The business world is not becoming easier. The margins get smaller, the demands grow larger, the competition is getting better, and you are constantly expected to do more with less and yet your boss tells you, “Stay positive.” In sports you hear the same cliche. You often hear the announcer say something like, “They just need to stay positive.” You hear the players say something like, “I just tried to stay positive.” You hear the coaches say things like, “Keep your head up, stay positive.” I laugh when I hear these things because they fall into the category of sounds good when you hear it/feels good when you say it/means nothing. These kind of nondescript statements cloud the true actions and skills that make up a Performance Mindset. So what are the skills that make “stay positive” meaningful and actionable?
1. Be real and recognize the emotions you are feeling while not allowing these emotions to control you. This means acknowledging the negative ones (i.e., fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, loneliness), understanding where they come from, but allowing them to pass through you without wreaking havoc (breathing and visualization make this possible). It also means enjoying the positive ones (i.e., joy, acceptance, confidence, satisfaction) while not over-reacting to them or becoming so inebriated by them that you can’t function when they are not there.
2. Reflect on what you did or are doing well. The worst tennis shot could have consisted of doing 9 out of 10 things perfectly. Similarly, during your worst one on one meeting you could have done many things really well. Brain plasticity says that the brain can reshape its neuro-circuitry (learn) from whatever you do repetitively. This is why you want to purposefully repeat good performances. When you get mad at yourself, exaggerate bad behavior, and then mentally repeat it over and over in your mind, you are building your probability of repeating bad performances. For this reason, you need to accurately reflect on your performances (conversations, meetings, presentations, etc.) and capture what you did well as well as what you want to do better.
3. Be solution-focused. Every situation you face is just a situation. it is not inherently bad or good, it just is what it is (see http://tignumthoughts.com/thoughts/2013/12/21/accept-your-bad-shots for more insights). The key is to take the current situation and ask yourself, “What can I do now to solve this?”, “What can I learn from this situation?”, “How can I use this situation to become better, stronger, more skilled?” How many times in a day could you practice this approach? This type of awareness and purposeful placement of your focus is the key to staying fully present and building resilience. Suddenly, you are not the victim of a problem but rather the solver of a problem. We love sports because they present a thousand problems that need to be solved and we love to watch the best performers solve them with grace and efficiency. In business the same is true; the best problem-solver wins.
4. Purposefully build a self-image of you at your best (both descriptively and prescriptively). Human beings cannot outperform our own self-image while at the same time we are the only animal on earth that can design our self-image (even though very few people do this). Staying positive is impossible without belief. Belief is impossible without an innate, down to your core, vision of yourself being successful. This vision is your self-image and you need to work on this every day.
I remember working with a top HR executive who was in the uncomfortable position of having to significantly reduce the company’s workforce. Every day she had to engage in 5 to 10 extremely difficult and emotional discussions as she told co-workers their positions had been eliminated. She was told by her boss and her executive coach, “Stay Positive.” Really? Here she was trying her best to be empathetic during a really difficult time. At home her husband was fighting cancer and she knew that at the end of this wave of “right sizing” (corporate for stay positive) she was likely to also be let go.
She took the Tignum approach and doubled down on her own Sustainable High Performance. She made sure she got as much sleep as possible. She planned strategic recovery breaks between all of her difficult conversations. She reduced the sugar in her diet while increasing her protein and fat so her blood sugar and hormones could balance and her brain could perform its best. She increased her water, reduced her caffeine (she had enough real stress on her system), and started enjoying ginger tea. She woke up every morning and started her day with some daily prep movements and meditation so she could have the clear and uncluttered mind she needed for these challenging days. The best part was that she started reflecting on, and journaling, all of the skills she was developing during these trying times. She reframed her inner dialogue being sure to keep it solution-oriented. She never became a victim but instead infected everyone she interacted with with her high performance mindset.
In the end, she was sure enough let go. I remember that day when she called me. She wasn’t sad or dramatic about losing her job. She was grateful for the way she handled the situation every day. At her first interview, she told the story of how she dealt with the difficult situation and how she was a true Sustainable High Performer. How different that must have sounded than if she just said, “I tried to stay positive.” Among 5 other great candidates who were also trying to get this top job, she got the position.
The total integration of Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery is the key to Sustainable High Performance. Whether it’s in your professional life, your personal life, or your sport life, the same strategies apply. So when your next challenge arises, be a Sustainable High Performer. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.
By Scott Peltin
Founder & Chief Performance Officer