The fact that we see more women running powerful companies today than ever before shows that the “boys’ club” is finally starting to crack.
There are more brilliant women in important positions than ever: Marilyn Herson is a 32-year veteran and CEO of Lockheed Martin, the formidable defense company. Marissa Mayer is the very young president and CEO of Yahoo and Indra Nooyi is the Indian born, American naturalized chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo.
Still, even with women in these impressive positions, women only account for about 15% of the top five leadership positions at S&P 500 companies. Worse, there are only 23 female CEOs in the 500 corporations. Women who are making it in business, politics and sports are no longer blaming men or society for holding them back. They are blaming their inner voice, or part of it.
The ANTs Go Marching
Psychologists use the term “automated negative thoughts” or ANTs to describe the cynical, depressing or complaining thoughts that seem to come into our heads uninvited and leave behind an emotional mess.
Psychiatrist and author Dr. Daniel Amen describes ANTs as moment-by-moment thoughts that send our limbic system (or emotional center) into overdrive. When the limbic system is overactive, our mind’s filter becomes negative and we have more uncontrollable negative thoughts. It becomes a vicious cycle, and women in particular have had centuries of negative thought programming.
Former pro golfer and one of Britain’s most highly respected sports psychologist, Dr. Dan Abraham, speaks about ANTs as almost a normal function of the competitor’s mind, from sports to poker. When speaking about coaching professional poker players who face a big loss, Abraham advises to “staying calm, taking deep breaths, focusing and going through an internal dialogue (or self-talk) to get back on track.”
This self-talk is what can get a woman, or any professional, through the automated negative thoughts that come up when something goes wrong or unplanned or even when fear and self-doubt simply raises its ugly head. The key is to start recognizing these thoughts as ANTs; perhaps even writing them down or talking through them as is they were someone else’s thoughts.
Here are the nine categories of ANTs and simple, practical ways to use self-talk to get you through.
Thinking in Absolutes
Thinking in absolutes is thinking in black and white only, with no shades of a more realistic gray. It is when your thoughts use “always” and “never,” “everyone” or “no one,” and “everything” or “every time.” He never listens to me. I’m always late. No one will like it. Although in reality, he does listen at times, you are late just this time and you have absolutely no idea if anyone will like it, the absolute negative statements in your mind have a powerful effect on your belief in the moment. They will make you sad or angry.
If you find yourself thinking in the absolute; stop and rephrase the thought. Words are important. He is not listening to me because he is probably preoccupied with something. He usually listens to me. I am normally on time although I am late today because of… and it is okay. People will like my proposal/idea/plan because it was well thought out and well executed.
Focusing on the Negative
Focusing on the negative is an obvious one and also one hard to avoid. When something goes wrong, it makes sense to evaluate the problem and figure out how to improve or repair it. However, it is also easy to get sucked into focusing on only what went wrong and disqualifying what was good or went right.
It is important to learn from mistakes, but in a positive, balanced way. Always take the time to point out the successful parts of a situation before delving into what went wrong. Train yourself to take mistakes and failures as a form of success as you wouldn’t have learned what you now know otherwise.
Predicting the Future
Predicting the future is tempting, but ineffective. Most of the time, it means deciding that the worst possible outcome is going to happen. The worst part about predicting a negative outcome is the probability of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are convinced that your speech will go badly or you will get tongue tied at the introduction, you probably will. Then you will be able to enjoy an “I told you so” moment.
Try predicting a positive outcome. It may sound simple, but if you expect good things to happen, they certainly have a better chance. And even if it doesn’t turn out right, at least you’re only dealing with a negative outcome after it happens.
Mind reading is making a decision about what another person thinks or feels without them having told you anything. Mind reading is a common cause of misunderstandings between people. Many people believe that because they “know” each other that they can accurately read looks and interpret actions.
Stop right there. Remember how many times someone has misinterpreted you, even in the most intimate of relationships. Stop deciding what other people are feeling and communicate with them. Most people do not want you to take things the wrong way, so ask for communication.
Feeling without Thinking
When a negative feeling comes up and you do not take the time to question it with your mind, you need to take a step back. Feelings are often triggered by past experiences and are NOT the truth.
Look for evidence before you let a negative emotion rule you. Communicate with the person you are having a feeling about and discover the truth. Feelings can lie. Your thoughts and conversations can help straighten that out.
Wallowing in Guilt
Guilt has never been a helpful emotion. Guilt often causes you to do things you ordinarily wouldn’t. Guilt usually starts or includes “would have, could have, should have, ought to, must or have to.” I ought to spend more time at home. I should’ve worked harder on that project. I have to organize my office.
Try analyzing your guilty statements and discover what it is you want out of them. I want to spend more time with my family and I can… I worked very hard on that project and I am satisfied with it. I would like to organize my desk better. Do the things that you need to make you happy, not the things you “have to.”
When you negatively label yourself or someone else with judgments like “arrogant,” “lazy,” or “idiot,” you are lumping yourself or the other in with every other arrogant lazy idiot that ever was. You no longer have the ability to look at a situation clearly.
Stay away from labels, and if you cannot, label the action and not the person. Any smart and generous person can occasionally be lazy or do something idiotic. That does not describe them, it just describes one of their actions.
Taking it Personally
Personalization is taking on others’ words or behaviors as if they are your fault or have something to do with you. Your boss is in a bad mood. Taking it personally means you will spend the day wondering what you did wrong and how you can make up for this imagined problem. Most likely the mood has nothing to do with you.
If at all possible, open up to the other person and have a conversation to clarify the mood or problem or action – and what it would take to fix it. If not possible, try not to personalize. You can never truly know why people are the way they are or do the things you do.
When you blame others, you become a victim, and that is a very harmful position to be in. You assume you cannot do anything to get out of the position you are in. You take no responsibility for yourself. Blame has ruined many a relationship.
Own your part in any situation, negative or positive. Take your power back by considering what you can do to make the situation better. Whether another takes any responsibility or not, you can. By owning your actions and decisions, you give yourself the strength to change.
Whenever you notice one of the above ANTs entering your mind, start your self-talk and take away the power of the negative thought and gain control of your emotions. Don’t believe everything you hear – especially in your own mind. Instead, stop, take a breath and refocus. Take time to choose your response to a situation and take back control of your life.