Dwelling in the Past Will Hold Leaders Back


It seems like everywhere I have lived in the US, freight trains have been part of my experience. Freight trains have disrupted traffic in every city I have lived in. Every summer, because my windows are open, I have been woken by horns loud enough to wake the dead in the middle of the night. I have resigned myself to the fact that freight trains are inescapable and unstoppable.

The habit of ruminating, for leaders, is like a freight train speeding down the tracks – unstoppable. The only thing that will stop the train is if the engineer becomes aware of an imminent danger.

The Leadership Problem

Clinging to, or mulling over a past event or outcome can be as inescapable for leaders who have this habit as trains are in North America.

When men cling to the past, they often blame others and resort to anger. This is according to research done by Marshall Goldsmith outlined in his book Triggers. We know displaying anger is not a productive leadership behavior.

When women ruminate, they second-guess themselves, turning their frustration inward and become anxious. Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith write about this in How Women Rise. Appearing to be fretful and apologetic does not enhance the perception of you as a strong leader.

The past is the past, reliving it will not change it. Mulling it over and over interferes with successful leaders’ ability to get to their next project during the day and from peaceful sleep at night.

The Solution

The best way to stop this habit is to recognize it and to find a way to distract your thoughts away from it by using a powerful replacement thought.

Visualize yourself driving a freight train down the tracks, now ask yourself: what would make you stop the train or make you switch tracks?

The thought that would pull leaders away from dwelling in the past has to be powerful. The distraction could be an image of your family or something that you couldn’t live without.

To break the thought pattern, you have to practice this distraction every time your mind goes to that place of rumination. Reliving the past is a habit that has been refined over decades, so it takes a lot of practice to break.

What You Can Do Right Now

Email me at lyn@lyncikara.com and let’s talk about powerful distractions that can help you stop this habit.

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