I found this fascinating article on Forbes.com from Jan Bruce…
“One of the most counterproductive pieces of advice spewed from keynotes, gurus, and motivational speakers of every stripe is this: Think positively. Why? It’s not a one-size-fits-all guide to leadership (or life) and adds considerably to your stress load. Because you not only have to tackle the obstacles you’re already facing; you have to also wrestle any negative thoughts you have about them to the ground. (Read more on how optimism can impair your success.)
There is a better and more important way to lead. Because there’s something far more valuable than being simply optimistic, happy, or upbeat—and it’s cultivation of emotional agility . Your ability to be aware of and receptive to all kinds of shifts in thinking and the emotions they create, without getting toppled by them, is what will make you the leader you need to be.
In their recent piece in the Harvard Business Review (“Emotional Agility”), Susan David and Christina Congleton of Evidence Based Psychology, point out that in their experience consulting with business leaders all over the world, they’ve learned that the reason so many of them stumble is not because of the fact that they have negative thoughts (who doesn’t), but because they get snagged on them. To try to “fix” those thoughts, they say, is not the solution.
“Effective leaders don’t buy into or try to suppress their inner experiences. Instead they approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way—developing what we call emotional agility. In our complex, fast-changing knowledge economy, this ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings is essential to business success. Numerous studies, from the University of London professor Frank Bond and others, show that emotional agility can help people alleviate stress, reduce errors, become more innovative, and improve job performance.”
Anticipating the Negative Makes You, Well, Negative
In his fantastic book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman notes that “our constant efforts to eliminate the negative… is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy,” and advocates instead the embrace of a ‘negative’ approach to happiness.
Again, the way to cultivate emotional agility is through being mindful of what’s happening, rather than trying to blind yourself to the bad stuff for fear it will hurt you.
Here’s why this is important: We are generally wired to be on high alert for threats. But think about it. If you are fearful of negative thoughts and feel the need to forcibly expunge them, then you’ll go to great lengths to protect yourself and likely be distracted by them (as you would be if you’re expecting an assassin and see a shadow slip by the window). When you attempt to take on and destroy all those negative thoughts, you’re forever in a defensive pose.
But bad thoughts—and bad events—are like bad weather; they happen. They always will. The answer isn’t to undo that millennia-old wiring; it’s to keep from getting hooked like a fish on every bad line of thinking. (Find out why should see stress as a good thing.)
My advice is very much in alignment with what David and Congleton suggest:
Acknowledge the thought (trap it). When you hear that same old broken-record thought again (“I’ll never make the right decision”; “I don’t do well in situations like this”), rather than follow it down the rabbit hole, trap it: Be aware of the role that the thought is playing, almost as if it were separate from you.
Seek out the source (map it). When’s the last time you heard this thought or felt sucked into this downward spiral? What’s causing it now? When you can identify that as a symptom rather than a flaw, you can keep it from getting you into a stranglehold.
Accept and move on (zap it). Whether you call it acceptance or the negative path or whatever, the key is to recognize that this thought is not who you are. A thought alone can’t doom you to failure.
Let your values, not your thoughts, drive. You need to get bigger than the battle between negative and positive, and the way to do that is by remembering what drives you, what matters most.
We all want to succeed—but the answer is not spending all our time hunting down and killing fears one at a time; it’s to rise above the negative by recognizing that, come good or ill, our values sustain us in a much stronger way than positive thinking ever could.
“Much as we like to hear positive messages about ourselves,” writes Burkeman, “we crave even more strongly the sense of being a coherent, consistent self in the first place.”
Jan’s other articles are here