Although stress has always been an issue, it now seems to predominate in our self-imposed performance society. We used to be able to externalise it by blaming the system. In these times of personal ownership, depillarisation and feasibility we can only look at ourselves. Stress refrains people from cultivating a thriving mindset and from flourishing at work. And we know that thriving at work is a powerful predictor of performance and employee happiness. So how do you cultivate a thriving mindset as a leader and how do you coach your people on it?
Working with a thriving mindset
Last year I was asked to address the subject in a network of Christian entrepreneurs. The subject was: dealing with stress; what you give attention grows. The apostle Paul writing a letter to the Philippians inspired me. A special passage on inner peace that gives us a few leads on how we can deal with stress. The central idea of the passage is that what we give attention grows. And if you shift your attention towards enjoyment, friendliness, gratitude and asking for help, your stress will go down. Four elements we can focus on and become mindful of, to work on our thriving mindset. Before I explain the four elements, it’s important to know how our brain works and how it relates to stress.
Stress blocks a thriving mindset
We know that stress is determined by the way we look at events. The same event can cause stress for one person, whereas another person would experience it as enjoyable. How does this work exactly? We take a lot more information in than our brains can handle. Research shows that we only remember 1 in 100 parts of information. We filter the information. The selection of this information has a lot to do with our “programming”, what we have taught ourselves to see. This selective perception has to do with past experiences, beliefs, training and education, but also with your daily routines.
So if we want to look at stress we need to look at our programming because we overlook the information we’re not looking for. We also now know that our brain effectiveness can decrease up to 70% when we experience stress (amygdala hijack). Which of course has a strengthening effect on what we have discussed above. Creativity, bonding and solution-oriented thinking have left the building. However, those characteristics are essential to cope with stressful situations.
Fortunately, we can shift our attention and in doing so stretch or even adapt our current way of thinking and doing. For example by actively seeking out new routines that help us to deal differently with things that cause us stress. Our brains are in fact perfectly capable of creating new connections and thus the information that comes at us can be filtered out in another way. So if we can influence our own reality through rearranging our attention, time and spiritual energy, why wouldn’t we?
A thriving mindset by shifting attention
The aforementioned four elements are all about shifting your attention and spiritual energy. Many studies have now shown that this works and that our personal effectiveness and happiness greatly increases if we focus on these elements.
Finding joy has to do with a deeper choice to live from our beliefs and convictions, whatever happens. We often relate our positive feelings to positive events and successes. This becomes a problem if we don’t have enough of those. To enjoy yourself you need an answer to the deeper why question. An answer that gives meaning to all your experiences, positive and negative, and helps you to live from your destination. This will help you during stressful times to stay positive, solution-focused and keep learning. Our brains seem to function best if we are positive since positive emotions broaden our horizons. So start looking for your why.
All good things come to those who make them happen. Nothing gives you a better feeling than to do something good for someone else. Despite the fact that you do this especially for someone else, we can’t deny that it helps yourself as well. With the simple act of supporting someone else, you are distancing yourself from your own problems or starting to look at them in a different way. You can practice this by simply start giving people praise or offer them to help. This will have an internal effect on us as well, as we also learn to be kind to ourselves. That is important if you want to unwind.
Studies show that grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving and less prone to depression, anxiety and loneliness (Shawn Achor, 2010). So you can gain a lot by training gratitude. For example, you can start the day by making a list of things you are grateful for. Being grateful for what you have also helps to not get attached to it. It helps us to live with open hands. That is essential because life is not always about getting want you want. So what can you be grateful for?
Ask for help
Stress increases loneliness. People tend to withdraw from their social context and tend to work harder. Accepting the fact that you need help and continuing to invest in your social network is very important. When you’re busy and do not feel like connecting with other people, you actually have to get out to connect and if possible request help. For others the challenge is to be able to ask for help. The idea that you make yourself dependable on the help of others might be a troublesome thought. However, in doing so you reinforce the idea that you are not alone. So try and ask for help.
A thriving mindset is important for leaders
To conclude with the words of Kurt Lewin: ‘If you really want to understand something, try changing it.’ So if you want to understand how this works for you, try to create a number of rituals and habits to focus your attention and mental energy on the four elements. And then see what happens. This is of course relevant to every human being and especially for people in leadership positions. For they influence others with their way of living and may thus give an acceleration to a movement of thriving people. It helps me to keep a thriving mindset and it allows inner peace to grow.