Unless you’ve been living in a bubble with no connectivity to the outside world, you know it’s been a difficult year, for a lot of reasons.
We’ve faced political uncertainty, unsettling world events and a business climate that requires companies to be on top of their game at all times to succeed.
We’re finding that the digital age is challenging, ever-changing and sometimes overwhelming. Between new technologies, new business entrants and mega-mergers of historical rivals, our problems are more complex – and the solutions they require depend on new ways of thinking and doing that go beyond anything we’ve learned in the past.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the effects of this volatility. You’ve probably felt it at a personal level and perhaps at an organizational level – as many enterprises, like ours, are going through and still preparing for more major changes.
An environment like this can be difficult to navigate, even depressing. I know I’ve had more than a few sleepless nights staring at the ceiling. But if we allow a negative mindset to take hold – at a personal level and for our organizations – the results can be very dangerous.
I have shared in the past that I enjoy all manner of athletic competition, even though I’m well past my prime. One of the things often discussed in sports performance is visualization – seeing yourself successfully perform something you have yet to do – and the powerful effect this has on improving outcomes. If you instead dwell on negative thoughts, the corresponding subpar results are hardly surprising.
I’ve always attempted to banish those nagging self-doubts that creep in and replace them with positive visualization, and now I know why. As a recent Entrepreneur article explains, negative thoughts lead to negative thoughts. Our brains like to save time and energy by repeating behavior, so something as simple as complaining can become a default habit that’s hard to break.
Even worse, constant negativity can actually damage your brain, the article notes:
Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus — an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum is something Katie Verresen, an executive coach (to bigwigs at Facebook, Airbnb and the like), calls “abundant thinking.”
“Abundance is really your ability to see more in your life: More options, more choices, more resources,” she says in this fascinating article.
The goal, she says, is to separate the feelings and reactions that come from a “scarcity-driven mindset” – a rut many of us fall into when faced with difficult times, feeling we are trapped and have no good choices – from feelings that come from thinking abundantly.
This chart, borrowed from the article, spells out the major differences in these states of mind:
Negative thinking, on the other hand, drains a person of the energy required to operate effectively in the digital world. Challenges become problems too big to overcome; change becomes disruptions that put you in high alert. And these negative patterns become ingrained, repeated and, ultimately, self-fulfilling.
It’s not a fun way to live. If an organization dwells in this negative mindset, it can be devastating to the business.
Both of these articles offer some really useful, practical tips for getting back to a positive, abundant way of thinking if you or your business has gone astray. Ideas include identifying a clear purpose, giving compliments with every complaint, showing gratitude, and priming your mood by watching a funny video or listening to your favorite songs.
Verresen offers my favorite tip for digital leaders: be generous, with your time, your talents, your advice, your perspective and, most importantly, your appreciation. When you give to others, they give back – and if you have a whole team or company acting generously, just imagine the results.
It’s this type of approach we need to steel ourselves against the real difficulties of the digital age. As Verresen said in the article, “In this culture, everyone is bearing so much weight and responsibility, they’re not even appreciating themselves.”
That’s something I can certainly relate to – but it’s not what I’m dwelling on.
I’m choosing to work from a place of abundance, with enough energy/ excitement/ creativity/ appreciation to go around — and with an attitude that says to this volatile world: “Bring it on!”