One of the truisms I’ve noticed over years of working with leading thinkers and authorities is this – those that stand out over the long term, have invariably learnt to control the influences they allow in.
So what does that mean? We all have a finite amount of bandwidth – let’s call it a mental bank account. The people and situations you decide to spend this bandwidth on, then dictates the amount of energy you have left to do the work that makes a difference.
However this budget doesn’t just get spent on external situations – in fact the largest drain on our energy and confidence is often the noise between our ears. The chatter, mental loops and old stories we allow to distract us from the real work of showing up.
“Tell me what you’re paying attention to and I will tell you who you are.” These are the words of Alison Hill, the psychologist and author of Stand Out who’s lent her expertise to big businesses around the world. We caught up recently to take a different look at influence – an inward one – to discover how we can live a stand-out life through being a better influence on ourselves. Here are my five favourite take away’s from our conversation:
Start with why
Thanks to Simon Sinek we’re all now much more comfortable with the word ‘why’. For Alison, living a standout life is about the alignment of two drivers of change: purpose and progress. Why are you having that conversation with a colleague? Why are you responding to that email? Purpose comes from knowing your why. Progress comes from having a sense of moving forward. These days it’s easy to occupy ourselves with an infinite amount of distractions. Try setting an alarm every hour for a whole day – ask yourself, why am I doing what I’m currently doing? Is this moving me forward or just keeping me in a constant loop of busy?
Identify your energy leaks
A friend once said to me: “Watch your leaks”. It’s a phrase I now pretty much have tattooed to the inside of my skull. Where is your energy leaking? Where are you not being a good enough influence on yourself? Alison refers to this sort of self-orientation as getting “forensic” about where your attention is drawn towards and where it’s drawn away. Be wary of spending your time doing things you feel you should be doing – or fixating on things you can’t change. Keeping your agreements is important – what’s equally as important is being responsible for your own energy. A good indicator that it’s time to plug some leaks is when even your down time has KPI’s.
Set and defend your boundaries
You can’t live a big life if you constantly allow yourself to be emotionally or physically derailed. Brené Brown defines boundaries as “getting clear on what behaviours are okay and what’s not okay”. What can you be flexible on, and where is your line in the sand? (I am currently experimenting with staying offline between 8pm and 8am, for example). Like all good resolutions – your boundaries will be tested. When I asked Alison about this, she said this often has more to do with other people’s expectation of themselves – so if those expectations don’t work for you – stay strong. Continually bring yourself back to what youneed in order to show up at the highest level.
Drop the ‘all or nothing’ mindset
Many of us struggle with an ‘all in’ or ‘all out’ mentality. In a work setting, for instance, you feel you either can or can’t attend a meeting. However, there are always other options. Could you go for a part of the meeting? Speak privately with the person holding the meeting? Can you Skype or Zoom in for a section? It helps to get clear on what’s important and ask: “What’s the best input that I can have here?”. I call this not getting caught in the A or B game – often this involves choosing between two no-win options. Instead always start by asking “What’s the C here?”. What other option could get the same result and work for everyone – including you.
Do the work and be seen
When I talk to people about why they haven’t yet put themselves out there, often it eventually boils down to a fear of being seen. Unfortunately there is no magic pill for this – other than the fundamental decision to start stepping out – imperfectly and consistently. (My favourite example of how compelling imperfection can be is this TED talk by Megan Washington Why I Live in Mortal Dread of Public Speaking.) When Alison re-emerged into the foreground of her business after having children, she put a Post It note directly above her desk with the words “Do the work. Be seen”. This is the kind of self-talk you need to practise if you want to start really owning your influence.
A quote I learnt and have now adopted from my chat with Alison is one by Charles Bukowski. He said: “Find what you love and let it kill you”. We can be exhausted by the things we love – ask anyone with small children – but there is a difference between struggle and suffering. Spend your mental energy wisely, set strong boundaries and get forensic about the influences you allow in. It’s only when we come from a place of that type of certainty, that we can have the biggest influence on the people around us.
Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the soon to be launched weekly podcast Inside Influence. An exploration of what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes, Spotify or juliemasters.com.