Burnout to Leadership

Ep#33 I can't do it

May 20, 2022 Dex Randall Season 1 Episode 33
Burnout to Leadership
Ep#33 I can't do it
Show Notes Transcript
  • What are we doing, telling ourselves we can't do things?
  • The cost of 'I can't do it'.
  • Self-doubt is a pre-fail.
  • Self-confidence doesn't need to know how we will succeed.

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Hi, everyone. My name's Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends. This is Dex, and I want to explore a little bit today how we tell ourselves we can't do things, that giant show stopper, because it's pretty much, I think, the ultimate de motivator, isn't it? You can do anything. I just wanted to say that right now at the beginning, because however grim and run down you feel right now, however burnt out and demoralised, you can bounce back to create what you want. Anyway, I thought of this 'cause I was teaching a group of coaches yesterday. We're in week one of their training program, and I watched as a student struggled with coaching a new concept, and I saw her face fall as she decided she couldn't do it, and she kinda looked at me all helpless and distraught. And I think this kind of moment is also foundational for high achievers dropping into overwhelm and burnout. They suddenly tell themselves that they can't do it. And, I see, I can't do it, as an instruction to the brain not to be able to do it, not to even look for a solution, just to forget. But really, when we do this, when we tell ourselves we can't do something, the wind goes right out of our sails. It's like slamming the door on our own noses. So why on earth would we do that? Well, unfortunately, it's a bit about conditioning. It's a bit about what told... People tell us we're able to do and not able to do. But also, when we're overwhelmed and over stressed, when we're feeling time challenged and exhausted, many of us start being pretty mean to ourselves. Our brains have much higher expectations than we can meet, and it chips away at our confidence. We might decide our performance is inadequate. It's kind of a vicious cycle where we get this hyper vigilance for perceived failure, which kind of leads to an escalation in self blame until this sense of defeat creeps in. And that's about when we hope no one else is looking and shame starts to become acute. So really, why do we set the bar so high? Well, it's normal. Doesn't everybody? When I said that, were you thinking about what other people might think or say about your performance? Did you kinda see this little minnow of doubt and insecurity flash by? For professionals, particularly the kind of people I work with, these highly trained professionals working in strict, procedural, systematic, prescriptive kind of disciplines, and I'm thinking about medicine, law, accountancy, finance, teaching, academia, but really, I know the list is very much longer than that. But, for those people, it's been drummed into them since day one that they have to be the best of the best, that it's a cut throat industry, and to be a member, they must maintain impossibly high standards. And not least for practical reasons, like reducing liability and risk. But the price of membership of that club is exacting and fails are often very public. I think also, in... My career was in software development, where in some ways, okay, it's logic, very black and white, very geeky, very analytical, but in other ways, there's a fair bit of latitude and creativity and problem solving, provided the end output quality is impossibly high, verging on flawless. So okay, well, for any of us who've had this kind of rigorous and minutely detailed career training and supervision, the bar's been set high for us. And we imbibe so much of that ethos culturally that we take up the rod and beat ourselves with it, often for life. Am I right? Can anyone relate to that? And perfectionism as well, by the way, becomes, in my experience, stronger with age. While we might have been emotionally buoyant and possibly even arrogant about our skills in early life, that can turn into an overhead of having to always be the best and be seen to be the best later on in our careers. We've got status and position to protect. We might feel that public scrutiny is tangible, even when it isn't even present. And typically by this point, of course, we are massively skilled and experienced, but, we've taken so much of that for granted as routine, as unconscious competence, we actually don't feel it anymore. I can't do this is available to every human, and it's overused by most of us. But as super achievers, we're always looking over our shoulder. Our brains are supposed to warn us of risk. But we have this twitchy little antenna scanning the horizon all the time. I think what we forgot, though, is that all this hype about being the perfect people with these happy, successful, perfect lives, it's all just ego, it's all just rubbish. And whenever we buy into that ego, joy will not ensue. So, I can't do it, I reckon it's one of those phrases that's worth tuning into when we hear it in ourselves, whatever hat it's wearing today, whatever the voice is it's coming through, if we hear you, I can't do it, I think it's worth noticing. Anything that undercuts our ability to be in the solution of what we're doing doesn't sound very helpful to me. Self doubt breeds incompetence. If we don't believe we'll succeed, we likely won't. We might not even try, it could be a Netflix moment. Self confidence on the other hand, allows us not to know how we're gonna do something before we try, and still believe in ourselves to succeed, 'cause the opposite of I can't do it might be, I'm learning to do it, or, it's worth failing at this to learn how to do it, or, I don't know how I'm gonna do it yet. I quite like, in fact, that my brain's gonna work it out. I haven't got this priceless computer jammed in behind my eyeballs, crammed full of life learnings for nothing. It likes solving problems, and I'm pretty sure I've got neural pathways to prove it. So I can't do it is just self doubt, it means I don't yet know how I'm gonna do it, and that's really, really awkward and uncomfortable for me, and if shame pops up then well, because shame thrives in the dark, it's gonna stop me asking for help too. I will tell myself... Personally, I'll tell myself it'll stop me looking like a dick, but that's gonna be a lie. None of us has all the answers, we're not supposed to, life's always been a team sport. I just won't have to admit I don't have the answer, I won't