5 Strategies to build inner strength
What do you do when the pressure of deadlines and the speed increase for you and your team to do your job? When the amount of work on your desk slowly exceeds your capacity? When you feel that too many meetings, more or less urgent requirements or ad hoc reports are holding you back from your actual tasks?
And a little story: I remember one big reorganisation project that I led. It was about creating a new business model for the organisation I was working in. The aim was to design the new areas of responsibility in such a way that they could work as independently and productively as possible. We also looked at the environment of our company, there was a large customer who made a significant contribution to our order volume and whose requirements we therefore absolutely wanted to take into account. The customer’s organisation was very heterogeneous and complex – to put it mildly. Often there was more than one contact person for the same topic, spread across different areas, who rarely communicated with each other. One of the consultants who helped us design our new business model said a sentence to me that I remember: “We have to design the organisation according to our own principles that best serve our purpose. We must not under any circumstances bring the complexity of our client into our own organisation. This leads to confusion and chaos in our processes and communication, which we can then no longer cope with.
We have adhered to this in the modelling and implementation, so that all work areas could plan and act independently as far as possible and no complicated, lengthy decision-making procedures were required. There were clear areas of responsibility that could act autonomously.
I would now like to transfer this example to the subject of inner strength. Many organisations are currently undergoing major change. New ways of working are being tried out that require more self-organisation. Agility and flexibility are a big issue – especially in project management. Digitisation will change our everyday work even more profoundly and quickly than before. The organisation becomes more unstable and permanent changes unsettle people. Managers should provide orientation, but must first familiarise themselves with the new requirements and new solutions.
The environment is therefore more or less chaotic and there is unlikely to be much change in the foreseeable future. It is therefore extremely important that you as a human being do not simply incorporate this chaos and uncertainty into your inner system – as in my example with the reorganisation. If you focus all your attention on the stress, the problems, the insecurity and the lack of clarity on the outside, then at some point you will lose your orientation. Or you end up in permanent overload or even worse, in burnout.
In short: you need inner strength to stay strong and to withstand the chaos outside.
I maintain that building inner strength is particularly important for project managers because they are often confronted with new challenges and changes. It takes mental strength to get involved in new solutions whose outcome cannot be foreseen. You need emotional stability so that you are not overwhelmed by your fears, frustrations or feelings of powerlessness if the results do not meet your expectations or do not proceed as quickly as expected.
I would like to give you five concrete strategies with which you can build your inner strength. Which you can use directly in your everyday project life in order to profit immediately from the positive effect:
#1 Have empowering conversations with yourself
I maintain that most people are only rudimentarily aware of the enormous impact your own thoughts have on yourself – your well-being, your performance and your work effectiveness. Because if we were fully aware of this, we would invest a lot more time in clarifying our thoughts and mentally aligning ourselves so that we can return to positive territory.
Researchers say we have about 20,000 thoughts a day. Most of these thoughts run off unconsciously in us. Of course, we cannot and do not want to become aware of each of these thoughts. But I have noticed the following pattern, which I can observe very often, both with my customers and with myself: “Problem thinking”, that’s what I call this pattern, which sets in motion as soon as we dare to take on new challenges. Because on our way to new shores, numerous challenges cross our path. Unplanned things throw our entire schedule overboard. Results that do not meet our requirements torpedo our goal achievement. People who do not act the way we want them to, hinder us from making rapid progress. We automatically start with the problem analysis because things don’t develop as we expect them to.
Perhaps you also know such negative thought loops:
- How are we supposed to get it all done on time?
- Why doesn’t my boss support me?
- Why didn’t the ABC method work? What have I/what have we done wrong?
- What is going on in Mr. Mueller’s head? Does he not even notice how he is hindering the team?
These thoughts create negative feelings like fear, anger, powerlessness or fury. Unpleasant feelings that intensify the longer you are trapped in this vicious circle of negative thoughts and feelings. The problem seems bigger and more insurmountable. You are locked in this unproductive mind box. Such thought loops cost you a lot of time and energy and reduce your productivity.
