It’s been a rough few years for supervisors in higher ed. Even before COVID hit, you were dealing with budget cuts, hiring freezes, low enrollment, retention, and a host of other issues, all while trying to supervise your team. Then COVID hit and things got exponentially worse. All of this has led to increased stress, exhaustion, and even burnout.
Despite this, supervisors often look at the job their doing and focus on the negative. Why did I do ____? Why can’t I ____? I wish I would ____? Are there more effective ways of doing things? Of course! Could you be supervising in ways that increased productivity? Yes, you could be. But here’s the thing. For you, right now in this space with everything going on – you’re doing the best you can. Give yourself some grace.
How do I know you’re doing the best you can? Because if you could do better, you would. What we do and how we do it are tied to our identity. And by identity, I simply mean “I am/am not the type of person who ____.” The values, beliefs, skills, and knowledge we acquire along the way help support us in that identity. Our behaviors reflect all of those things and the results show up in our environment.
Our aspirational identity is different – that’s about who you’d like to be. In other episodes of My Circus, My Monkeys, we’ve talked about the conscious and subconscious brain. Our conscious brain can assess what we’re doing and ask questions like, “Why do we keep doing ____ when I know it’s not productive?” Or “I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to ____?” The problem is, our subconscious is just playing out the programs that make up our current identity. Since our subconscious runs the show 95%-99% of the time, that’s why we do the same things we always do. They are our autopilot setting.
If you want to change part of your identity, you have to get what your conscious brain knows into your subconscious. That means changing your programming so your autopilot is doing the things you really want it to do. So how does one do this? Not by reading books, making lists, watching webinars, thinking about it, or even reading articles. Those are a great first step so your conscious brain can go, “Yes! This is what I need to be doing instead of ____!” We so often don’t know what we don’t know, so absolutely learning new information is key. But you can’t stop there, because your conscious brain is only running things 1-5% of the time. By itself, it can’t change how you operate.
There are two ways to get that new program into your subconscious – repetition and hypnosis. What do I mean by repetition? Habits. Doing things over and over again until it become second nature – aka auto-pilot. That means doing things, not just thinking about things. I have Intellection in my Top 10 and as I’ve talked about in other episodes, my process would often consist of realizing something and then thinking about it forever – possibly never acting on it at all until I get distracted by the next thing to think about. When I first became a Strengths Coach, I knew the information, but actually doing it was rough. I would worry about how it would go, what I would say, and what people would think about me. But the only way to become a good coach and then a better coach was to just do it – over and over again. Thinking or planning was never going to get me anywhere.
When we talk about how your talents are showing up as strengths or weaknesses, what we’re really talking about is what is your autopilot setting for your talents? Which of those habits help you and which get in your way? Then when you want to change, you need to change those habits that get in your way. How? By creating new habits. Either with that talent, or one of your other talents. And yes, at first that’s going to be clunky and take more energy. When I first started coaching people, I was clunky and it took a lot of my energy. But after you get it down, it becomes your autopilot, but on a corrected course.
The other way I mentioned to get your aspirational identity into your actual identity was by hypnosis. In higher ed, we’re used to thinking about hypnosis as a fun welcome week activity where people act like chickens. But what it’s really about is slowing our brain down to a trance state – aka theta brain waves. That’s the same state we’re in as we fall asleep, wake up, and when we day dream or hyper focus something – like that issue we have to talk about with our employee. We go over and over it in our mind. We’re constantly “hypnotizing” ourselves when we imagine how well, or more likely how poorly an encounter like that might go. You’ve heard of how positive visualization can help you succeed, especially in athletics – this is the placebo effect in action. Even though you aren't physically doing the thing, your subconscious brain thinks you are. The same thing goes for when we visualize how awful we think something might go. That's what's known as the nocebo effect. Again, you're just imagining yourself failing, but your subconscious brain doesn't know it's not real, so it's logging "we are not good at this." Whether you're visualizing how things will go positively or negatively, we’re communicating with our subconscious and letting it know we’re going to nail it – or fail at it.
Hypnosis can be a great way to make quick changes to your programming. You can get hypnosis audios online. I often suggest those for students in my speech class who are particularly anxious. Or you can go to a certified hypnotherapist. I’ve had several professional hypnosis sessions over the last two years, but I wanted to share one in particular. Since I was a kid, I hated selling. Girl Scout cookie time was the worst for me. Back in my day, you actually went and knocked on doors. I worried about it before I went, when I was doing it, and after I got back. That feeling stuck with me whenever I thought about sales. And thus you could have described my identity as “not the type of person who sells.” As you can imagine, that’s a terrible identity for someone with a small business. My hypnosis session didn’t make me a master seller, BUT it did get rid of that awful feeling that kept me from selling that made me avoid anything sales related. That freed me up to learn how to sell without the anxiety and worry. I was now able to get the resources I needed to be a better seller.
I know I started out by saying you should give yourself some grace because you’re doing the best you can, but then went into depth about how you could change. I want bring this all together. Getting down on yourself for not being something you’re not, is unfair. Most of our subconscious programming comes to us from others when we’re tiny humans. We do not control that. You’re not more organized because you’re not the kind of person who is organized. It’s not a judgement; it just is. Again, your subconscious is simply playing out the programs it’s been given. Once you know that, you can become more organized, but that requires you to change your identity – again by repetition or hypnosis. All that being said, you’re a supervisor in higher ed during a pandemic. Be realistic about what you have the energy to do. If you can identify something that would make your life better and less stressful by changing it, then do it. Make that commitment to yourself and your wellbeing. But make sure you’re doing it the right way. Not the way that society tells us where we just have to be disciplined and change our behaviors, because that’s not going to get you where you need to go. When you change your identity – when you get it in your subconscious mind, then your autopilot will be more aligned with where you want to go, instead of where your old programming was taking you.
So please give yourself a break – give yourself some grace, and move forward in a way that’s going to ultimately help you get where you want to go.
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