Last week, during one of my coaching calls, one of my highest performing clients asked me how he could better deal with negative and overly pessimistic people. He said there are certain things he can easily handle but these people really wear him out. Yesterday, after landing at Philadelphia Airport, I stopped and asked a gate agent from American Airlines for help locating the proper gate where another one of our coaches was arriving. There was no line, she wasn’t overwhelmed with work, but still she snarled as she looked up and quipped, “How should I know?” Crazy me, I thought that between the two of us and our chosen professions that she had the edge on me for answering this pretty reasonable question. The crazy thing was that for a moment it really brought out the worst in me. This led me to reflect on a Tignum approach to dealing with the surge in negativity and anger that seems to exist today. Below is a list of some strategies you may want to apply:
1. Get more sleep. You may be thinking, “Why should I get more sleep? They’re the one who has an anger problem.” Research by Anderson and Platten, published in the Behavioral Brain Research Journal, clearly linked sleep deprivation to a lower inhibition and an enhanced impulsivity to negative stimuli. I’m not sure how much sleep the gate agent had the night before we met, but I do know that I was up at 3:30am, at the airport by 4:30am, and on a flight by 6am.
2. Get consistent exercise. Research shows that exercise improves your mood by causing an endorphin release. It reduces your anxiety and blood cortisol levels, and improves your emotional control. It also makes you feel great, and when you feel great, negative outside influences rarely affect you.
3. Eat high performance meals and snacks so you can optimize your brain chemistry and avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). There is a reason that Snickers has produced some of the funniest commercials about avoiding being “hangry”. The brain is an energy hog using between 20-30% of your total calories. The biggest energy hog of the brain is the prefrontal cortex where our inhibitory and control of anger functions lie. When you’re hungry and your blood sugar is low, you will always struggle to be unaffected by negative people.
4. Reduce the amount of caffeine you drink. Caffeine is a sympathomimetic which simply means that it acts exactly like adrenaline. While this may wake you up, it also prepares the brain for fight or flight and when you face a highly negative person, the last thing you need is a brain that is ready to fight. Simple switching to Green Tea can make a significant improvement in your ability to deal with negativity as it contains 1/3 of the caffeine of coffee and the amino acid L-Theanine which calms your nervous system.
5. Use self massage with a foam ball or foam roller to reduce pain and tension. These simple tools, when consistently used, can reduce nagging pain and alleviate tension to help you feel better. When you’re already hurting somewhere in your body, it doesn’t take much of a negative influence from other people to push your buttons.
6. Do a posture check. As crazy as it sounds, your posture has an impact on other people’s attitude. If you have overly aggressive posture, you may just be calling out others to want to fight. If you have overly passive and weak posture, you may just be opening the door for others to pounce on you. The best posture is a strong but relaxed posture where you exhibit confidence but you don’t appear tense and forced.
What do you notice about these six strategies? They have absolutely nothing to do with other people (whether they are negative or positive). Instead they focus on you improving your Sustainable High Performance so others will have less of an impact on you. Now that you’ve taken care of your foundation, let’s look at your Mindset.
7. Reframe your self-talk from low performance self-talk to high performance self-talk. Low performance self-talk is full of drama. It says, “I’m a victim, you’re a villain, I’m helpless." It cries for help by focusing on all of the problems but never moves toward a solution. High performance self-talk focuses on those things within your control. It accepts the reality of the situation but it always moves towards a solution. One really great reframe is to see another person’s negativity and pessimism as fear and insecurity. This can help you see this other person as someone who needs your help in creating safety and success rather than someone who is trying to make you fail.
8. Prepare for the negativity you may face. Preparation is about setting clear intentions. Who do you want to be when you are around negative people? How do you want to be perceived? How do you want them to feel when they interact with you? The human brain contains a group of specialized nerve cells called mirror neurons. These neurons not only help us learn behaviors from watching others, they also help us understand the feelings of others and develop empathy. These neurons have a powerful place in our evolution as they help us develop relationships. Mirror neurons are one very important component of why a person’s mindset is contagious. By preparing for a negative person and pre-arming yourself with a deeply rooted authentic intention of compassion, connection, and positive influence, you have a far greater chance of impacting other people’s mindsets than allowing them to impact yours.
9. Visualize success. Once you’ve done the previous strategies, you are ready to visualize success. Find a quiet place, get yourself into a relaxed state (breathing is a great way to do this), and visualize yourself applying your Performance Mindset skills of humility, vulnerability, optimism, emotional control, compassion, empathy, etc. to the situation of interacting with negative people. When you do this, you use neuroplasticity to rewire your brain for success even in these previously very difficult and trying situations. Remember, mental visualization is a skill so it requires practice.
These are all key strategies of being a Sustainable High Performer or as we say - a swimmer. When you apply these strategies, you won’t just make sure you aren’t the negative person that is dragging everyone else down, you may just find that you are the example that helps others become Sustainable High Performers. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.
By Scott Peltin
Founder/Chief Performance Officer