One of the most wonderful things about practicing mindfulness is the gift of being able to simply ‘begin again’. And each beginning strengthens our leadership resiliency and stamina as we journey toward our VisionShelley Cox
Just 4 weeks ago I found myself in a bike accident, resulting in terrible asphalt rash, and what the emergency department called an ‘occult fracture” of the radial head of my left arm. My morning intention was for this bike ride to be a replacement to my mindfulness practice. New to this route, I was excited for this different adventure and was using my new bike.
Ironically, that past week I had just finished an amazing mindfulness course with 23 other global learners and was feeling that sense of rejuvenation and excitement of the upcoming summer with so many other plans! As expressed in my last blog our family had just moved to our lake house, and I had BIG Visions! As leaders we are normally steering toward a vision, plan, and action steps. On this journey we normally choose behavioral and even deeper transformations toward self-awareness.
Yet sometimes we are hit with unexpected falls
The minute I hit the ground I sensed this was not just a “skinned knee” so this leaves me re-evaluating my new summer plans while embracing this unexpected resistance. I began struggling with my own “monkey brain” of negativity. This negativity often manifests in anxiety, fear, cynicism, judgement and general inability to change a thought, belief or feeling-resistance.
So often we are unaware of the brain’s “negativity bias,” a concept stating that our brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. This bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing, according to Psychology Today. This negativity bias served a strong evolutionary protective purpose in the past. In early prehistoric times there may have been a chance to encounter a sabre-toothed tiger, but the chances now are slim! Despite this truth our brains appear to get stuck in the negative quite quickly! In fact, some researchers assert that negative emotions have an impact close to 3 times stronger than positive emotions. What this means is, in order for us to be happy and flourish we need a higher ratio of positive to negative events. There has been much debate around the exact ratio ranging from three positives to one negative or a ratio of 5:1. Of course not everyone is the same, but we do know focusing on positivity is vital.
When working with emerging leaders, small business to large, no matter the industry, I often need to step away to increase my own tolerance for their anxiety and reactivity to their challenge(s)! No one is immune to this negativity bias, so awareness of this is key to overcome its effects! My role is to provide the safe, compassionate space, with enough challenge for clients to see clearly what is happening so that they can quickly tap into their own inner resources to gain back their maximum functioning to flourish even better than before! The negativity bias can be calmed and positive leadership can emerge!
My role is to model the way of mindfulness, nonjudgmental attention and listening; this intimate learning eventually leads to mastery for both of us.
Executive coaching with Backbone and Heart- by Mary Beth A. O’Neill, writes of this beautifully:
“Learning new skills or learning to contain one’s own reactivity is awkward and no one is great for the first time out. I tell my clients to expect to do 100 reps before even beginning to presume that it will feel like second nature. You can remember toddler mind when you feel embarrassed by frustration, anxiety or failure. There was a time when we all learned without negative self-talk as we took risks, failed, added more repetitions, and gradually became competent walkers.”
Like O’Neill, I believe we can all become competent mindful leader’s one learning at a time.
Sometimes life is disappointing and it feels as if the world may be conspiring against us. It maybe that missed opportunity, the deal that did not go through, or the workshop you planned diligently for garnered mediocre results, or a dozen other smaller or larger tragedies than a bike accident.
On this journey of resiliency and mindful leadership I do know that I chose to see my accident through different lenses, while staying aware not to have this event dramatized in my thoughts, instead I see this as a reflection of how our brain circuitry works.
For some people they just focus more on the negative which can put them at a greater risk for depression and other mental health issues, we leaders are not immune. The brains negative bias is responsible for making bad situations seem a lot worse than they actually are. The good news, in reality our situation is much better than it appears. Making the choice to start and continue to practice positivity as I heal and enjoy summer will also model to my clients how to cope, flourish and show resiliency when the unexpected hits them too.
We may not be able to undo this evolutionary development, but we practice resiliency in our lives by changing the way we interact with positive stimuli. The importance of accepting that negativity is an innate part of the human experience rather than denying negativity bias is definitely a tool to strengthen us as resilient mindful leaders. Coaches do not ignore the pain you go through, but examine how you will emerge stronger than before, if you choose.
Here are 5 tips to help you minimize the effects of that that darn negativity bias:
- Awareness. Be aware that your body is on-guard with emotions of anxiety and fear; you are likely to react strongly to negative stimuli in your environment. Then make conscious efforts to search for the positives in the experience. Here are some coaching questions I may ask you. Grab a journal!
WHAT POSITIVE(S) CAN YOU SEE FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE?
IS THIS TRUE FOR YOU OR A UNIVERSAL TRUTH?
HOW COULD YOU SEE THIS NEGATIVE COMMENT, BELIEF, THOUGHT DIFFERENTLY?
WHERE ARE YOU HOLDING THIS NEGATIVE THOUGHT IN YOUR BODY?
- Be mindful. Give yourself permission to count to 10 and go back to your breath. Breathe! Deep belly breathes while stepping back mentally before reacting to a given situation. In this moment seek self-compassion and love toward yourself. Shortly after I fell, I remembered to breathe and distracted my negative thoughts into a positive GATHA. Have a look at some that may be useful for you: https://mindfulgatha.wordpress.com/gathas/. Perhaps try writing your own!
- Savour the positive. Be present and offer yourself the gift of embracing the positive experiences. Scientists say at least twenty to thirty seconds are needed to fully enjoy that moment to allow more neurons to fire and wire together in response to the positive stimulus to transfer this to memory. We are predisposed to collecting and clinging to negative memories, but we can counteract this by intentionally developing a more diverse and deeply rooted base of positive memories. Let’s fill our leadership buckets with GOOD, so when we fall we have this positive bucket!!
- Practice loving kindness: Provide yourself, and your family, with an abundance of opportunities to experience the positive. See video at the bottom of the blog: http://www.shelleycox.ca/blog/post/could-love-be-a-foundation-to-your-why-and-brand
- Collaborate and ask for support: Leadership is a lonely adventure at times! Collaborate, ask for support, and infuse intentional positivity into your leadership journey! My CALM Power™ program does just that!