February 19, 2014

Is Positive Thinking A Drag?


Small shifts can lead to big changes. During one of my workshops with senior managers of a global corporate bank, we were discussing the power of beliefs when Patty commented that she often felt exhausted after “dealing” with difficult team members.

She explained she normally kept a positive attitude, but was now wondering if it was actually worth it. Thinking “things will improve” wasn’t really helping and she was no longer buying the whole “positive thinking act” because results didn’t add up.

I asked if this way of thinking motivated her to lead her team. She said no. So I invited her to stop for a moment and look at what her beliefs were doing for her.

I said: “You think positive thinking is consuming and now doubt whether it’s really worth it.” “Yes, exactly”, she said. I continued: “So what you believe is not working for you, in fact you’ve begun to doubt it, is that right?” “Yes, that’s right.” Then I asked:

Is your fatigue the result of committed effort
to effectively manage your reality?

“Of course!” she said. “And do you have your team’s interests in mind when you make that effort?” Yes again. “So would it be fair to say that a) having the team’s interests in mind; and b) being committed to achieve those interests are two qualities of a leader?”

She frowned and paused. Then smiled and said: “Yes.” I asked how she felt. “Better. I don't feel doubtful. I know I can improve the situation in my team.” “What changed?”, I asked. She thought for a moment and then replied:

Before I was focusing on how being positive made me feel tired.
Now I’m looking at my fatigue as a result of my leadership qualities.

Finally I asked: “Does this motivate you to continue leading your team?” This time she said yes. But then added: “This still doesn’t change the situation!” “Yes it has”, I said.

And added: “You’ve shifted your focus from looking at the consequences of positive thinking to appreciating the energizing effects of empowering beliefs. Changing what you focus on, changed the way you feel. This changed the situation because it changed the way you will interact and the strategies you will now choose.”

Instead of focusing on thinking positive, concentrate on what your beliefs do for you. This allows you to choose between the ones that give you energy and those that don’t. It creates new enthusiasm to interact in different ways and to devise new strategies, which leads to new outcomes.

Positive thinking is fine. But it’s not the focus. The focus is what your thinking does for you. Embracing energizing beliefs boosts you to a new reality. Small shift, big change.