Thinking. As a nonprofit leader, you probably spend a lot of time thinking. But are you doing the right kind of thinking at the right time?
Over the coming weeks, I will dive into different kinds of thinking. I want to start with unconscious thought. First, let's talk about how unconscious thinking can get you into trouble and then where you probably need to do more of it.
Unconscious thinking that is not helpful
Let's start with what we generally think of as unconscious thinking. This is when your mind gets away from you. Generally, we're talking about worry, anxiety and those racing thoughts that keep you up at night.
Here's the trouble with unconscious thinking as a leader. It can keep you stuck.
Repetitive, negative thoughts left unchecked keep us stuck
Unconscious thinking left unchecked can circle around and around and around. You are digging into a deeper rut that is hard to get out of.
Consider these thoughts
Now put any of these thoughts on loop.
If that loop of thoughts goes on unconsciously in the back of your mind for hours, days and months, you can see how the rut gets deeper and deeper.
It's not as easy as "just think positively."
Many social media posts tell you to think positive – Everything is always working out for me. But it's not that easy! You might say at once, but you'll fall back into that rut fast and be back to, Oh my God, I'm so overwhelmed.
Unconscious thoughts also keep us stuck in beliefs about our employees, community, funders, and ability to have funding to meet our needs.
I often hear the mantra from leaders that they are expected to do more with less. And while there is undoubtedly an incredible amount of truth to that statement, repeating it out loud continuously, in our minds and aloud to other people regularly keeps the belief alive and well.
To get out of repetitive negative thinking traps, you need to shift to conscious thinking
When you realize you find yourself stuck in a repetitive negative thinking trap, you need to shift to conscious thinking. For example, instead of staying stuck in the scarcity mindset of never enough time, money, and staff, you need to shift your mind to examine the following questions consciously:
How to consciously think about your employee's contributions
Another typical thought you may have is feeling like you are chasing your team down to get them to do their work. When we experience irritation in our body, our unconscious thoughts may have us stuck in believing those thoughts are true. When our thinking stays unconscious, it's hard to look for times when our employees take responsibility, pitch in, or take the lead on something. We both know the "positive" is generally not where our mind goes when trying to fall asleep at night.
To consider how your employees are contributing takes more conscious thinking. I doubt you've dug a rut considering the answers to these questions:
The type of unconscious thinking that IS helpful
In the coming weeks will talk about ways to be more intentional and conscious in our thinking. But before we go there, I want to talk about the other unconscious thought that we perhaps don't do enough of. This kind of unconscious thought is what I call creative thinking.
Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes and think I'm not a creative person and creativity does not come into my job. I beg to differ!
The unconscious thinking that we've been talking about above makes me think about someone pacing back-and-forth and digging a deeper and deeper rut in the ground.
Creative thinking is light and easy
Instead, when I think of unconscious creative thinking, I imagine it like a ladybug crawling around on a plant for a few moments, then flying away to the next one and crawling around and exploring it before she flies away again to another location. The red and black ladybug is curious. I imagine she's somewhat relaxed and perhaps even enjoying herself. You need to do more of that!
Here's what you can do with creative thinking
This kind of creative thinking is when you come up with the idea for an activity at a staff meeting in the shower. Or you think about a way to organize the annual report's stats that show it in a more visually appealing way.
Sometimes the creative thoughts come to us when we're cooking, driving or out for a walk. And generally, we're not trying to find a solution. We didn't even know there was a problem that we were sorting through. But suddenly, an idea pops into our heads. It's like an aha, a sense of intuition, or a lightbulb moment. And it feels good!
Do you create space for creative thinking? Most leaders don't
The challenge is that many of us don't make space for this kind of thinking. This creative thinking takes open space with no expectation, no agenda, and no problem to wrestle with.
To create more creative thinking time, make space in your days. It's often called white space, margin or free time. Unfortunately, most of us think we don't have time for this. However, you need to build creative thinking time into your week to get out of your rut and create new, innovative, and fun ways to deal with your work.
3 ways to make more time for creative thinking
1) Shut off background noise
Shut off the podcast, audiobook, Netflix, or whatever else you use to fill your sound space. Instead, let your thoughts roll as you drive, cook, fold laundry, or putter around your house.
2) Take breaks
Simply stepping away from the computer or your office for a few moments helps change the scenery and inputs into your mind. I remember hearing a mantra years ago that movement in your body creates movement in your mind. So, when you're stuck, move your body.
3) Engage in creative activities
Yes, this means arts and crafts, sort of! It could also mean music or the arts. Go to a play, read poetry, learn to paint, garden or grab the colouring book and colour with your kids. Just get out of your left brain for a while and activate the right side of your brain.
Come back next week for more practical strategies to help you think more mindfully
Unconscious thinking is not all wrong. The key is to notice when the unconscious thought is keeping you stuck. If it is, find ways to move from unconscious to more conscious thought. If you want to learn how to do that, come back next week, and we'll talk about ways to be more mindful and intentional with your thinking.
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