Brenda's Blog

All articles from December, 2018

In 2019, will you let this anchor hold you back?


Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?

  • Deepa kept going back over something she had said to her boss, reliving it again and again in her head, caused herself angst, and beating herself up relentlessly about it.
  • Wang Wei had a bad experience presenting to the Board of his company and had convinced himself that they thought he was incapable and that he would never do well in front of the Board again.
  • Sarah had made a poor investment choice and, since then, continued to believe she was bad at managing money, to the point where it consistently and negatively impacted her financial situation.
  • William was in a car accident which resulted in bad back problems, and he complained about it so often that his brand at work had become “the guy with the bad back who always complains about that accident he had.”

If you can relate to any of the examples outlined above, you may be letting a past situation keep you stuck, well… in the past! I’ve seen this occur in many coaching clients over the years.

Here’s a powerful truth about the past: Can you change it? No. Yet every time we go back to something that happened in our history – every time we let a memory of some long-ago situation cause us angst or worry – we are actually “honoring” that experience. Whether it happened last week, last month, or even several years ago, every time we relive it or refer back to it, we are further ingraining that experience into our system. In doing so, we are allowing that experience to serve as an anchor, keeping us stuck in the past.


What’s the implication? As long as we are doing that, we can’t truly move forward to the future. Constantly referring to your past is like having a ball and chain permanently clasped around your ankle.

And, just who is this bothering, really? No one else knows you are going through this private angst, so the only person these past regrets are keeping up at night is you… keeping you in fear and frustration, anger and irritation, regret and sorrow. I ask sincerely: How is that serving you?

The Case of Jacob

Jacob was a client who, years ago, had gotten fired by a disgruntled boss. Jacob was ashamed – mortified even – about the experience, so he kept his past firing hidden, a secret that he hadn’t even shared with his wife or family. And he certainly hadn’t let any of the bosses he had had since then know that he had been fired.

In the years that followed, Jacob had actually become a good performer. He had been hired by a couple of great companies and was offered promotions and increasingly higher salaries along the way.

But there was always a fear lurking in Jacob: Would he be fired again? As a result, Jacob was letting that past situation anchor him, always worried that – at any moment – he could suddenly lose his job.

He came to me, saying that he was tired of the constant worry, the angst. He realized it wasn’t serving him and wondered how to let it go.

The Process of Releasing Past Anchors

“First, Jacob,” I said, “let’s make a list of all the ways your past firing has made you who you are today. Don’t overthink it.  Let the list roll off the top of your head.”


It took him a while to get started, but then Jacob surfaced a few points. Getting fired in the past had made Jacob…

… stronger in character, which he pointed out was key to success in today’s ever-changing world.

…more resilient, realizing now that he could handle anything that came his way.

…clearer about the kinds of jobs he wanted, ultimately leading to greater success.

…smarter in his choices about the types of bosses he wanted to work for.

…more determined to succeed and to demonstrate to himself and others that he was good at what he did.

“Excellent start,” I said. “Now, keep this list handy and continue adding to it in the coming days. Your goal is to make the longest list possible of how the experience of being fired has helped shape who you are today.”

Jacob kept adding more points over the next couple of weeks, until he couldn’t think of anything more. When he and I reconnected, he handed me his list, which had grown considerably.

I read out loud to Jacob the points he had written, emphasizing clearly each benefit. When done, I asked him, “Hearing all of the ways being fired has made you better, Jacob, how do you feel about that experience now?”

“Honestly, I’m amazed,” he responded. “I realize now that being fired really did help shape who I am today. I would never have thought of it that way.”

“Consider this: How would you be different today if that firing hadn’t ever happened?” I asked.

Jacob paused. “Whoa… now that’s a new way to think about it,” he said slowly. “Well, if I hadn’t been fired, I wouldn’t be as strong, capable, nor as successful as I have become.”

I paused to let that soak in. “And all of that comes from something you had thought was a bad situation. With that in mind, Jacob, what is one word you would use to describe how you feel now toward the experience of having been fired?”


It didn’t take Jacob long to respond. “Grateful,” he replied, “and almost … well, ‘fortunate!?’ That seems so hard to believe, but it’s true.”

“If that past experience were a person, what would you say to that person today?”

“Thank you,” he responded, then added with a twinkle in his eye, “and good riddance!”

Jacob’s firing had served its purpose. It was time to appreciate all of the learning gained from that past scenario so that he could focus solely on the future – on the joy of what “could be” rather than on the regret of what “had been.”

