Reversing the Death Spiral: The Power of Thinking Patterns
A famous study conducted by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and researcher Martin Seligman examined two groups of sales agents: those that aced an aptitude test and those that failed. One group outperformed the other by more than 50%. Interestingly, it was the “low-aptitude” group who achieved the greater results. What was the only other key differentiating attribute? They were optimists! Despite their test scores, the “can-do” mindset of the low-aptitude group proved more effective than the high-scoring “can’t-do” pessimists .1
We all operate at our best when we are in control and able to cause a desired effect. Our perceived security gets challenged when we face problems beyond our control: markets collapse, a team member becomes ill, or a supplier is late on a delivery. This loss of control gives negative thinking an opportunity to dominate our responses, a condition called learned helplessness.
Adversity comes in many forms—acute, cyclical, long-term, and systemic—and it’s sure to come to any business. Positive thinking is a strong weapon, particularly the capacity to have a positive-rebound mentality when faced with challenges. Beyond increased sales, as in the case of Metropolitan, what we think drives all that we do and, thus, dictates our outcomes. The same is true for a team or organization—its prevailing thinking will shape what it does or doesn’t do. Neuroscience researchers have observed that a positive, optimistic brain is more productive and energized and is inclined to explore new ideas and confront difficult situations. Have we instilled positive thinking in our organizations to combat adversity when it strikes? Or have we let negative thinking fester—in ourselves or others?
In the absence of effectively dealing with negativity, our thinking can become dangerously personal, pervasive, and permanent.2 Even the best performers can begin to spiral. We can take preventive measures to correct this losing mentality and equip our teams with coping skills to use in both their personal and professional environments. Although there are many ways to reverse unproductive psychology, Dr. Henry Cloud suggests the following steps.
- Create Connection – Relational support can powerfully address learned helplessness and change mental chemistry as a threat subsides. When people know they are not alone in facing obstacles, they feel less defensive and more capable of problem-solving.
- Regain Control – To break the sense of powerlessness in the face of crisis, build two lists: what you cannot control and what you can. Each day, prioritize and execute the activities within your control. This exercise speaks directly to the brain’s desire to have control and inhibits thoughts that interfere with productive activities.
- Take Control of the Three Ps – Become aware of negative thinking patterns through self-observation, and write thoughts down in a journal. Review each thought, identify false logic and themes, and refute them with specific counterarguments and the word of God. Sharing logs among team members increases value. People engage in problem-solving and see opportunities rather than dwell on what might happen.
- Add Structure and Accountability – Set aside specific times to talk through controllables and to address negative thinking. Hold one another accountable to execute the activities agreed upon and within one’s control. Teams that overcome adversity come together, talk about the battle, and solve problems—together!
- Take the Right Kind of Actions – Focus on the actions that specifically drive results and on accountability metrics that encourage high performance.
We spend a lot of time in C12 talking about strategic planning and applying disciplines for achieving superior results in business. Regardless, no amount of planning exempts us from adversity. When adversity does arise, we must remember—and embody in our leadership—that faith is anchored in the truth that the Kingdom of God is never at risk (even if our “kingdom” appears to be!)3
How would you describe the prevailing thinking in your organization when it comes to handling crises?
How are you refuting negative thoughts in and around the company with God’s promises?
How can you leverage a negative situation as an opportunity to embody the gospel to your organization?
1. Dr. Henry Cloud, Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge
2. Dr. Henry Cloud, “Reversing the Death Spiral of a Leader,” Global Leadership Network
3. Heb. 11:1, 6:18-20, and 12:28