Overturn Negative Thinking

  • 5 mins read

There is nothing more detrimental to an organization than a leader with a negative mindset. In their view, efforts are rarely good enough, things just don’t ever seem to go right, plans will likely fail, people are unreliable, or problems are beyond fixing. 

Do you work with or report to someone like this? Or, more importantly, are you known for being a person like this? If so, there are ways to address it.

Negative thinking, sometimes seen as pessimism, can be a pervasive handicap, not only for a leader, but also for everyone down the line. Organizations with a negative attitude at the top will end up in ruin, according to John Maxwell, author of the book entitled, Attitude 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know (2003, Thomas Nelson).

Negative and positive thoughts have a way of fulfilling themselves, since our beliefs, hopes, fears, plans, responses, and abilities are shaped by how we think. Of all people, it’s the leader whose mindset has the greatest impact, making this the most critical area to be addressed, for the benefit of all.

Effects of Negativity

Negative thinking is generally caused by anxieties, which in turn have their roots in emotionally damaging experiences, either in childhood or adulthood. Continual disappointments, stresses, or pain tend to lead to a negative mentality over time, and this would be tough enough if only one person were affected.

But the greatest tragedy of a leader’s negativity is that it affects everything and everyone. Attitudes spread quickly, often leaving no trace of a source. They go unnoticed, as a subtle, silent killer.

Teamwork is destroyed when negativity causes people to dislike each other, find fault with each other and resist each other. Performance and progress are inevitably slashed. Productivity, quality and delivery follow a similar demise. Turnover and burnout are inevitable.

In short, bad thinking generates more bad thinking and bad responses lead to more bad responses. If it isn’t dealt with in a timely manner, the cliff can’t be avoided.

Assess Your Thoughts

As situations impact you, try to take a step back and sense what’s happening. What kinds of thoughts come to mind? Are they negative?

A tougher challenge is to determine the legitimacy of your perspective. Are your thoughts based on the facts of past experiences or just your impressions of them? Are you letting stories replay themselves in your head to influence your viewpoint? It’s easy to do. Ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is really that bad. It rarely is.

Recognize that past negative outcomes seem more prominent in our minds than positive ones, thus people tend to more heavily emphasize the negative. Realize that you are just as vulnerable to this trait as everyone else.

This can help you question the validity of negative thoughts or impressions. Maybe they’re flawed. Try to set them off at a distance, just for a moment, and give them a subjective evaluation. Seek a true sense of reality.

Many leaders don’t make the effort to do this. It’s simply easier to complain or brood. Rather, work through the issue. Let an experienced coach help you. You can become consistently conscious of your thought process, giving you the beneficial ability to step back and assess.

Take a Look at Your Responses

Think back to similar circumstances and try to see a pattern of how you responded. Does this specific issue always set you off, or make you feel defeated? Did every attempt to follow a similar plan result in failure? Did you get blamed every time things like this didn’t work out? This review can help you realize that the answer is no.

Psychologist and author Martin Seligman, known for his work in the subject of positive psychology, is a pioneer of this approach. A pattern of negative behavior, once identified, can be challenged. Injecting realism, especially with the insight of others, will help with a fair comparison of past negative and positive experiences.

By exposing negative thoughts as invalid, they lose their power. Positive viewpoints are given more credit, resulting in a broader, balanced perspective. There is no need to automatically fall back to a negative mentality, as it certainly does no good.

Reframe Your Thinking

With a rational approach of exposing some negative thinking as false, positive thoughts can fill the gap. With enough practice, negative thinking can be disconnected from the routine. You can acknowledge that it’s detrimental to you (and everyone else), and it should raise a red flag.

Your review of the past proved that good things did happen, and they can again. Your past difficulties don’t necessarily impact your future challenges. It may seem like another trial is coming your way, and it smells familiar. But strive for a positive way to look at it. Put to work what you learned in the past to forge a better viewpoint.

Dwelling on the negative will never help you overcome any trial. Let the negative angst go. Trying to wrestle with it only invites it to continue to jab at you.

A Leader’s Responsibility

As a leader, your role is to rally your people to a common vision, by helping them attain their goals. You can’t do this with a negative mindset. You owe them the most positive experience possible, so everyone can succeed together.

Think not only of yourself in your mission to overturn negative thinking. Think of them. They’re looking to you to lead them well. That’s a big calling. It can only be fulfilled effectively from a positive frame of mind, which is contagious.

With a more realistic perspective and the valuable input of others, you can adjust your viewpoint, approach, and actions. You no longer need to assume that things will always be painful, but legitimately believe things can, and will, get better.

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