have to ask anyone for help. So I can't do it. Well, it actually does have a self protective quality, 'cause if I don't try, I can't fail, I can't look stupid, I won't waste time, but it also prevents me from learning, growing, trying anything new and feeling my emotions, it shuts me down, and it promotes over indulgence in food and so on. And then guess what, do I feel more empowered? I don't. When I'm working with clients, professional embarrassment is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. Actually, I don't know if I'm allowed to say that, but there's probably somebody somewhere offended by that. Okay, it's about as well come as... Look, I don't know. Okay. We just don't like it, alright? Our arm has been pierced, and our underbelly is exposed. Anyway, where was I? Lost myself then. Professional embarrassment. Another part of the reason I'm raising it is, it can be very hard for my clients to tell me they couldn't solve a problem, even if it's outside their field of expertise. Why do we think we have to know everything? It's absurd, right? I guess we just get used to this unconscious competence and anything else is a bit prickly and uncomfortable. I had a client recently tell me that he must always operate in the top 2%, that was his standard, and it did explain some of his acute discomfort trying to hire a new office worker and having no success, which is basically outside his zone of genius, and we spent time together working towards a feeling of capacity and sufficiency in an unfamiliar role, and then of course, he hired somebody who is brilliant. Or another client dreading having to go to his customers to tell them he couldn't get their orders out in time, and it was no fault of my client's, it was a country wide supply issue, but his anguish was enormous, and once we discussed that, he found a way to get through to calling the customers to have a collaborative discussion with them about solutions, and that left him feeling confident and competent again. Or another client charged with sacking a team member against his will, he felt he shouldn't have let the team member down in that way. And I think really his "I can't do" is more, "I don't want it to be me who does it" because it didn't align with his values and self image, and he tried to negotiate out of it, eventually coming to realise that it was actually his role to do it to the benefit of the company. But when I think about, I can't do it as a show stopper, it's really worth looking back at what it stopped us doing in our lives until now, and a lot of my gracious ideas haven't eventuated because I didn't think I could, or possibly sometimes because other people told me I couldn't, and I'm thinking straight away, I don't know why this popped into my mind, but I'm thinking back to 15 years old when I wanted to work with David Attenborough, who is based at the BBC in my home town. I mean, don't laugh, I'm still sad about that now, but when I decided to make a documentary in Eastern Europe has opened up to... Culturally to Western influence, was back in the early 90s, but happily there are other things I thought I couldn't do, but I did anyway. And becoming a coach in 2018 was one, hitch hiking around Africa, moving to Australia, working on the Barrier Reef as a dive instructor, that was pretty killer, starting three businesses, getting a job in animation studio, there's probably a much bigger list if I start downing around there. So I guess that means that I can't do it is a wake up call, it's telling me I'm uncomfortably vulnerable about not knowing something or not knowing how to do something, but it's also an opportunity to expand the repertoire of things I do now and can do, and the emotions I'm willing to feel. 'Cause everything we do or everything we don't do is because of how we think we're gonna feel afterwards, so if we tell ourselves, I can't do something, and we step back, we're preventing ourselves feeling some sort of emotional discomfort or an emotion that we think of as negative that we don't wanna front up to. But basically, now I'm willing to take emotional discomfort, now I'm willing to challenge my view of not being able to do things, now I can take on almost anything I'm interested in. I do at least one or two major projects each year, my sister keeps urging me to retire, but, I mean, not likely. I'm probably having more fun now than I have in a long time. So, what have you held yourself back from because you didn't know how or you told yourself you couldn't do it? And, you know, if you're in a stress, anxiety, over work, overwhelmed frustration, sort of cycle associated with what we call burnout or near burnout or heading that way, a big part of the anxiety, cynicism and overwhelm that so many people do experience at work these days actually blinds them to anything being possible. If you don't have enough energy to digest what's on your plate right now, you're not likely to be looking for more. So is that true for you? Ask yourself where you're sitting with that. And can I suggest that even if you don't feel good right now, don't limit your outlook to what you know is possible. People recovering from burnout spring bring back to life like flowers in the desert to be honest. Great things do become possible, and they start dreaming way, way bigger than they've felt able to for many years, and really it's because, once you tell your brain you can do something, your brain will find a way to do that for you. It will find the way forward, I see it all the time in my clients. So thanks for listening today. Now stop listening and go at your plan, because the thing we shut down is often the most personal and unique gift we have, our abandoned dream, it's our... It's what only you can bring into this world, so I'd encourage you at some point to just halt that idea if you're too tired now and get some coaching for burn out, or if you have capacity, let yourself dream a little bit and tell yourself, "If I could do this, how would I do it? What would I do next?" Alright, that's what I got for you today. You can visit my website @burnouttoleadership.com for the podcast show notes or wherever you get your podcast from, please subscribe and rate the podcast, or forward it to anyone you know who needs help emerging from a painful world of chronic stress at work to create new beginnings. Thank you so much. If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership Program. You can book in to tour with me @burnout.dexrandall.com, just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.