What you do and who you are

Have you ever felt that you will never be able to achieve what you want because of the kind of person you are? Have you thought: “I will never be successful because (and now pick at least one)

  • I am a procrastinator.”
  • I am not good at selling my work.”
  • I am shy.”
  • I am not good with money.”
  • I am [please add your own].

I realized that very often we confuse “What I did in the past.” with “Who I am.”

I grew up in a family with extremely talkative and outgoing women in the most talkative and outgoing area of Germany (that might not mean much in international comparison… but still). Everybody (including myself) knew: Eva is the quiet one. When I moved to northern Germany, where the general culture is much more taciturn and less outgoing, I still knew – and told my knew friends: “I’m a quiet one.” They paused, gave me a confused look and slowly and politely – as is their manner – said: “Sorry to disappoint you, but you are not. We know quiet… That’s not you.” So I realized that being quiet is a behavior that have I shown when I was in loud groups of very talkative people (you can still see me do that every Christmas at home) but that I can also be very talkative and engaged in other situations. Instead of being locked into one personality trait, all of a sudden I saw that there were a number of different behaviors that I could choose from.

I thought about this long ago experience again when I realized last week that often when we say: “I am like this.”, we actually mean: “In the past I have often done this.”

You will see what this means and why this is so important for change, if you try it out: Take the character trait that you have found most detrimental to your success. That could be:

  • “I am a procrastinator.”
  •  “I am not self confident.”
  • “I am irresponsible with money.” 

Rephrase this sentence into a description of past behavior (which led you to believe this about yourself in the first place):

  • “In the past I have often procrastinated.”
  • “In the past I have often not felt self confident.”
  • “In the past I have made some irresponsible financial decisions.”

To give yourself more to work with, be a bit more concrete, describe examples in which you have behaved this way. And see if you can remembers situations in which you didn’t. I was never quiet, when I visited my grandma on my own, because she would listen to what I had to say and there wasn’t a whole group of people competing for the stage. Seek out those situations, where it is easy for you to be a self confident, financially responsible non-procrastinator (or whatever perceived character trait you want to change), because you will enjoy them and you will learn that you have a whole range of behavioural options. And start trying out the new behaviour in your most challenging situations as well, reminding yourself: “In the past, I have done it this way…”

6 Responses

  1. I dislike calling someone on the phone (which is not the best characteristic if you work as a freelancer) but I know that I do quite well once being on the line.
    Thanks for the article and for reminding me of the power of rephrasing!

    • I can relate to that feeling. Somehow most things seem bigger before you start them and get easier once you are in the flow… if you get yourself to start.

  2. Well, you didn’t give the impression not to get yourself to start when we met. I still remember that conversation because you left me impressed … INSNA Sunbelt Conference on Corfu in 2006.

  3. Hi Eva,
    although SNA business didn’t evolve as good as I hoped for, I’m still in, mainly doing evaluation/controlling of network management.
    Have a nice weekend

  4. How do I become “socially savvy”?…

    I am all for developing your skills, practicing and reading books. But I would also encourage you to stay true to who you are. Some people are great in working the room and moving the crowds, others are amazing in one-on-one conversations and make peop…

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