This pattern also hides the solution of Strategy #1. Because if I can feed my mind with unproductive thoughts, then that should also work with constructive, strengthening thoughts. The best way to do this is to ask yourself solution-focused questions that let your mind search for a suitable solution to your problem:
- Who or what can help me to make the appointment after all?
- What exactly do I need from my boss?
- What insights have I/we gained from using the ABC method?
How can I use it for future projects?
- What can I do to make Mr Mueller support our work?
- How much time do I want to invest?
With this strategy you will have constructive discussions with yourself in the future. You produce thoughts which support you in your project work and which evoke strengthening feelings such as confidence, self-confidence and courage in you.
#2 Pay attention to the effect of your feelings
Most of the people I know are busy with their conscious attention mainly in their heads, with their cognitive abilities. Especially in project management, the application of methods and standards plays an important role. We believe that our rational mind can best help us. Feelings only disturb and obstruct our supposedly objective view.
In fact, it is your feelings that multiply the effect of your thoughts. You have already noticed this connection in Strategy #1. It is your feelings that keep you trapped in the vicious circle of problem thinking. Your feelings are coupled with the release of stress hormones, which also trigger the negative feelings of pressure, narrowness and inner restlessness in your body and which make it so difficult for us to get out of this vicious circle.
If you do not consciously perceive your feelings, then logically you cannot recognise their effect. Therefore, one of the most important steps towards more inner strength is that you begin to notice your feelings and the energy they contain. To realise that our feelings motivate us to take certain actions. That under stress we often react like in an autopilot. That unpleasant feelings such as anger, frustration and rage lead us to emotional reactions that harm us and others rather than benefit them. That such negative feelings cost us energy and strength and we go home exhausted at the end of the day. That pleasant feelings such as joy, inspiration and enthusiasm give us energy and increase our energy. That appreciation, gratitude and serenity bring us into harmony with ourselves and our abilities and possibilities.
If you make these connections clear to yourself, then you will begin to deal with yourself and your thoughts and feelings more and more consciously, and to pay more attention to your inner state. This new self-confidence is the foundation for your inner strength.
#3 Enjoy positive feelings and recharge your inner battery
You can increase the positive effect of your feelings in a very simple way. The effect of your feelings is increased by the intensity and duration of your perception.
If you have a pleasant feeling because you have achieved something particularly well. Or you have had a stimulating conversation. Or you come out of a productive team meeting. Then you feel this pleasant feeling of joy, confidence, satisfaction for two to three minutes in your body and heart – quite consciously. Feel the effect and the energy in your positive feelings. So you can easily recharge your inner battery. Directly in your everyday project life.
A second way to recharge your energy reservoir is to generate positive feelings yourself. By remembering positive experiences and feeling the corresponding feeling again. Intensively, in the whole body and the center of the feelings, your heart. This has the same effect as savouring the feeling in the respective situation. Our brain and our body doesn’t care what is happening in our environment, outside. The effect comes from our subjective perception and above all from our feelings. No matter if we react to signals and triggers from the outside or if we put ourselves into a self-created reality through our memory.
This gives us a lot of possibilities to influence our mood and to choose how we want to experience our day. In an uplifting, positive mood or in stress, anger and frustration. This is not a flight away from reality. Instead, you consciously choose the inner state that does you good.
We connect our smartphone to the power socket as soon as the battery runs out. For ourselves, many of us have lost this sense of good inner condition. Because they are permanently under pressure or are practically cut off from their perception of themselves and their energy by too many external stimuli. Take the time to enjoy positive feelings and recharge your inner battery regularly.
#4 Become aware of your VALUE
What are your strengths that you bring to your daily work? What effect does this have on the people you work with? On the results you achieve? On working with your team? What value do you create?
Perhaps you are particularly helpful. Or you have a good feeling for the potentials of your fellow human beings. Perhaps you can explain connections to other people particularly well. Whatever it is, I believe that most people are not fully aware of their strengths and the associated value they bring to their work. We take some things for granted – especially as far as our social and human abilities are concerned. We do not pay any attention to these interrelationships, because we are permanently busy with functioning as smoothly as possible and meeting the demands placed on us.
It is particularly important for you to be aware of the value of your strengths in order to build up your inner strengths. Both on the mental and the emotional level. By naming your strengths, you can make targeted use of them in your work. You can make appropriate demands when it comes to your professional development, the organisation of your working conditions or the remuneration of your services.
