Updated: May 30
One of my main coaching tools is to assist my clients in accessing their treasure chest of past successes as motivations for today’s challenges. My husband, Peter, heard me talk about this in my recent Video promo for "Make Your Mark", (a Professional Pivot Masterclass created by Beth Ridley, brimfulcup.com).
Peter felt this was so powerful. Here's his response and insight!
"As humans, we are conditioned to be worried about the negative outcomes. This is evolutionarily based as a protective measure when the tigers were prowling in the woods. Paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats in the world was literally a matter of life and death. As we walked through the woods, we contemplated all the negative outcomes to ensure we were prepared to react quickly. This all made sense since the situation was really out of our control (it was more in the tiger’s control) so we had to think through the bad options. It would have been pollyannish to try to focus only on the positives. This focus on the positives would certainly have made you feel great about yourself until you were dead since it left you vulnerable to the outside forces (predators).
In modern times, we have subdued the tiger and the forest, but our brains still believe there is danger right around the corner and tries to prepare us for that possibility. While we appreciate that, it sets us up for failure in our modern interactions where we are much more in control of the outcomes than we were back in the day in the forest. Now, as an example, we are sitting in an interview for a job and our brain is still going through all of the negatives, is there something in my teeth, is there a typo in my resume, what if the interviewer doesn’t like me. These are all still the brain’s standard work of assessing negative outcomes to avoid. However, they also put us in a state of anxiety, nervousness and tension that is not productive to that situation.
So the question is, how do we override what was lifesaving circuitry back in the cave person days but is now counterproductive to growth and success? The answer is to pull from our prefrontal cortex to override the reptilian brain in order to put us in a positive, supportive, successful state of mind. To do this, we need to literally short circuit the brain and access memories, thoughts, emotions, feelings, tastes, smells, sounds etc of positive events and then correlate those positive thoughts to the current situation.
The beautiful thing about this approach is that we all have it within us right now to accomplish this. Everyone has uplifting memories and positive success stories to draw from whether big or small. The opportunity in front of us is to figure out how to proactively and intentionally access those thoughts real time and in the moment to drive positive change in our current lives.
An interesting article that supports some of this thesis: https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618#:~:text=The%20Brain's%20Response&text=Because%20negative%20information%20causes%20a,news%2C%20experiences%2C%20and%20information.
The article interestingly notes that negative emotions are more powerful and long-lasting than positive ones. So as you are working with people to short circuit the brain’s negativity bias, it will be interesting to develop a protocol, tools and practices that effectively offset the fact that we perceive the negatives as more powerful than the positives. To that end, another article (https://www.psycom.net/negativity-bias) notes that, “…negative emotions rouse the amygdala, the almond-shaped brain structure that psychologist Rick Hansen, PhD, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, calls ‘the alarm bell of your brain.’ According to Dr. Hansen, the amygdala ‘uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news. Once it sounds the alarm, negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory, in contrast to positive events and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.’”
The article notes that, “the degree to which we’re able to override our ‘default’ setting and avoid falling into an abyss of self-recrimination, insecurity, sadness, anger, bitterness and other negative emotions depends on a slew of factors including our upbringing, the input we’ve received from those around us whose opinions we value, and how we interpret what we’ve been told.
‘The single most important underlying factor is….how we talk to ourselves about our experiences,’ notes Kenneth Yeager, PhD, director of STAR (Stress, Trauma, and Resilience) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. ‘If you challenge yourself…to be mindful of your daily activities, noticing what’s important [and what isn’t], you are more likely to have positive life experiences,’ Dr. Yeager explains. Basically, you need to put effort into truly valuing all the good and positive aspects of your life so that you are not overcome by the negative.
Even if you are facing a multitude of objectively negative situations, you can try to appreciate the positive aspects of your life, regardless of how small they may be.” “Another tactic that might feel strange at first, but can help to approach your mean inner voice with kindness, is talking to yourself as you would a friend. When negative thoughts intrude ask yourself, ‘Are you ok? What’s wrong? Why are you so angry? Are you feeling hurt?’
The idea is to good-naturedly interrupt yourself whenever you start to trash talk yourself. It’s kind of like The Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ except it involves treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you treat the people you love.” Finally, the article has a good quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “It’s important to remember how much agency you have in letting bad comments stick with you or not." She famously said: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ Refuse to consent to make yourself feel inferior.”
Interesting article on hope: https://www.wsj.com/articles/finding-hope-when-everything-feels-hopeless-11603816391?mod=hp_listc_pos2