“Your thoughts will create scenarios in your mind that will reflect your insecurities, fears and worries. So it’s important to always fact-check your own thoughts before accepting them, because in highly emotional situations, your thoughts will lie to you too.”
This quote is from a recent Instagram post by entrepreneur Steven Bartlett, a marketing mogul and the newest investor on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den. Steven writes a lot about mindset and what it takes to achieve a mental edge in business at the age of just 29.
I’m sure we all agree that we no longer live in a time of stability. Even though it seems things are improving, we are still living through a global pandemic. To add to the instability, we are faced with constant news reports of a gratuitous and unprovoked Russian invasion in Ukraine as well as a massive surge in the cost of living here in the UK. In business terms, we are navigating what is known as a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
Uncertain times like these can cause one to speculate about the unknown. The human brain is wired to perceive uncertainty as a threat, and this can cause the imagination to lead us down a dangerous path of negative thinking and worst-case scenarios. Fearfulness, anxiety and worry often result in poor coping skills and we may find ourselves worried over outcomes that never happen or are simply out of our control.
There is though, good news. We can train our brains to override this hard wiring so that we deal more rationally and serenely with the unknown. And even better, it isn’t complicated, time consuming or expensive to do.
Here are a few steps we can take to ensure a calmer, positive state of mind and a more measured approach that will lead to a happier and more successful life in times of variability.
I hope you find these techniques helpful.
STEP 1: FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Let’s go back to when we were in lockdown and forced to live with restrictions that left many of us isolated, confused and fearful. We had no option but to put our trust in scientific and government advisers and hope they were telling us to do the right thing. This posed a challenge to most of us, particularly those of us who like to feel in control.
The fact is, trying to control what we cannot causes tremendous anxiety and puts us under immense stress. When faced with scenarios where we are not in control, it is vital to let go and accept the terms of the situation. This will free up valuable energy we can use to positively influence and affect what we can control. Expertly described in Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” this is known as the locus of control.
If we focus on what is in our control and what we can do to help the situation, we feel empowered. For example, donations of any kind to the Ukrainian relief effort are a small way we can make a difference. Rising cost of living – what about making an energy saving plan or thinking about reducing outgoings to counteract rising costs? These are examples of positive actions that can help us to not only establish more control but also affect positive changes to unknown situations causing worry.
STEP 2: SWITCH OFF THE DOOM AND GLOOM
These days the news, social media, and even speculative conversations with friends and colleagues contribute to an almost incessant feed of new information into our brains. Currently, much of this is negative and sometimes the best thing we can do to feel more positive, is turn off the feed. In his book “Human Kind: A Hopeful History” Rutger Bregman makes the point that the news “zooms in on the bad apples” and taps into our negativity bias.
This is one of the things we have control over. We can make a choice to switch it off.
Take stock. There is a need to stay informed without exposing our brains to 24/7 turmoil.
Toxic news, gossip and negative talk can feed the anxiety monster and drain our energy.
STEP 3. STOP CATASTROPHISING
What do I mean by catastrophising? An example I had from a colleague was in the early days of the Ukrainian invasion where she immediately jumped into a scenario of an imminent world war on a nuclear level.
Start thinking about positive outcomes and scenarios. Believe it or not, a creative brain and fertile imagination can be the worst enemy and take a person on a scary journey of bad feelings and negative emotions.
It is essential not to dwell on the negative and instead foster positive thoughts which will reduce anxiety.
STEP 4. THINK ‘GLASS HALF FULL’ AND KICK NEGATIVE MENTAL CHATTER TO THE CURB
Our thoughts can trigger powerful emotions which can be positive or negative. Therefore, we need to manage thoughts carefully.
For decades, studies have shown that positive thinking is proven to calm fear and quiet irrational mind chatter as we focus on thoughts that are more serene.
We need to squash the negative chatter monster in our brains. Instead of giving into the monster, flip any pessimistic or defeatist ideas upside down and train your brain to approach the unknown positively. Everything can be an opportunity if we choose to see it in the right light.
STEP 5: GET SOME EXERCISE
Exercise is not only good for our physical health. As we move, we release endorphins, which help to relieve stress and anxiety and produce a more positive mindset. No one needs to train like an Olympic athlete, take military bootcamp or hit the gym every day to see results.
Simply taking a 30-minute walk outside, being present and spiking our heart rate will give us a break from negative thinking and contribute to a positive mental mindset.
For more information on this and the opportunity to discover what might be sabotaging your thoughts send me a direct message for a link to a short and free self-assessment.