Experiencing the feeling of appreciation for your strengths creates the effect in your body. Many forget this second step because they neglect their feelings. I can observe this again and again in my work with clients. The first step of naming one’s own strengths, i.e. thinking in terms of appreciation, still works quite well. The second step, to feel appreciation, is not very easy for most people.
Only those who are convinced of their strengths on both levels – mentally and emotionally – achieve the desired effect. Inside and outside.
Just take a look back at some of your experiences: a salary negotiation, a proposed decision or a demand for resources that you have made. If you were completely convinced of the value internally, if your feelings and your mind were in harmony, then you have achieved the best results. Then it was easy and simple to convey your suggestions. Knowing and feeling your own value is an important ingredient for your inner strength. It is best to create a regular ritual with which you become aware of your strengths and your value. Reflect once a week on the value of your work or write a success diary. Remember to feel the appreciation for yourself actively and intensively in order to achieve the desired effect.
#5 Focus your perception on success
Our judgements, evaluations and inner convictions determine to a particularly high degree how we experience ourselves and our environment. If you have a tendency to criticise and focus your attention immediately on all the aspects that need to be improved, I recommend Strategy #5.
In 2014, I participated in a study on the burnout risk of project managers of the German Association for Project Management (GPM). The study showed that project managers in particular have high expectations of their own performance and perfection. 80% of the over 900 survey participants responded that they were perfectionists and that this perfectionism also burdens them in their everyday project work.
What does this mean in terms of a person’s inner strength? The perfectionist is convinced that one’s own performance is very important in order to get recognition from others. Negative thoughts such as “It’s not good enough yet” and a high demand on one’s own performance and the quality of the results all too often focus attention on existing deficits and can lead to worries and doubts that are accompanied by negative feelings of fear, anger, frustration or powerlessness.
As you already know, such negative feelings are associated with the release of stress hormones that lead to negative effects such as reduced performance, reduced mental capacity and health impairment. Therefore, this characteristic of high performance and perfection correlates with a high risk of burnout, as our study has shown.
So if you are one of those people who have this behavioural tendency, then actively direct your perception in your everyday project life to the things that work well:
- Pay attention to everything that does you good and brings you into its power and do more and more of it.
- Be aware of the support you get from others.
- Give others the appreciation they deserve.
- Make yourself aware of your successes and don’t immediately run on to the next item on your to-do list.
Or you can use Strategy #1, #3 or #4 to bring yourself back into the cycle of success from positive, constructive thoughts and strengthening feelings. You get out of the lack thinking and focus your perception on the success, the potentials and possibilities.
A successful day happens because…
… you direct your perception to the positive, strengthening things of your everyday project life
These were 5 strategies that you can use to build your inner strength. So that you are well prepared for the challenging times ahead.
Remember the example I told you at the beginning. Do not bring the hectic hustle and bustle and uncertainty into your inner system. Inner strength gives you the necessary stability and resilience in dealing with the stressful, chaotic conditions outside. You can only find inner strength and emotional stability in yourself by actively building it and developing it further.
The conscious control of your attention is one of the simplest and most effective measures to steer your thoughts on the road to success. Your feelings automatically react to your thoughts and you come more and more into their inner strength. Or you bring yourself directly into a positive, constructive mood with Strategy #3.
Many people think a successful day just happens because many positive events have happened to them. I want to tell you: A successful day is created because you focus your perception on the positive, strengthening things, the potentials and the possibilities. And then make use of them. For this you need inner strength.
Martina Baehr has published other posts in t2informatik’s blog, including
Martina Baehr is a work and organisational psychologist and owner of Project Management plus - with the right mindset for project success. As a project supervisor and mindset coach, she supports her customers in building their inner strength. So that they act from their full strength and bring their projects to success in a relaxed manner. In her German mindset blog she writes about new thinking, emotional intelligence, intuition and value-adding cooperation.
Martina Baehr has worked in various medium-sized companies as a project manager and department head for internal process and systems consulting, and has more than 15 years of experience in managing large reorganisation and IT projects.