Most of us believe that having a positive outlook is a good thing, but there are times when maintaining positivity is downright difficult. And in all honesty, the concept of positive thinking has taken somewhat of a battering during recent tough economic times, branded as a way for companies to keep employees motivated without giving them pay raises or hiring assistants to help with overwhelming workloads.
Positive thinking on the part of your team, however, does have a positive effect on business, and studies back up this theory. One 2004 study associated higher profits and happier customers with teams demonstrating a positive attitude. Other studies have correlated joy and creativity, and positive thinking with less absenteeism. Here are 4 reasons why positive thinking makes teams and their leaders more effective.
1. Positive Thinking Helps You Mentally Expand Your Options
When you’re afraid and stuck in a negative headspace, you think you have fewer options than you actually do. The human mind has hardwired psychological mechanisms for coping with danger, whatever form that danger takes, and whether or not the danger is “real.” When you believe yourself to be in peril, your brain enters survival mode. That’s ideal when you encounter, say, a bear in the wild, but it’s not so helpful when the threat is a deadline.
Unfortunately, minor incidents, like a driver cutting you off in traffic, can trigger your fight-or-flight response, causing you to focus on the perceived danger to the point you don’t recognize the options that are available to you. The opposite is true as well in that positive thinking helps you perceive more possibilities and options.
2. It Frees Up Creativity and Inspires Better Performance
Persistent negativity dampens enthusiasm and diminishes creativity – not just in yourself, but in those with whom you interact. Negative thoughts often take longer than positive ones to dissipate, and by shutting down your perception of options, it can ultimately cause you to miss opportunities. And there’s the indisputable fact that relentless negativity damages professional relationships and alienates people. Furthermore, it increases stress levels and can eventually contribute to chronic health problems.
3. It Causes You to Change Your Perspective
Writer Anne Lamott looks at the biblical directive to turn the other cheek as a way of forcing yourself to look in a different direction – literally and figuratively. In other words, positive thinking helps you change your perception, something incredibly valuable in a business context.
Think about your first few business trips, when you “got to” go to Denver or Houston or San Diego. Then think about your most recent few. Chances are, you described those journeys as “having to” go to those places rather than “getting to.” You’re probably not forced against your will to travel for business, but are someone entrusted with handling important accounts. Similarly, you don’t “have to” eat healthy, but are privileged to do so by the variety of foods available to you that you can afford. It’s a matter of perspective.
4. It Helps You Abandon Negative Thought Patterns
The person you are today is not the person you were five years ago. But perpetual negative thinking locks you into outdated mindsets. Maybe you used to lack confidence and had difficulty remembering people’s names. Since then, however, you have tried to be more socially confident, perhaps taking a Toastmasters course and practicing the art of the professional conversation. Yet even though you now have the ability to converse with anyone, at any time, you can’t help but think of yourself as being “bad with names,” even if that’s no longer the case.
If someone met you today, what might they be surprised to learn about you? How would your colleagues describe you, and how does that relate to your concept of yourself? People, including you, change constantly.
How to Consistently Enable Positive Thinking
Being able to think positively every day is like any other skill: it requires practice. Some people use meditation to help, while others keep a written diary of positive thoughts. Play is also important, even to adults, and it may be a game of racquetball or unstructured free time where you do as you please. Give yourself “permission” to play on a regular basis and see how it feeds positive thinking.
If you’re interested in learning more about positivity and how it makes executives better leaders, I encourage you to explore my books, including Cultural Transformations: Lessons of Leadership and Corporate Reinvention from the C-Suite Elite. Positivity may be considered a “soft” skill, but it has a measurable positive impact on your career and life.