When Tom Brady started at the University of Michigan in 1995, he was still, by his own admission, a sheltered kid from San Mateo, Calif. He wanted to play football but was struggling as he wasn’t being given the same opportunities as others. Greg Harden, who was counselling the athletes, suggested they talk and in subsequent conversations turned Mr. Brady’s life around.
“He pushed me to wake up and grow up,” the legendary NFL quarterback writes in a foreword to a book by Mr. Harden. “More than 20 years later, I still think back on Greg’s teachings. Quit focusing on all the things you can’t control. Focus on being the best version of yourself. Work as hard as you can. If you’re only going to get one rep, do it perfectly.”
It’s not just Mr. Brady. His advice also helped 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, football Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star Desmond Howard and former NBA star and Toronto Raptor Jalen Rose. With each, he would begin: “If you don’t believe in yourself, why should I believe in you?” He feels that believing in yourself can lead to a positive attitude and 100-per-cent effort. But if you don’t believe in yourself, your attitude turns negative – you become miserable and depressed, and that carries through to your performance, as was happening to Mr. Brady.
You must stay positive in a negative world. “I want you to become the best friend you ever had in your life because your best friend has to be you,” Mr. Harden writes in Stay Sane in an Insane World.
Controlling the controllables has been a central pillar of advice from Mr. Harden over the years. There are so many things in life you can’t control; indeed, at times life will seem to be spinning out of control. But even then, you can control yourself – your own actions, reactions and feelings. “Never forget that you are the only person who has control over your own mind,” he stresses.
Perhaps your supervisor is getting under your skin. Feedback you’re receiving, repeatedly, is negative. “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission,” Mr. Harden counters.
They can create conditions that make it more likely you’ll feel that way. They can even insist you feel inferior, berating you. But you must control your thinking, rejecting the urge to take it personally, and continue to focus on performing at your best in meeting the organization’s objectives. He urges you to regulate your own moods independent of external forces.
He highlights the four A’s that we emotionally crave: Attention, affection, approval and acceptance. To fulfill them in a healthy way, he asks you to put the word “self” in front of each one. They become self-attention, self-affection, self-approval and self-acceptance.
“When you give yourself the attention, affection, approval and acceptance you need, you liberate yourself from the yoke of other people’s expectations … you free yourself from all those situations in your life where you’re forced to compromise your own happiness – or even your own safety and sanity – to get those basic needs met,” he writes.
Adding self to the four A’s is a formula for avoiding negative self-talk fuelled by trying to please others. He experienced it when he was young, telling himself that he didn’t know what he was doing as a therapist at a drug and rehabilitation centre and as a Black man in rural Appalachia he was dealing with clients who were racist and would never listen to him. Ash Wednesday happened to be approaching and he figured if Catholics could give up chocolates or other indulgences for Lent, he would give up fear and self-doubt for 40 days.
And then he extended it beyond Lent. At the essence is self-love. He will sometimes tell people he is coaching that they need to become selfish – but in the best way. If you deny yourself love, you undervalue yourself, see only your mistakes and become your own worst enemy. As was happening to Tom Brady when Greg Harden walked into his life.
- Executive coach Brad Stulberg says to develop an identity that can persist and thrive you must diversify your sense of self: “You can think of your identity like a house. You want the house to have multiple rooms. Perhaps there is a ‘parent’ room; an ‘athlete’ room; an ‘employee,’ ‘entrepreneur,’ or ‘executive’ room; a ‘community member’ room, and so on. It’s okay to spend a lot of time in just one room, but you’ve got to ensure you keep the others in good enough shape.”
- Digital marketing expert Ann Handley notes when writing something the ultimate reader inevitably is looking for a reason not to read. So don’t give it to them. A good place to start is by cutting out the first sentence or paragraph of what you have written – the piece might gain momentum as you get more quickly to the key points.
- If you struggle with having too many browser tabs open during the workday and face difficulty finding the right one, Charter Work Tech, after evaluating nine-tab management systems, selected Skeema as the best with Workona just a tad behind. Both have free versions.
- When you are doing something hard, focus on the fun part says Atomic Habits author James Clear
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.