Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. That is the way our brains have evolved over time, to protect us from the lion hiding behind the tree or the meteorite that might hit our planet.
The problem is, there generally isn’t a lion hiding behind the tree, and if a meteorite was coming towards earth, there’s not a whole lot that we can do about it, and yet our brains are primed for fight or flight. In the same way, our brains are also primed to pay more attention to our weaknesses and our limitations than our strengths, and to hold onto what went wrong in a situation (or specifically, what we did wrong) rather than what went right. This is our negativity bias. “Our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than by good news,” according to Psychology Today.
Now, this may have been the way we evolved, but it isn’t always in our best interest. When we focus negatively, we notice more negativity, and we are more likely to elicit negativity from others.
The good news is that there is something we can do about it.
I like to refer to our brains as muscles. Obviously, the brain is an organ (and an important one at that), but I remind clients (and myself, and friends, family, and colleagues) that the brain is like a muscle in that we can train ourselves to think differently. We can actively work against our negativity bias and focus instead on positive thoughts, on possibilities rather than fearful outcomes, on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.
This brief article on shinetext.com, (which is a texting program or an app that can send you a great, quick reminder every day to shine in self-care and positivity), lists a simple three-step process that we can do every day – even while we’re brushing our teeth or commuting to work – that can help us focus more on our strengths. All we have to do each day is to name a strength, decide how we’ll use or exercise that strength, and intentionally reflect on how we used and exercised that strength and how it went. (And if you’re not sure of your strengths, you can take the simple, free VIA Survey, or have a coach take you through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or another assessment.)
By intentionally naming our strengths, we become more aware of them, and, as you may have noticed, what we focus on grows. By actively exercising our strengths, we make them stronger. And by reflecting on how we did with this exercise, we reinforce any positive outcomes and help ourselves see the difference we can make in our own lives…thereby strengthening our feelings of self-efficacy. This increase in self-efficacy also helps us see ourselves as an actor in our own lives rather than as a victim, which can also reinforce our ability to lean away from our negativity bias.
It’s a win-win-win situation, and it only takes a few intentional minutes each day.
And what does this have to do with leadership? If you’re still asking that, I’ll answer it quickly for you here. By focusing yourself more on the positive and what’s working, you model this behavior for everyone around you…and you are able to point yourself, your team, and your organization in a direction that will help you hold onto the good stuff more and reap the benefits in engagement, fulfillment, and effectiveness.
How have you learned to focus more on your strengths, and how has that helped you?
Please leave a comment.
If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.
For support in exercising your brain, contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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