Give yourself a gift this holiday season. Read this blog. I promise you will learn how to feel less stress and more happiness.
“’Tis the season to be jolly,” they say. But let’s be honest. It’s not always easy to stay positive, especially when there’s conflict in your team, things are out of your control, and the team’s work product—which reflects on you—is sub-par. It’s even worse if people at home are criticizing you too. It’s easy to start getting annoyed at all of the false cheer and wanting to scream at the next person who wishes you “happy holidays.”
The pressure to give and to be nice to everyone during the holidays can feel oppressive. It can also feel lonely when others are celebrating without you. Envy, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy can build up during the holidays. The critical voices in your head may come out in subtle ways and tell you you’re not worthy of love and respect and happiness. And when you’re not feeling good, you don’t show up as your best self at work.
You Sabotage Yourself
It may seem as though others aren’t doing their job and bad things are happening to you, but research shows that your distress is, in fact, self-generated. According to Shirzad Shamine, author of the book Positive Intelligence, “all your distress in the forms of anxiety, disappointment, stress, anger, shame, guilt—all the unpleasant stuff that makes up your suffering—is generated by your own Saboteurs” (p. 71).
Saboteurs are your inner critics that increase your anxiety about the things you are inclined to worry about, such as whether you are achieving enough, if the quality of your work is high enough, what might go wrong, or that people won’t accept you, etc. They are called Saboteurs because they sabotage your success and happiness. We all have them, and sometimes they are extremely painful. Because they are your inner critics, they know exactly how to hurt you the most.
You Can Stop the Saboteurs
But we don’t have to let them make us miserable. And we don’t need to go through years of therapy to stop them. Recent research has shown that a small amount of concentrated effort can make a big difference in quieting the Saboteurs and shifting to more positive, productive thinking. It is called Positive Intelligence. It was born out of the Positive Psychology literature and brings in neuroscience and organizational science research as well as cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation techniques.
Unlike psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a practical way to make psychological change quickly without digging deep into your past and uncovering your darkest secrets. CBT is used for serious things, like quitting smoking, getting over phobias, and managing anxiety, but it can also be used simply to change your mindset from negative to positive. The crux of CBT is replacing harmful thought processes with healthy ones. Catastrophic thinking is a good example.
Catastrophic Response Example
My PowerPoint slide had a typo on it and my boss called it out in front of everyone at the meeting. I can’t believe I was so sloppy. I’m such an idiot. They’ll never ask me to present again. I just suck at this. I shouldn’t even be in this job. I don’t know what I’m doing. They are going to figure that out one day soon and fire me. I should just quit now.
Try it right now. Think of a mistake or failure that haunts you, that you can’t let go of. Think about all of the negative consequences. Notice how it makes you feel. Your amygdala (the lower part of your brain) and your left brain activate the fear, shame, and anger emotions and the fight/flight/freeze response. You may feel your gut tightening, your face getting hot, your shoulders drooping, or your fists clenching. These negative feelings narrow your focus and you feel stuck.
Now imagine a different response. First, read the example below.
Positive Response Example
My PowerPoint slide had a typo on it and my boss called it out in front of everyone at the meeting. I’m glad she caught it. I didn’t realize how important it was to be precise until she explained it in the meeting. I’ll make sure to proofread next time and double check my slides with someone else on the team. I’m learning a lot in this job. I’m going to rock the next presentation.
Now think about your own mistake or failure and the opportunities it provided for you. Think of it as a gift that may have had immediate positive value or it could have led to positive circumstances down the line or still yet to come. Different parts of your brain are activated as you do this, including your middle prefrontal cortex and right brain. They activate your empathy circuitry, and this allows you to be more compassionate toward yourself and others, and also more curious, creative, and productive.
Shift Your Mindset
The key is learning how to move from the negative to the positive way of reacting to a situation, such as a mistake or failure. Using techniques from CBT to shift your mindset, like seeing a failure as a gift instead of a threat, will help you be more positive and productive. Try this technique over the holiday season and notice how you feel.
You may be thinking that this sounds easy but it’s hard to suddenly be positive when you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or angry. Yes, that is absolutely true. That is why it is important to bring in techniques from the practice of mindfulness mediation to calm your mind and release the tension in your body to allow you to make the shift to a positive mindset. The good news is you don’t have to pull out your mat and sit cross-legged on the floor for an hour a day to calm yourself. The Positive Intelligence research has found that shorter, 30-second to 1-minute mindfulness techniques can get you in the right frame of mind to clear out the Saboteurs and see the gifts.
Calm Your Stress
There are many mindfulness techniques that can be used in the moment, but the easiest and most common one is the three breaths technique. You’ve probably already done this but you may not make a practice of it. The technique is to simply take three deep breaths and focus on your breathing while you do it. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a good one. You take a deep breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds.
Use your breaths to calm you and slow yourself down so you can then shift your thinking from negative to positive, from catastrophe to gift. You can do this subtly, and no one has to know you’re doing it. You can do it while you’re walking, while you’re in a meeting, or while you’re sitting at your desk. It doesn’t have to be a major life change. You don’t have to be woo woo to change your negative critical inner voices to be more positive and caring of yourself and become more productive.
Try using these two simple techniques. Notice when your Saboteurs are acting up. Stop them with three deep breaths and redirect your thinking using the gift technique to move from a negative to positive mindset. Most people say it does change their lives. It really works. Try it and have a happy holiday season.
If you’d like to learn more about Positive Intelligence, what the Saboteurs look like, and how to master a positive mindset, join one of our programs.
- Sign up for a 6-week coaching program on Mental Fitness for Leaders.
- Bring a Positive Intelligence workshop to your organization.
- Host a high-impact women’s Positive Intelligence retreat.
- Bring Positive Intelligence to your parenting or to your teen.
Schedule a free consult to learn more.