some ideas of how a better future might be possible.

What Do You Want to Improve?  Coaching Yourself.

Think of all the things you would categorize yourself as doing badly, needing to improve, or a flaw.

Ask yourself, is this true all the time? See how it feels to put “Up until now” in front of those blanket statements.

Notice how all of a sudden, change feels more possible!









Cynthia Burnham.

San Diego, CA
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