Imagine for a moment you’re seven years old. What does that feel like?
Do you remember yourself at that age? Were you curious, imaginative, silly, or shy? What did you love doing? What was your favorite color, food, outfit, game?
Try digging up a picture of yourself from that time and look closely at it. Let it jog those memories and deliver you back to a time when your young genius ran wild.
Now remember that version of yourself facing a new experience or goal. Maybe you started trombone lessons or tried to shoot an arrow. Maybe you were learning to swim or tasting a raw clam for the first time. What jumps out in your memory? Do you remember the tension of pulling back on the bow, the smell of the chlorine from the pool? Can you taste the salty, slimy clam in your mouth?
The Christmas I received my first new bicycle, I remember staring in awe as it sat gleaming under the tree. It was silver and purple, shiny and perfect, with white streamers dangling from the handle bars.
I couldn’t WAIT to ride it, my excitement eclipsed only by the abject terror I felt at the thought of mounting that high seat. How could I possibly do it?
I was bound and determined, but unsure of the process.
When spring finally arrived, my father brought my beautiful purple and silver bicycle to the driveway and explained that he was going to mount a set of training wheels to the back wheel— to keep me from tipping over— until I was ready to ride the bike without them. At which point he would remove the training wheels and I would be good to go.
But how will we know I’m ready, I asked?
Over time, he said, the more I practiced riding, the less I would wobble on the bike and the less the training wheels would touch down on the road, until the day that they stopped touching the ground at all. Then we would know that it was time to take them off.
But how will we know that I won’t fall once we take them off?
I would have to TRUST, he said. If I practiced enough, if I stuck with it and put in the time, I would eventually be ready.
So, I did the work. Every day, on the driveway. I rode my bike, wobbling back and forth and leaning on those training wheels. But over time, even when I didn’t realize it, the training wheels were touching down less and less.
Until the day my dad said, “It’s time to take them off.”
I was unsure. Nervous. Wasn’t sure I trusted myself. Wasn’t sure I wouldn’t fall.
But when I mounted that bike seat and pushed off, heart in my throat, bearing down hard on the pedals to get momentum, I kept the bike moving forward, I hit my stride. No wobble. I felt completely free and unencumbered. It was like I was flying, the purple streamers flapping from the handlebars under my white knuckled grip.
It felt miraculous.
But it wasn’t a miracle. I had done the work.
As young geniuses, we are constantly faced with opportunities to explore and discover, to try and fail. It’s part of our evolution as humans. Without that drive, that resolve, we wouldn’t be upright, standing creatures. Have you ever seen a young baby try to take its first steps? Do they get frustrated and dejected after that first tumble, throw up their arms and give up? Do they become intimidated and insecure and resign themselves to never walking? Nope. At that stage of life, our brains are not developed enough to let those limiting beliefs creep in and hold us back. We just keep getting up, falling, and getting up again until we walk.
So, when do we stop trusting that the work will pay off? When do we start doubting our own genius, what we’re capable of, and let limiting beliefs take over?
It has a lot to do with how we’re socialized, what’s modeled for us in our first families, in school, what we hear from other people in our lives. It’s only as we get older that those limiting, fear-based beliefs start to materialize. Because we internalize all those influences, we stop trusting ourselves, stop trusting that we can accomplish the things we want to do by doing the work. We stop trusting the process.
Limiting thoughts become more or less automatic, so much so that we don’t even realize we’re thinking them. And since we believe those thoughts, we behave based on them. And the whole cycle reinforces itself.
How do we rebuild our trust that, by doing the work, we can accomplish the goal?How do we reclaim that “young genius” part of ourselves, the part that embraces new adventures, challenges, opportunities to try and fail?
It starts with the thoughts we choose.
Thoughts just happen, right? We can’t control them.
Not true. We can’t control our feelings. They just happen, and we feel them. But thoughts are choices we make, all day every day, and sometimes we choose poorly by pivoting to thoughts that don’t serve us very well.
- Who am I KIDDING?
- I won’t get that job.
- I’m too old, inexperienced, not cutting edge enough, have been out of the workforce too long, I’m too this, not enough that, someone will figure out that I’m an imposter…
The list goes on and ON.
Here’s the thing: When we choose those thoughts, we fire neurons in our brain. And guess what—not unlike the muscles we build by going to the gym, the more we think those thoughts, the more likely those neurons will fire again.
In neuroscience the saying goes… what fires together, wires together—in other words, the more often those neurons fire, the stronger that pathway will become. Which means you’ll stay stuck in that thought pattern.
It’s not my opinion—it’s science.
But you can change it.
WHAT? I can change my brain?
How in the world can I do that?
By thinking differently, then practicing those thoughts.
More than practicing as a verb, though. We have to make it a practice. Practice as a noun. Part of our daily lives. A mindset. A way of being.
Then you’ll fire different neurons, and those neural pathways will get stronger so that the next time you’re more apt to think the better thought.
Firing neurons and reigniting your resolve, as it turns out, kinda go hand in hand. You can choose the thought that empowers you, the thought that lets you trust the process and inspires you to do the work. Like my young genius and the purple bike.
Scientists call this awesome process—where we change our brain’s wiring by changing our thoughts—NEUROPLASTICITY.
I call it a superpower. Think Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. She had the power from the very beginning to get home to Kansas, just by clicking her ruby heels together. We’re all like that. Each of us has the power, right now, to change our brain’s wiring by changing our thoughts, and practicing those thoughts.
Practice makes possible… if you do the work and trust the process.
Okay, sounds good, but does it really work?
Yes. Changing thoughts is the internal work. Of course, when you’re returning to the workforce or trying to uplevel your career, you have to do the homework of researching jobs, maybe addressing your skill deficits, getting up to speed on new technology. The external work.
Then make a practice of choosing the thoughts that lift you, empower you, and remind you of your worth and capability.
Abraham Maslow famously said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
Let’s say it a different way: If the only thoughts you have are limiting, you’ll see every problem as… a problem.
Instead, how about choosing to see every problem as a spankin’ new purple bike? Or maybe a red Ferrari or a blue Lamborghini (check out my recent car adventure here).
The choice is yours. Choose wisely.
If you have an audience who can benefit from a talk on this topic, please schedule a call here.