How The Best Leaders Create A Positive And Productive Mindset
Most of us presume that success leads to happiness. However, Martin Seligman, author of the book ‘Authentic Happiness’ puts it the other way around — happiness leads to success. How can this be?
Experience shows that happy leaders are more productive, more creative, and better at problem-solving than their unhappy peers. And happiness is contagious. Happy leaders result in happy team members. But happiness doesn’t always come naturally.
In this blog post, I share how to create a positive and productive mindset by training 3 mental muscles to achieve peak performance and wellbeing.
A Real Example
Feeling sceptical? Then first, let me give you a real life example.
Today, the world is facing enormous challenges, one of which is an uncertain and unpredictable economy. Right now, I’m working with a senior leadership team, who recently lost more than half of their stock price. Yes, you read that right.
In this kind of high-pressure situation, many leaders would pester their deputies with frequent meetings or flood other people’s inboxes with urgent demands. In doing so, they’d heighten everyone else’s anxiety levels. The result?
These actions activate the portion of the brain which processes threats — your ‘survivor’ brain. The trouble is, this renders the brain ineffective when it comes to problem-solving. For that, you need to be in the ‘sage’ part of your brain.
The leadership team I’m currently working with took a different approach. Their leader decided that what took them to this point was not what was going to get them to the next level. They needed to recover fast from this negative setback and quickly establish a positive and productive mindset.
So I facilitated a 4-hour workshop on change management and Positive Intelligence, i am taking the whole leadership team through the 7-week ‘Positive Intelligence’ mental fitness program. And will follow up with a team workshop on maximizing performance and well-being. And guess what? They are bouncing back.
In Pursuit Of Happiness
Research shows that when people have a positive mindset, performance on nearly every level — productivity, creativity, engagement — improves. In fact, positivity enables people to achieve their peak performance.
Happiness is probably the most misunderstood driver of performance. Most people follow the conventional thinking that success leads to happiness. They might have had thoughts like “Once I get a promotion, I’ll be happy” or “When I hit my numbers, I’ll feel great”. And this is true, to a point. But how long does it last?
The problem with success is that it’s a moving target. As soon as someone hits their numbers or achieves their goal, the target changes. That’s why happiness which results from temporary success is only ever fleeting.
In reality, it actually works better the other way around. People who cultivate a positive mindset perform better in the face of adversity. Harvard professor Shawn Achor calls this the ‘happiness advantage’. In other words, every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive.
I’ve observed this effect first hand in my role as an executive leadership coach, too. For people to reach peak performance, they have to work on their happiness and wellbeing first.
The Habits Of Happy People
Another common misconception is that our genetics, our environment, or a combination of the two determine how happy we are. Both factors certainly have an impact. But the question is: how much? In ‘The How Of Happiness’, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky reveals that situation and circumstances only determine around 10% of our happiness. So what can we do about the other 90%?
As a leader, you can cultivate habits that encourage a positive mindset, and influence the way you interact with co-workers. Stress-levels and happiness are both determined by where you are in your brain: being in ‘survivor’ mode triggers stress, whilst being in ‘sage’ mode activates happiness. Like the leadership team I’m currently working with, when you are mentally fit, it’s possible to recover much faster from a negative to a positive mindset after you face a challenge.
Mental fitness is about training your brain to be in a positive mindset even when challenges happen. It is actually not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Recent research on neuroplasticity reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain towards positive emotions and thoughts. In fact, mental fitness can actually be trained in a 7-week program that strengthens 3 mental muscles for 12 minutes every day. It works like this:
- Intercept negative thoughts and emotions. Label them as ‘saboteurs’.
- Reset and focus on 1 thing. Let go of your thoughts.
- Activate the ‘sage’ part of your brain.
As part of my program, leaders watch a 1-hour video and perform their activities every day for 6 weeks with the help of an app. The team and I also meet for 1 hour per week to support each other. Hundreds of CEOs and their teams have gone through this mental fitness program. And when we evaluated the participants, the benefits spanned both performance and wellness:
- 90% use mental/emotional energy more effectively
- 92% are better at teamwork and collaboration
- 85% increase in happiness,
- 91% manage stress better
- 83% improve self-confidence
- 84% are better at conflict management
These lasting results came from working on the 3 core mental muscles, which lay at the root of happiness and performance and rewire your brain to more positivity.. It’s incredible. Just 12 minutes of mental muscle exercises a day keeps people happier for months after the training program has ended. Mental fitness like physical fitness is for life.
Positivity Is Contagious
When people have negative emotions like stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, impatience, they get stuck in a negative mindset. Stress and other negative emotions are a central contributing factor to people’s happiness at work. Many companies offer training on how to mitigate stress, focusing on its negative health effects. The problem is, people then get stressed-out about being stressed-out!
It’s important to remember that negative emotions like stress are helpful. But they’re only helpful as an alert signal. What’s not helpful for our bodies and minds is to stay in a negative mindset, you are in your survival brain. The goal is to recover faster to a positive mindset, so we can focus on the whole picture including opportunities, instead of just problems. We can do this by working with positive emotions like empathy, curiosity, creativity, clarity, and calm focused actions.
Here’s the good news. When leaders have a positive mindset, supporting and engaging positively with each other and people in their teams — it spreads. A leadership team who rewire their brains towards positive emotions and thoughts are a powerful force for good.
That’s because they’re building accountability and support. This results in greater individual success, as well as increased trust and better connections between team members. The emphasis on positive leadership keeps leaders and their managers engaged and cohesive. This helps them to successfully make transitions, transforming their company together, and achieving peak performance and well-being.
Final Thoughts On Positivity
Stress and other negative emotions are an inevitable part of work, but with the right training, it’s possible to improve your mental fitness and recover faster from negative emotions and thoughts to positive ones.
Stress is not just an obstacle to growth; it can be the fuel for it. When we look back at our lives, we realise that we grow most from stressful situations. In those circumstances, the question to ask is always: how can I turn the current challenge into a gift or opportunity?
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try intercepting these negative emotions and thoughts. Label them as saboteurs, and do a few PQ reps. Ask yourself: how could this challenge be converted into an opportunity? What positive emotions do I need: compassion, curiosity, creativity, clarity or calm? In this way, your brain can recover back to a positive and productive mindset faster. To be able to recover faster, start your day with a reset!
Imagine what it would feel like if you could maximize your performance and wellbeing to create sustainable change. Life’s too short to work and live any other way. And you deserve it! So why not book a 1-hour complimentary session with me to find out if we’re a good fit? You can get in touch with me via my website vdbcoach.com or LinkedIn. Talk to you soon!
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman
- Book Of Happiness: The How Of Happiness: A New Approach To Getting The Life You Want by Sonya Lyubormisky
- Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% Of Teams And Individuals Achieve Their True Potential by Shirzad Chamine