Let’s Apply This to YOU™ ®


It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have some negative experience that they relive over and over again. Pause right now, and be honest with yourself: What is one negative situation about the past that you keep replaying in your mind?

As we approach the end of 2018, I encourage you to let go of that experience, once and for all. How would 2019 be a different year for you if you were to completely release that negative from your past?

If you’re ready to drop-kick something that happened to you in your history, walk yourself through the same approach I used with Jacob. Because the best year-end gift you can give yourself is the gift of learning from – and letting go of – the anchor called “the past.” That’s what will allow you to approach 2019 focused on the joy of what “could be,” not the ball-and-chain of what “was.”



The power of your thoughts, as a leader


I am fascinated by just how easily most of us dismiss the power of thoughts. How, more often than not, we are unaware of what we are thinking or believing at any given time – and therefore also unaware of the tremendous impact those thoughts and beliefs can have in the way our jobs, our careers, and our lives unfold.

Take for example an incident I experienced while I was living and working in Poland a little over 20 years ago. I was a brand leader at Procter & Gamble (“P&G”), and it was an amazing time to be in that part of the world. Not long after the wall had fallen in Berlin, I had been tasked with helping to establish P&G’s Eastern European operations. My job was to launch and grow key brands and to develop people. Given the circumstances at that time in history, “leading people” essentially meant teaching ex-communists to be capitalists. (What an experience that was!)


On this particular morning, I was rushing to get to the office for an important meeting that was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Due to bad traffic, I arrived ten minutes late – and I hate to be late! So, I rushed straight into my office, grabbed the materials I needed, and headed to the conference room to join the meeting already in progress.

Two hours later, as I returned to my office, I found one of my direct reports, Nadia, waiting for me.

Based on her red nose, large, swollen eyes, and facial tissues she was clutching in her hand, it was obvious that Nadia had been crying – a lot.

By way of background, Nadia was my shining star – one of the smartest, most capable and enjoyable team members I had. She embraced a positive attitude and was always focused on winning.

But “that” Nadia was not the clearly upset, nose-blowing Nadia who sat in my office that morning.

I immediately pulled up a chair across from her, sat down, leaned in, and said, “Nadia, what’s wrong?”

Through her tears, she managed to get the words out, “Why are you firing me?”

I was shocked. “What?” I replied.

“Why are you firing me?” she repeated.

I was dumbfounded. Where was this coming from?

As it turns out, in communist-Poland times, if a boss was going to fire someone, the boss would walk past that person on the morning they were to be fired, without saying hello.

In my attempt to get to my meeting on time, I had apparently rushed right by Nadia and had not even realized it.The result? Nadia had read that as a sign of her impending unemployment – resulting in her losing an entire morning due to confusion, panic, disappointment, and grief.


I learned so much from that experience (for one thing, focus on relationships more than tasks!). Mainly, this incident illustrated for me just how important ingrained beliefs are. Think about it: All that turmoil for Nadia was caused by one single belief – just one simple thought.

And what had “really” happened? I had simply walked by Nadia without saying anything (I honestly hadn’t noticed her!). It was the interpretation of that action – the belief that Nadia held about that action – which caused her an entire morning of angst.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever heard something secondhand at work – you either misunderstood what you heard, or what you were told was misrepresented – and, as a result, you were full of worry, upset, anger… only to find out later that you were completely mistaken?

As leaders on the job, we are being driven by hundreds of assumptions every single day, and they can often steer us incorrectly.

It all comes down to the way we think as leaders – the underlying ingrained beliefs we have. And these beliefs are fueling us all day, every day. They impact the way we feel, which in turn impacts the actions we take, and – ultimately – drives the outcomes we get.


Yet we often ignore thoughts and beliefs, simply because they are intangible. In general, we pay more attention to behaviors and words. “But those are just thoughts,” clients will tell me. “It’s what I say or do that matters most, right?”

No. I believe we underestimate and underutilize the tremendous power and the amazing impact that our thoughts and beliefs carry.

So, if you are not already doing so, as a coach I encourage you to watch your thoughts like a hawk – and with objective curiosity. Look at what you are thinking as if you were an objective outsider, as if they were not “your” thoughts. Is what you are thinking really serving you? If not, choose to change those thoughts. Because what you think – and believe – is ultimately driving the outcomes you get. And that is what will help you be a better self-leader and a greater leader of others, which of course will help you build a strong brand as a leader on the job.

We are launching two books in 2019!

We are launching two books in 2019 – one which requires a “sketched” drawing of me (instead of the typical type of photo). So, here it is – what do you think? Artwork by: Raden Muhammad Norfiqri