Lead Like a Cow.

Said no one. Ever.

When I was in my mid twenties, I drove this really cool black Mazda RX-7. It had gold Hayashi racing wheels, red pin stripes, and limousine tint on the windows.

It was about the best car in the world to drive in your early twenties.

I drove it into Boston one day and got hit by a truck.

This truck literally drove up over the top of my hood. I learned very quickly to be careful when driving in Boston because the streets don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

There’s an urban legend that says the streets in Boston were created by 18th century cows.

Apparently the cows would pull the merchants’ wares and, as they traversed up and down hills, put their hooves onto spots that made sense for them.

These paths eventually got worn in, like deep grooves. As the city began to grow and decided to pave the roads, they just paved over the paths.

If that’s true, then the traffic patterns in Boston were developed by 18th century cows that took the path of least resistance.

Mental Grooves

Mental grooves are conditioned thought patterns we tend to fall into without even noticing and they can easily turn into well-worn habits.

You’re probably not even aware of some of the ones you have.

What’s important to understand is these mental grooves can cause us to take the path of least resistance, something we’re comfortable with, because it’s easy and it’s what we know.

Think about a route you drive every day.

You may have driven it so often there are times you’ve reached your destination and don’t even remember driving there.

When you have a set route, it’s easy to just drive it. You take the path of least resistance.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

It doesn’t occur to you to do anything differently.

To alter imprinted mental grooves, first we have to become aware of them. But like the path of least resistance, we’re not usually looking for what we do automatically.

It’s been said that fish discover water last.

It surrounds them. It’s everything about their life and it’s so close to them they can’t see it.

How to Break a Mental Groove

Meet your inner critic.

This is the self-talk you’ve heard about before — the thoughts and words in your head that tell you how wrong, bad, terrible, awful, and no-good you are.

I like to think of my self-talk as a committee — a group of voices all designed to keep me safe but hold me back.

Most people experience an inner critic that tells them everything they can’t do well or tears down their self worth. It might sound something like this:

  • You’ll never be good enough.
  • No one thinks you have what it takes.
  • What were you thinking?
  • You’re going to fail.
  • You should just give up.

If any of that resonates with you, you are familiar with your inner critic.

Whose voice is that?

It’s not your own, you weren’t born with an inner critic. You were born with an innate desire to learn though making mistakes.

Look at any baby learning to crawl.

Your self-talk is usually an assortment of voices you’ve heard in the past — parents, coaches, teachers, bullies, or friends and the words are a combination of the things you heard about yourself that were the opinions of someone else.

If you hear something enough, eventually you adopt that judgment of yourself as your own.

But that doesn’t make it true.

Acknowledge and Counter

We can’t simply eliminate a negative thought. That just leaves a vacuum and something else will come along to fill a vacuum, usually a different negative thought.

We can replace it with positive self-talk but in my experience this takes a long time to become effective.

Acknowledging the existence of the negative thought and then countering it tends to work better and faster. It’s a form of redirection. It works because we’re not “arguing” with a well-worn pattern.

For example, when you hear, “You’ll never be good at this,” you can counter it with, “Nevertheless, I’m doing it anyway.”

You could counter “You should just give up” with “That may be true, but I’m stronger than that.”

You’re can’t ignore or “stuff” negative thoughts, they’ll just pop up somewhere else.

Countering them in a positive way redirects your focus on moving forward.

And moving forward is the name of the game — just ask those 18th century cows.


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Originally published at www.annvertel.com on July 28, 2015.