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Fielding a great team is crucial to winning on any playing field. The same is true in building long-term, sustainable health and fitness.
But I’m not talking about your friends, family, co-workers, and gym buddies who are there to help keep you motivated and accountable. Those people are important — but just as important, if not more so, is the team that is with you 24/7, giving you advice, encouragement, or, alas, discouragement no matter what you’re doing.
I’m talking about the team in your head.
You know, the ones constantly chattering away no matter how hard you try to concentrate. I’m not saying you have Tyler Durden in your head, living a wholly separate life. But we all have a constant stream of commentary going all the time, emanating from different aspects of our (mostly) cohesive personality.
Who initiated these ongoing discussions, the constant second-guessing, the infinite deprecation?
Maybe not consciously, but we each invited this cast of characters to contribute to our thought processes and we probably had good reason for it — at the time. The problem is the chatter of these voices becomes habitual and impossible to ignore.
So, as you clean up the clutter of last year, prep for the challenges of the new year, and lay out your goals for the long term, it’s time to evaluate your mental team and cut the players that aren’t contributing to your success.
Step 1: Assess Your Players
Take a long listen to your self-talk. Give each voice a name. For me, I continuously battle with “Betty But.” She’s the one who always has a counter for any idea I come up with. She tells me in no uncertain terms how my plan is destined for failure. She’s very convincing, and when I listen to her, I get mired in non-action.
Here’s a typical conversation between me and Betty:
Me: I think I’ll train for a half-marathon.
BB: But you don’t have time for that.
Me: Well, maybe I’ll sign up for a 5km race.
BB: But you don’t even like running.
Me: I’ll sign up and start training. If I don’t enjoy it, then I’ll stop.
BB: But that’s just throwing money away.
You get the idea. Betty is the first player I’ll cut from my team.
In contrast, I often rely on Decisive Denise. She’s there for me when I struggle with my next step. She knows that moving forward imperfectly is more effective than standing still perfectly.
Here’s what it sounds like when Denise steps in:
Me: I think I’ll train for a half-marathon.
DD: Find one and sign up now.
Me: I’m not sure when I’ll be ready. Maybe I should train for a while first.
DD: Pick one and commit. Start today.
Decisive Denise is not always right, but she’s always decisive. She helps move me off dead center. I definitely want to keep DD on my team. Even though she’s led me to make decisions that were not necessarily the wisest, she’s led me to decide. And that’s invaluable.
Step 2: Make the Cut
Cutting a player from your mental team may not be as easy as leaving a note in a locker, but that’s a good place to start. Take some time to think about why that player is no longer a good fit for your team and then write her a note. Thank her for her contributions and let her know you are taking the team down a new path and her particular talents are no longer a good fit. Be kind (she’s been a part of you for a long time), but be clear.
Here’s how I broke the news to Betty But:
“Betty, you’ve been a part of my team for a long time and you’ve helped me avoid a lot of situations that could have been disastrous. I appreciate you for your care and caution, but it’s time for me to move in a different direction. I need to embrace adventure and risk-taking, and you are no longer a good fit for this team. I don’t need your over-enthusiastic warnings or your fear-based defensiveness any longer. You’ve been replaced by Cindy Confident who wants to embrace new ideas and try new things. I wish you luck and a life safe from failure, which seems to be your only goal.”
You can write the note on your computer and print it — or, even better, hand-write it on a notepad. It’s always more meaningful and satisfying to write these notes by hand. Once you’ve written the note, read it a few times. Make it real. Then throw it away or, if you want to be even more ritualistic, burn it. Be done with those thoughts and that particular teammate.
Will this automatically stop the negative self-talk? Probably not, but it’s a good start and will help you remember where that chatter is coming from and why you want to ignore it.
Step 3: Draft New Players
The last part of this process is encouraging the “A” players on your team to contribute more often and more loudly. Put them in for the big plays and let them shine. Reward them by listening to and acting on their advice. Even if it leads to a fumble, thank them for encouraging you to be bold and taking that risk.
Do this consistently and you might notice other new players showing up to play. Cindy Confident brings her friend Farrah Fun who finds joy in everyday life no matter how mundane it can be. Let Farrah Fun take over more often and she may bring along her friend Resolute Rhonda, who will help you push through the hard times.
See where I’m going with this? Take control of the cast of characters in your head, let the positive ones be heard and have fun with it. Before long, the Betty Buts and Debbie Downers won’t be able to get a word in edgewise.
Your Winning Team Is Inside You
You are a singularly amazing person. But you are an even more amazing conglomeration of personalities, emotions, and beliefs. Organizing those voices inside you into a solid, inspiring, and dedicated team can be an amazing thing. Especially when you realize that it’s all you all along. Your happy, successful side grows stronger while your gloomy, defeatist side shrinks away.
Remember the three steps to creating your winning team:
- Assess your players — identify and name the voices in your head, both the positive and negative performers.
- Make the cut — decide who is not contributing in a productive way, write them a note, and say goodbye.
- Draft new players — use that empty space to encourage the rest of your team or bring a new, uplifting voice on board.
Couple this supportive and loving team that lives in your head with a supporting and loving team that populates your daily life, i.e. friends, family, co-workers who push your forward and believe in you, and you can’t lose. Cultivate a powerful and positive relationship with your inner and outer teams every day. Cut the negative voices. Let the positive ones shout, cheer, and applaud.