Do you set high expectations for yourself and worry about whether you’ll be able to meet them? Or feel so much worry, stress, pressure and tension that it’s draining your energy and keeping you from doing your best?

While your colleagues won’t see the “internal churn” you experience, it’s very real when you’re suffering from it.

I should know. I could be the poster child for internal churn. If there were an Olympics for internal churn, I’d be a gold medal contender!

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get rid of “internal churn”

But imagine what it would be like if you could take this internal churn and replace it with inner calm. Just think of the huge weight that would be lifted. The energy that would become available to you. The joy it would bring to your life and your work.

For years, I wished for a solution but couldn’t figure out the “how”. Then, at a recent mastermind session, my fellow members gave me a huge insight that’s turning this around for me. Maybe it will help you too.

It’s all about:

  • Finding the source
  • Noticing
  • Reframing
  • Meditating

Let’s start with the first point.

Look past the symptoms to find the source

The interesting thing is my fellow mastermind members didn’t let me stop at describing the worry, stress and anxiety I felt. They helped me peel away the layers to get down to the real issue and the underlying source of my internal churn.

The first layer is the desire to achieve. Maybe it stems from receiving a lot of praise growing up and getting kudos for good grades in school. Perhaps it’s the successful family members I looked up to. Then again, maybe it’s just a human thing.

But the desire to achieve on its own doesn’t have to lead to worry and stress. Which leads to the second layer we uncovered – the fear that I won’t measure up. In fact, I’ve often felt I have something to prove, whether that’s to others or to myself. It’s been a driver for my career. And I have always loved being the underdog, coming from behind to show everyone I can do it.

Which leads to the third layer – the need for external validation. It’s never been good enough for me to know what I’ve achieved. Frankly, I have a habit of discounting my achievements until someone compliments me for it. And even then, I can’t seem to hold onto that validation for very long before doubt sets in again and I wonder whether it was a fluke. That reinforces the need for more validation, which in turn means taking on more challenges.

This leads to my mastermind group’s insight on the fourth layer, which is that I put immense pressure on myself to do big things that make a huge impact. During my corporate career, that looked like constantly taking on more projects – the tougher the better. Then working night and day to make it a success.

And today, it’s setting big, audacious goals for myself – like helping one million people to be better, do more and make the difference they’re meant to make in the world. No one else is telling me I have to do any of these things. It’s all self-imposed.

This leads to the final layer of insight about the ultimate source of my internal churn: that my self-worth is tied to something external. Like getting good grades, nailing a tough assignment or bringing in more deals than anyone else.

External achievements are a moving target. One that you can never hit on your own. With so many people and uncontrollable factors in the world, tying my self-worth to external factors made it impossible to feel good about myself consistently. And no wonder I felt so much internal churn.

That was a “mic drop” moment in our mastermind meeting. And it showed me the true value of being in a mastermind group with people I trust.

Whether the source of your internal churn is the same as mine or something completely different, once you’ve identified it, there are three things that can help you shift to inner calm.

The first step is to notice when you’re experiencing internal churn

For me, it’s noticing when I’m putting pressure on myself to achieve. And it turns out that I do this constantly.

Right after the mastermind meeting, I had a call with a close colleague and told him about this revelation so he could help me notice when I’m putting myself under pressure. Having talked before about my worry habit getting in the way of being productive, he was the perfect person to share this with.

Within minutes, he was pointing out instances of my taking a pressure-filled approach to tasks I was responsible for delivering. It was like counting the number of times my teenaged nieces said “like” in a conversation, which was a lot!

And just as my nieces didn’t notice until we pointed out each instance, it’ll be helpful to get friends to help you notice at first. After all, it’s probably such a reflex that you won’t spot it initially. But over time, you’ll start catching it on your own.

Which brings us to the next step.

Reframe the situation so that it’s a positive one for you

Take the next task on your list where you feel pressure to perform, either personal or work-related. Then think about how you could take the pressure off. Or as my mother says, “make it a pleasure, not a pressure.” 

For example, instead of trying to write the perfect blog post (does it even exist?), I’ll reframe it as having the opportunity to use one of my strengths in a way that helps others. And instead of racing the clock to wash the sink-full of dirty dishes within some arbitrary period of time, I now reframe it as enjoying the act of creating a clean, orderly kitchen. And that’s an outcome I value.

You might also find it helpful to your reframing to post reminders where you can see them. For example, I’ve found it helpful to post sticky notes around my desk and computer monitor with messages like,

  • “How can I make this playful?” to remind myself not to make every task so pressure-filled and serious, and
  • “What if it goes right?” to counter my usual self-talk of “What if it goes wrong? What if I can’t do it? What if I screw it up?”

And that leads us to the third step.

Embrace meditation to calm your mind

Over the years, people have recommended that I take up meditation. But I’ve just smiled, nodded politely and continued to put it on the “do later” list. Maybe you’ve done that too?

But when it’s a priority to shift from internal churn to inner calm, meditation is absolutely your friend. In fact, that’s what it’s meant to help with!

One of my mastermind friends shared his method which I’ve now adopted too. And it’s helping me create greater sense of calm in my life after just two days.

He practices it twice a day and each meditation serves a different purpose.

In the morning, he envisions the day ahead and sets an intention and overall goal for how it will be. In the evening, he reviews the day he’s just had and thinks about the things he did well, the things he might do differently if he had the chance, and what he’s learned.

I find the evening meditation especially calming because it allows me to “bank” the positive memories and forgive myself for the things that I wish I’d done better.

When you stop your “internal churn” the upside is enormous

All the worry, stress and pressure we put ourselves under is draining and even counterproductive.

So if you’re struggling with “internal churn” and want to replace it with inner calm, it’s time to:

  • Find the source – when you peel back the layers behind the symptoms to uncover the source of your churn, you’ll have a greater chance of achieving the calm you seek
  • Notice when you’re putting yourself under pressure – it’s the first step to changing the way you operate
  • Reframe the way you think about your tasks – this allows you to approach them with positive energy and makes everything more “doable”
  • Meditate to create calm – you won’t need to sit in lotus position, but you will want to create a daily habit

And as my fellow mastermind member said, “you can have inner calm instantaneously when your self-worth is no longer tied to something external.”

It’s time to put aside any feelings that you’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough or enough of anything else.

Instead, repeat after me: “I am enough”. Because you are enough.

So, which of these steps would most help you find your inner calm?

Leave a comment and let me know.