New year, new me…: how can we cut back on negativity?
Have you made a New Year’s Resolution this year? Perhaps you’ve decided to eat less, or cut some pesky food item out of your diet altogether. Maybe you’ve told yourself to exercise more. Or you might have resolved to spend less time stressing about your work life and more time doing the hobbies you love.
The most common New Year’s Resolutions tend to be aimed at making improvements to ourselves and/or our lives[i]. But logically, we’d only desire improvement if we perceived our current state to ‘not be good enough’. My diet isn’t good enough, so I’m going to make it healthier. My level of fitness isn’t satisfactory, so I’m going to work at getting better. I don’t put enough time aside for myself, so this year I’m going to prioritise my personal life. 2016 wasn’t good enough, so 2017 is going to be different. So much negativity!
In fact, the idea that we’re all somehow living a subpar existence follows us around everywhere. Every day the media bombards us with negative headlines like ‘The Worst Economic Dip in 30 Years’, ‘Unemployment Numbers Have Never Been Lower’, ‘Yawning Almost Killed Man’ (we’re not joking with this one, it’s real). Body-shaming advertising is rife, pressurising people into perfecting their ‘beach-bod’. And we’re inundated with self-help materials, constantly advising on how we can make our current lives better.
It’s no wonder there’s a widespread mantra in journalism that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’[ii]. So why all the long faces? Well, it turns out that we actually have a cognitive bias for negative thoughts – which make up as much as 70% of our spontaneous thinking[iii]. So if you consider yourself a pessimist, join the club – with all 7 billion of us.
We all mentally chatter with ourselves continuously throughout the day, toying with nagging thoughts and questions about our daily experiences. And while we tend to portray ourselves more positively to our peers, inside our own heads the light shines a lot less bright – and we’re much more self-depreciating.
Research by Dr Raj Raghunathan found that our negative thoughts tend to stem from three innate desires: equality, approval, and control[iv]. In other words, we fear being inferior to, rejected by, and overlooked by others, and its these fears which inform the majority of our negative thinking.
But what does this mean for our working lives, particularly when it comes to organisational change? It probably explains why 70% of change initiatives fail, and why change resistance is so common. When confronted with change, most of us automatically experience a hostile response, and our mental chatter usually contains questions like ‘how will this affect my role?’ and ‘what if it goes wrong?’.
But what’s most interesting is how negative responses to change seem to correlate with the desires of equality, approval and control. Some big triggers of resistance are when employees feel
- like they’re drawing the short straw of change
- like they’re being overlooked and ignored by change leaders, who may neglect communication or employee input
- or that they have no influence over the change.
So how do we stop our everyday barrage of negativity? As it turns out, we do it automatically every day, and our brains have a simple defensive mechanism in place. When we’re flooded with too many negative thoughts, we subconsciously cancel them out with positive ones. So for instance, if you were worrying about ending up with a bigger workload after a change, your brain might counter your anxiety with thoughts like ‘well, I guess it’ll give me more chances to demonstrate my abilities to my manager’, to boost your confidence.
In this light then, might the best strategy for leading change be to continually reinforce the benefits it will bring? Change can be a driving force of anxiety, which can only be cancelled out if employees are reassured and encouraged by the positive impact it will have on them. And why not heed those inherent desires too – communicating frequently and openly, and involving employees in the change process? You might find them a lot more open to transformation.
And while we’re at it, wouldn’t this make a totally awesome and unique New Year’s Resolution?
Here at PRINT®, our Resolution is to help people help their organisations become more productive, engaging and successful through the power of personal insights. Making great employee engagement, organisational change, leadership, and communications a resolution everyone can live up to.
If you’d like to discover your Unconscious Motivators® or find out more about how PRINT® could benefit your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit our website and social media (Facebook: @discoveryourprint, Twitter: @Discover_Print, LinkedIn: Print Profile Ltd) or sign up to our mailing list. If you’d like to bring PRINT’s benefits to organisations and businesses, we offer Accreditation courses enabling in-house coaches and learning & development professionals to become certified PRINT® coaches.