Recently, after thinking about it for several years, I made the decision to undergo an Executive Physical. This involves a series of tests and consultations to get a holistic picture of one’s health along with a plan for addressing any issues that are found.

My understanding was that there would be a fixed cost for the exam and that the physicians involved were making choices regarding what tests to recommend with the fixed fee in mind. Midway through the process, however, I learned that the program uses a fee for service model, and that the cost to me could be substantially more than I had planned for.
I felt stupid and embarrassed. Why didn’t I research this more thoroughly in advance? How could I spend so much money on something like this?

Over time (and with some help), I came to realize that investing in my health is a good thing, both for me and for others. And, while it is difficult and unfortunate to have to pay more, it is also not the end of the world, nor is it a measure of my self-worth that I got surprised by the cost of the exam.

This experience reminded me that, to a significant extent, I create my reality. My strong feelings were caused not primarily by having to pay more than I expected. Instead, the way I interpreted what happened created my feelings of distress. I was taught growing up to “suck it up” when it comes to personal health and that spending money on myself was selfish. Paying for the exam was a direct “violation” of this belief system.

Research in neuroscience makes it clear that what you think of as “reality” is actually an interaction between what is happening “out there” and the interpretations your brain makes of the data it takes in through your senses. These interpretations are heavily influenced by past experiences including concepts you were taught growing up and emotionally intense events you have lived through.

Transference is a psychological term which refers to our tendency to view current situations through a view of the world we developed in the past. All of us (some more than others) fall prey to transference at times, and when this happens our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are affected, not always for the better.

When a coach works with you to build self-awareness, part of the goal is to help you to recognize when you are “distorting reality” in the present because of past experiences or outdated beliefs.
Here are a couple of examples:

  • Leaders sometimes need to deliver difficult messages about performance, change management, or other concerns, and many leaders avoid these situations. If you believe that you are bad if you “cause” unhappiness in others, you will likely judge your success by whether you deliver the news in a way that doesn’t upset others. This causes feelings of anxiety (because you can’t control other’s feelings) which leads to avoidance. If, on the other hand, your mindset has been “updated” such that you evaluate your performance based on your ability to deliver the message clearly, honestly, and with compassion, then you are evaluating based on something you can control in the present. You will find that you may still have “anticipatory anxiety”, but it will pass much more quickly. Same situation, different mindset, different result.
  • A colleague is unusually terse in her behavior towards you. You wonder if you have done something to make her angry. If your self-esteem is based on pleasing others (something learned in childhood), your colleague’s terseness will cause you anxiety. On the other hand, if your self-worth is grounded in an awareness of your unconditional value as a human being, you will be able to view the interaction objectively and wonder if your colleague is having a bad day (which has nothing to do with you).

Working with a coach to become more aware of your “reality distortion field” is critical to becoming a high performing leader. Through assessments and dialogue, it is possible to come to recognize when you are engaging in transference and to learn how to manage thoughts and feelings from the past that get in the way of your leadership effectiveness in the present.

Want to learn more about transference and how it impacts your effectiveness as a leader? Click here for a complimentary consultation with an experienced TBG coach.

You Worked Hard To Reach The Top

You Worked Hard To Reach The Top

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