A founder I’ve been working with–I’ll call her Alice–was noticeably frustrated when she arrived at a recent coaching session. Despite months of effort, she still couldn’t master her inbox. Each morning, she awoke to a tidal wave of new emails and immediately felt buried– stuck in reactive mode for the rest of the day.
Logically, Alice knew she should be concentrating her time on her highest priorities. And yet, the slides for the next day’s all hands meeting stared back at her unfinished and a note to her investors was long overdue. To make matters worse, none of the new routines she tried seemed to help her break out of the pattern.
The overwhelm made sense. Her company was growing so rapidly that the demand for Alice’s time outpaced her capacity and the many hats she was still wearing. And with each failed attempt to gain control of her time, she felt more and more desperate.
The tension between expanding into new behaviors and responsibilities while feeling stuck in the old ones is a common growing pain for founders. It can feel especially acute when your company is expanding rapidly.
So, what can you do when you know you need to adapt for both you and your company to thrive, but you can’t seem to make a new approach stick?
First, you need to understand what’s getting in the way of creating the change you seek.
It Could Be an Outer Block
Sometimes, we’re unable to change our behavior because we don’t have the right skills, tools, or knowledge to make it happen. As a trained Core Energy coach, I think of these obstacles as outer blocks. As the name implies, outer blocks are limitations that are external to us, like time, money, or education.
You may need to learn a better way to organize your inbox. Or figure out who to delegate to in order to reduce your volume of email. Maybe an app that helps you keep track of your highest priorities each day could help.
By addressing outer blocks with new knowledge and routines, it’s possible to gain control of things like your inbox.
But perhaps you try all of that and only make minimal progress. Or worse still, your attempts work for a while but you eventually slip back into your old habits. In that case, something bigger is likely holding you back.
It’s Probably an Inner Block
More often than not, when we’re struggling to make sustainable change, it’s because inner blocks unconsciously disrupt our progress. Like the inner voice that persuades you to respond to the emails that are more in your comfort zone in favor of the ones that will make a bigger impact on your company.
Inner blocks are fueled by unproductive thoughts and beliefs. How can you tell they’re unproductive? Quite simply, they’re the ones that limit you. They don’t serve you in a healthy way, empower you, or help you achieve your true goals.
Dr. David Burns, a well-known cognitive psychologist, explains how our unproductive thoughts lead us to have unproductive feelings and, in turn, unproductive actions. In addition to derailing our best intentions, such thoughts (when left unchecked) can also cause stress, anxiety, and depression.
In my coaching practice, I see four main types of inner blocks:
Assumptions are born when we expect that what happened before is bound to happen again. Like when you assume you won’t really be able to delegate your work because you failed at it the last time you tried to do so.
Generalizations look like limiting ideas that we’ve been told and that we’ve adopted as the truth. You may have heard (and taken as fact) that “it takes money to make money.” Or that people with MBAs (or conversely, college dropouts) make better founders.
Interpretations are the stories we tell ourselves about events, viewed through our personal lens and informed by our past experiences. Though our interpretation is based on our individual perspective, we often see it as the absolute truth. Like believing that you’ll never truly get control of your inbox because you’ve been scattered and disorganized your whole life.
Your Inner Critic is the most powerful block of them all; this is the inner voice that tells us we’re simply not good enough: not smart enough, not capable enough, not creative enough… the options are endless. The inner critic is what makes you believe deep down that your struggle with your inbox is further proof that you’re not capable of expanding into the CEO you need to become.
What can make the inner critic so destructive is that it surfaces the most when we’re attempting to change. This is what often causes us to retreat to what we know to avoid the potential pain of the unknown. The inner critic goes to extraordinary lengths to keep us “safe”.
How To Move Beyond An Inner Block
First, understand which type of block is causing you to feel stuck. Is it a generalization that you’ve been carrying around and need to let go of? Is your inner critic telling you not to stop until something is perfect?
Next, tap into your curiosity and challenge the limiting belief. Note: it’s incredibly important to approach this from a place of curiosity- which ignites your creativity and solutions-thinking, than from a place of judgment- which draws on shame and will only fuel your blocks.
Start by asking yourself, “what makes this belief true and accurate? What’s different about me now that makes it less true? If I reshaped this belief, what would be possible?”
Then, choose a new belief that you want to move forward with. A few options:
“I’m ready now to delegate this work.”
“There are countless ways to make it as an entrepreneur, and I’m proud of the path I’m on.”
“I’ve overcome way bigger obstacles than my inbox. I have the creativity and resilience to make this happen too.”
“I have the confidence and openness to grow into the CEO I want to become.”
You’ll find that some inner blocks are relatively easy to shift (like generalizations) once you’ve replaced them with a new belief. Others may take far longer to resolve. We become experts at what we practice, and you’ve likely practiced your old, limiting beliefs for much of your life. It may be time to build new expertise.