How to Get Past Thinking It’s You by @GAllenTC

flickr photo shared by Helmuts Guigo under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo shared by Helmuts Guigo under a Creative Commons (BY) license

by Gayle Allen | Featured Contributor

Every few minutes, you glance up at the clock on the wall. If you could just get a few more hours, you know you’d make the best decision for your business. But you’re going in circles. You’ve been weighing the same options over and over, and you’re no closer to making a decision today than you were last week. Whenever you try to decide, you’re overwhelmed with thoughts that you’re not smart enough, not decisive enough, or not experienced enough.

What you’re facing is a well-researched anxiety that social psychologists refer to as stereotype threat. It’s the reason we find it hard to make choices when we’re around certain people, why we get quiet in some meetings, why we choke under pressure, or why we can’t make decisions. For women, it means buying into – even subconsciously – others’ beliefs that we’re indecisive and ill equipped to run our own business.

Fortunately, there are well-researched steps we can take to replace this negative mindset with a more confident one:

First, find some paper, a pen or pencil, and a timing device. You’ll be writing your responses down, rather than typing or thinking about them. Research shows that writing down responses reduces your anxiety by fortifying and internalizing what you believe.

Second, set a timer for 15 minutes.

Third, at the top of a sheet of paper, write down one of your core values, like supporting a friend or family member, health and wellness, financial security, learning, hard work, solving a global problem, and so on. Choose just one value. It doesn’t have to be the highest value that you hold, and it can be concrete or abstract.

Fourth, after you’ve written down your core value, answer each of the following questions:

  1. Why is this value important to you? Why does it matter?
  2. Who taught you that it matters?
  3. When did having this core value make a difference in your life? Describe those times.
  4. What else comes to mind around your core value? Share it here.

Fifth, keep writing until the timer indicates your 15 minutes are up.

Sixth, evaluate how you feel and how you see yourself now versus before doing the exercise.

Why does this activity work? Well, for nearly 30 years, researchers have been studying the impact of doing this exercise. Their findings show that it helps us:

  • see beyond threats to our identity
  • focus on positive and diverse aspects of ourselves
  • envision communities we either belong to or want to join
  • recognize that we are more complex than the stereotypes we fear
  • know that we are more than just this one decision we need to make

After doing this exercise, participants found they were able to think more clearly, make better choices, and solve harder problems. They also had a greater tendency to reevaluate poor past decisions and to work to change them for the better.


Gayle AllenGayle Allen is an entrepreneur with a passion for connecting people to innovative ideas that improve their lives.

She is a founding member of the leadership team and Chief Learning Officer at BrightBytes, a company that’s garnered dozens of awards for improving the way the world learns. She’s also the founder and host of Curious Minds, the leading podcast on innovation that features global leaders rethinking life and work.

Gayle earned her MBA in Global Innovation from MIT and her doctorate in adult learning from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she served as an adjunct professor. She’s the author of The New Pillars of Modern Teaching, a book that offers an innovative vision for learning in the modern age. Gayle’s writing has been featured in leading publications, such as MindShift and NPR.

Connect with Gayle on her website, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.


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