Lately it seems there’s been a rise in the number of business blogs highlighting the power of positive thinking. As I come upon these blogs, I often stop and evaluate my ability to think positively. It’s easy for me to speak positively, especially when I know doing so is beneficial to others. But thinking positively is an entirely different ball game.
It is natural as leaders – whether a leader by title or a leader by nature – to recognize the need to metaphorically rally the troops in a time of crisis and share encouraging words. Optimism breeds optimism. Speaking positively is beneficial to those we lead.
However, sometimes I find that while my outward persona exudes optimism and positivity, my inner critic expresses a more sinister outlook in my mind. For example, perhaps I am working on a project with a teammate who is nervous about a fast-approaching deadline we may not be able to meet. My immediate reaction is to say to that person, “It’s all going to work out. We have the tools we need. We’ll be able to meet the goal.” However, while sharing this expression of optimism with my teammate, my inner critic is likely hypothesizing every way in which we may not meet the deadline and 100 different negative outcomes if we don’t.
Through personal experience and through studying the power of positive thinking, I’ve come to realize that our thoughts shape our actions. If I doubt my ability to complete a project in a timely manner or in a way that exceeds the standards set for the project, my motivation to work on the project wanes. If I doubt my ability to lead a team I was asked to lead, my ability to connect with those I lead suffers because of my own personal insecurities.
I recognize there are many varied opinions on the value of being idealistic vs. realistic vs. pessimistic. I once had a good friend who encouraged me to practice what he called “ridealism” – which is to be idealistic in a realistic world. It’s important to understand personal and circumstantial limitations imposed by time, our jobs, our skill set, etc. But I do not believe there is any value in being negative in speech or thought.
If we believe we’re going to fail, then we prematurely force ourselves to suffer the effects of failure. One of my favorite sayings is, “It’s not over until it’s over.” I’ve learned that in those moments when failure does knock on our door, it generally doesn’t knock without providing us the tools to cope. However, the premature belief that we are going to fail provides no coping tools because we can’t cope with something that hasn’t happened yet.