Let’s play the word association game!
What comes to mind when you think of the word “summer”?
A favorite festival experience? Barber’s “Summer Music“?
For me, summer means swimming and homemade popsicles. That’s what comes to mind first for me—my current summer fun favorites.
But it wasn’t always so.
For much of my adult life, summers meant migraines. The sun, heat, and muggy weather seemed to bring them on. Summer also meant too many projects: all the preparation for the coming year. My associations with the word summer used to be pain and pressure.
Same word, same me—but completely different associations.
The word didn’t change. I did.
And the fact that I’ve come to love swimming was very unexpected. As a kid, I hated swimming lessons. Getting back to it involved me getting outside my comfort zone. My migraines are far fewer, thanks to age (yay!) but also thanks to taking better care of myself.
I see summer differently now in part because I choose to focus on the positive.
Here’s what I’m getting at: we all have associations with words. Associations trigger feelings before we’re even conscious of the connection we’ve made. And some associations are unnecessary baggage tripping us up.
Try the word association quiz
What comes to mind when you say any of these words or phrases to yourself? What immediate images, thoughts, and feelings do these words conjure up for you?
My guess is that some of these spark negative associations. Feelings may include frustration, avoidance, fear, pressure, and/or feeling “less than.”
We have reasons for the way we think and feel. Associations can be based on our experience, but also on what we’ve heard from colleagues, and what we read that reinforces our associations. Though they may be based on facts, associations are built on the stories we tell ourselves.
Thought distortions, anyone?
Let’s say the word in question is networking. If you’ve had a bad experience in a networking situation, it’s easy to magnify this into an all or nothing scenario. Instead of thinking “I’ve had some awkward networking experiences” and “I’d like to learn how to network with more confidence,” we may jump to a global pronouncement. We may tell ourselves the story of “I suck at networking,” or “I’m never going to get any better at this.” And we behave accordingly. This is cognitive distortion.
It’s the same with my not liking summer. It brought to mind migraines and work overload. Was all of my summer experience bad in those days? No, but by focusing on the negative I only contributed to the pain and the pressure. It was, to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophesy. I got what I expected.
Likewise, having negative associations with our career-related work sets us up for negative results. When you go to a networking event and you anticipate feeling awkward and having a lousy time, what happens? Think how the negative anticipation changes your posture, your tone of voice, and the expression on your face. Think how others respond to the negative energy you project.
Here’s the secret: if we change the stories we tell ourselves we change our experience.
So, though I still get migraines in the summer I do my best not to dwell on them. I still have lots of summer projects (don’t ask about the book deadline) and yes, still feel pressured. But I also see how my summers are full of positive experiences. What I focus on has made all the difference. I’m now invested in keeping the idea of summer positive—and voilà, my summers are much improved!
What could changing your mindset around career-related work bring to you? If you approached say, your networking, or time management with a different frame of mind and some updated tools, how might you transform your career advancement?
This week: What associations are you interested in changing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Bonus: for fellow popsicle enthusiasts, check out these fav popsicle molds: they’re drip free and designed to stand up in your freezer. In terms of recipes, I use juice (apple or pineapple) and a little plain yogurt but you can get really fancy. Booze is optional.
Looking forward to hearing from you:
Dream Big, Plan Smart. Live Well!