Are You Above The Line or Below The Line?
I recently led an exercise with a group of 50 people at a national philanthropy conference. I asked them to write down all of their thoughts related to a goal they wanted to achieve (this is called a thought download). The instructions were to just write—without censoring thoughts or assigning judgment.
I then had them label each thought as:
(A) Above the line thinking
(B) Below the line thinking
Any questions they asked themselves had to be answered. So, statements only.
We then analyzed the thoughts—again, without judgment.
The purpose of this exercise is to identify where your mindset is at any given moment. Are you “above the line” or “below the line?” The Conscious Leadership Group defines them this way:
- Above the line: Open, curious, committed to learning
- Below the line: Closed, defensive, committed to being right
The Shift to Judgement: Dangerous Territory
Here is what I didn’t expect: If people had more below the line, or seemingly negative thoughts, they automatically assumed THEY were, in fact, negative or below the line people. It defined them in some way. They made the exercise mean something about THEM and who THEY were as humans.
It made me wonder, how often do we do this? Look at a snapshot in time (in this case, my thoughts at this moment are negative), and make a global assumption (therefore, I must be a negative person overall).
I think we do this a lot. We make snap decisions about people we just meet. Why wouldn’t we also make snap decisions about ourselves?
But, this is a dangerous road to travel. Here’s why:
- Just because you cheated on your diet, doesn’t make you a cheater.
- Just because you failed at a goal, doesn’t make you a failure.
- Just because you struggled with willpower last week, doesn’t mean you have none.
Yet, we often judge ourselves in this way, in absolutes.
We look for proof that we are a cheater, a failure, or lacking will power—and we find it. Which only reinforces the belief, and more likely than not, leads to more behaviors that serve as more proof. See the cycle?
Replace Judgement With Curiosity
Think about how your life would change if you didn’t make these judgments about yourself (or others, for that matter). Not making your actions mean anything about who you are as a human. We are incredibly complex beings and judging ourselves in these black and white terms is really harmful.
Instead, try approaching your actions with curiosity. Wonder: WHY did I eat that piece of cake? WHY didn’t I make my goal? …And then listen to the answer.
I love the feeling of curiosity. It’s one of my favorite go-to emotions. (Did you know you can have go-to emotions?) From curiosity, we can move forward. From judgement, we stand still or go backward on our goals and on who we want to be.
Now You Try!
So, right now, list your top goal on top of a blank page. Start writing all of the current thoughts in your head about the goal. Don’t censor, just keep writing until you fill the page.
When the page is full, look at what you wrote with curiosity. Ask (and answer) questions like, why do I think that? Is that thought serving me? Why or why not? How could I think about this differently? What are the facts? And so on. Analyze. Get super curious.
And then go do something about it. Go take action from this space of curiosity. Change your thoughts and behavior now that you are aware and without judgment.
Want to go Deeper?
If you need help, I’ve got you. I have 6 spots left in my Lead Strong program for 2020. If you want to learn more, schedule a 1:1 call with me today.
P.S. Here are a few of my favorite resources on this topic: