This year has had its fair share of emotional highs and lows. But, while none of us could have anticipated a worldwide pandemic, some of us were better prepared for it than others. But, why?
According to them, the biggest barrier to leading a more fulfilling life may be ourselves. Our negative thoughts reframe our challenges and make problems feel insurmountable.
The Power of Negativity
Our positive emotions keep us happy and help us build relationships. These positive emotions don’t just make us feel good, they actually help us succeed, as well. Research tells us that happy people are more successful — they’re more likely to get raises or promotions, have successful marriages, and live longer.
But with good, comes bad. Think back on your most vivid memories. You might be surprised to realize many of your strongest memories are characterized by strong negative emotions or capture traumatic moments in your life. This is because negative emotions affect us more strongly than positive ones. They are a means of survival.
The human brain uses negative emotions to keep us safe. From an evolutionary perspective, strong negative emotions helped us recognize when we were in a life-threatening situation and help us manage it accordingly. Say you went into a dark cave, were mauled by a bear, and spent weeks on the brink of death. Your brain will store some negative feelings towards dark caves and bears and you’ll subconsciously or consciously avoid them for the rest of your life. That’s because your brain wants to keep you safe and keep similar situations from happening again.
Today, you might not be wandering into bear caves, but your emotions still try to protect you. However, an unintended consequence of this evolutionary phenomenon, is that sometimes our emotions can get in our way. Fortunately, we can learn to acknowledge our emotions – both the positive and the negative – without succumbing to them. When we become more conscious of why we are experiencing those emotions, then we can control the impact they have on our lives.
So how can we keep negativity from getting the best of us? The key lies in a combination of resilience, reframing, and antifragility.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from challenging or difficult circumstances. While everyone’s level of resilience differs, there are three things that impact resilience:
Unfortunately, we can’t control our genetics, but we can influence both our resources and our thoughts.
Resources include everything from your experiences, background, money, and relationships – anything that can help you in a time of need. We can surround ourselves with people who care for us so when we face hardship we can turn to them for love and support. We can save up emergency savings so a car accident or an injury isn’t a financial burden. By having the right resources, we can approach a situation with a more positive mindset.
The last part of the equation is the one thing we can change immediately: our thinking. Resilient people think differently in the face of opportunities and challenges. Our thoughts have a deep influence on our emotions, an influence that can be both positive and negative.
Our thoughts cause us to react strongly to the situations we face and control what we feel, say, and do. With practice, you can change negative thoughts to positive, which can increase your resilience. Every time you catch yourself thinking an untruthful or counterproductive thought, you need to stop and ask yourself, “How could I change this thought to one that leads me to where I want to be?”
Reframing is the act of looking at a situation in a new light to change its meaning.
For example, say your employer just laid you off. At first, you might feel angry because of everything you did for them, sad to leave your coworkers behind, or worried about how you’ll find a new job. Instead of only focusing on all the negative emotions you’re feeling, you can reframe the situation to look at it in a more positive light. You gained a ton of experience at the company, you worked with great people who you will stay in touch with for the rest of your life, and you have a strong skill set and built a strong professional network so finding a new job won’t be hard.
The first step in reframing is noticing when you feel a negative thought and acknowledging it. Next, imagine how you’d react if that happened. This leads to a more resilient response because you are forced to go onto the other side of your fear, picture yourself there, and decide who you want to be.
Preparing for the worst lets you come to terms with your worst fears and imagine a resolution. You also have the opportunity to see the future by imagining yourself handling anything life throws your way. Once you’ve wrapped your head around that, it becomes easier to find the good in a situation and empower yourself, even in the face of adversity.
The word “antifragile” comes from the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who first wrote about it in economic and political terms. It refers to systems that thrive in the face of disruption and uncertainty. But, what does it mean for a person to be antifragile? It means being able to work through struggle more efficiently.
The key to antifragility lies in our ability to learn. “We need to ask ourselves the question, ‘What is the learning in this experience or struggle for me?’,” said Dr. Williams.
Being antifragile is the idea of moving forward, not just bouncing back. Finding what you can learn from an experience will help you go forward. “We need to learn and grow from our experiences to escape unhelpful patterns,” urged Dr. Williams.
What does this mean for managers?
Resilience, reframing, and antifragility are power tools every manager should have in their toolbox. When leading a team through a period of great change, you have to remember that the people you lead are looking to and depending on your guidance. You need to be mindful of the impact your emotions and actions can have on your team. This year has really put managers to the test.
In the face of the pandemic, you could give up and say, “This is hard. Things are not what they were a year ago,” but that could effectively destroy employee morale. If instead, you were candid about the challenges of this year but followed up by saying, “We can figure out how to get through this. This is our opportunity to find and use our strengths to pull us forward. Let’s figure out how we get to the other side of this together,” you can inspire and lift up your team. Remember that, as a leader, what you say and do carries weight. You need to be intentional with your words and actions in order to inspire your team.
That said, you shouldn’t ignore the hardships at hand and you shouldn’t pretend you have all the answers. “Acknowledging that we’ll find our way through this together can take that pressure off of yourself to have all the answers,” said Dr. Williams. “One of the things helping leaders most right now is understanding how they can move between taking command and letting go.” At times, our teams need a leader to take charge and decide what the team should do next. Other times, leaders need to let go and work together as a team to create the plan.
“It takes more energy, mindfulness, and thought to determine what’s the best way to serve your people or address the situation,” said Dr. Williams. “You have permission to not be perfect and not to have all the answers. You have the agility to move between when people need direction to feel safe and creating space for co-creation when that’s a possibility.
This article is an excerpt from our live webinar, “Reclaim Your Well-Being in Chaotic Times.” Click here to view the full event recording.