I had a conversation during a Get Out the Vote call on Monday that has me thinking about how our own thoughts can hold us back. There’s an important distinction between being aware of our tendencies and allowing them to define us. In this week’s video we’ll explore that distinction.

Last Monday night I volunteered for a Get Out the Vote effort, making calls to be sure people had a plan to vote. It was a fun way to burn through some pre-election jitters, and to support something I think is important – the idea that we each can contribute to the building systems we want to live in.

One call left me scratching my head. “We don’t vote,” she said.  “I work for the Federal government, and my husband is in the military. We’re going to have to work for whoever gets elected, so we don’t vote.”  I was stunned into silence. Finally, I managed to squeak out, “Wow. That’s really interested. Is there something that has you worried about voting?”

“No,” she said. “We just don’t vote.”

“I’m so curious about that. Do you mind telling me more?”

“Well, the thing is, if we get all involved and get our hopes up and then our guy doesn’t win, we’ll be disappointed. In the end we’re going to have to work for whoever wins anyway. It’s better to not have to go through that.”

This really got me thinking about all the different ways we back away from what we want in order to avoid disappointment.

Maybe there’s a project or opportunity you’d really like, but you shy away from putting your name in the hat for it, for fear that you won’t get it (or worse, that you will get it, but won’t be good at it).

Or there’s something about how your team is running that doesn’t quite work for you, but you stay quiet, out of fear that nothing will really change.

Or you see a process improvement or new approach that your company could benefit from, but you keep it to yourself, because they probably won’t listen any way.

We all have that voice inside our head that wants us to stay safe and to avoid disappointment. It’s perfectly natural to feel that hesitation. Sometimes it’s even smart to listen to it. There are times when speaking up or taking a stand truly does come at a cost.

The thing to pay attention to is whether your current situation is one of those times – truly a risky proposition – or not. Is the decision you’re making (to take action or not to take action) coming from a true assessment of your current situation, or from an old habit?

One clue is to listen to the language you’re using about the situation. The non-voter I spoke to didn’t say, “We aren’t voting this time because ….” She said, “We don’t vote.”  It was a statement of fact about who she is and what she does.

These types of statements are very powerful. They define who we are, and what we do. They can be helpful as a way to create boundaries or set standards.  For example, “I don’t drink alcohol” sets out a clear boundary about what I put in my body. “I am athletic” sets a standard for myself as being someone who is active, strong and healthy. “I am someone who meets my goals” keeps my eye on the prize, and keeps me in motion. These identity statements are productive driving forces that contribute to well-being and success.

Unfortunately, some of the identity statements we make about ourselves limit our choices, our power and our possibilities. “We don’t vote” takes away the opportunity to have a say in local, state and national representation.  “I don’t make waves” or “I go along to get along” eliminates the possibility of changing circumstances that aren’t working for us. “Success is for other people” reduces our energy to achieve. “I’m not very organized” or “I’m not good with technology” or provide excuses for why we’re not where we want to be. These kinds of identity statements are restraining forces that can hold us back, if we’re not paying attention.

Moving away from disempowering beliefs takes courage. It takes a willingness to risk disappointment. Your candidate might not win. You might not get the promotion. Your idea might not work. Things on your team might not change.

To face that possibility, it helps to see the power in the action itself. I vote not only so my candidates will win, but because I value the core idea of democracy – that every voice matters. You take the steps to get the promotion not only for the promotion itself, but because of what you’ll learn from the process of going for it. You risk speaking up, not only for the specific thing you want, but because in doing so you’re claiming your place as a contributing member of the team.

When you take action from a place of possibility, you win, regardless of the outcome.


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