“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles—by the ears, by the heels, or any other way, so you can manage it.”
~Mark Twain

It is too easy for our minds to get caught in our troubles, and it often doesn’t help anything.

Planning for the future – and considering what might go wrong and how to get around obstacles – is definitely a necessary leadership skill. As is listing – and figuring out how to address – challenges, barriers, and, well, troubles. But staying too long in this consideration of challenges, barriers, and troubles can lead us to more, well, troubles. Which usually doesn’t help anything.

Our brains have evolved to have a negativity bias. To have the tendency to not only notice and register negative stimuli more readily, but also to hold onto and dwell upon these negative events. In other words, our brains have evolved to revolve around our troubles, over and over and over again.

This bias may have been helpful when we were surrounded by danger and threats to our lives and livelihoods, but now that many of us are at least relatively safe on a daily basis, this bias causes more harm than good. A study at King’s College London found that a habit of prolonged negative thinking diminishes our brains’ ability to think, reason, and form memories. Essentially it can drain our brains’ resources.

And when we combine our negativity bias with our confirmation bias – our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports our prior beliefs or values – our leadership resources can be drained as well. Often described as the “Pygmalion effect,” when we expect the best from the people on our team, that is often what we get from them. And when we expect less than the best – or even the worst – well, that is often what we get from them as well.

Our brains so easily get caught in an endless loop of troubles, challenges, and problems. For example,  we often judge people by the worst of what they’ve shown us and we expect them to give us a repeat performance. When we can drag our thoughts away from our troubles – in any way we can manage it – we can more often live – and lead – as our best selves.

How have you pulled your thoughts away from your troubles?
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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 spotting – and possibly avoiding – some of your biases, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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