You need a negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive and our brains are set for survival.
And the more fast-paced, complex and uncertain the world becomes, the more we rely on our pre-set patterns to survive and the less time we have to focus on what it means to thrive.
Greater levels of stress, anxiety and depression borne from being in constant survival mode as well as being unable to have a positive focus, living in alignment with our personal values and purpose.
This year my daughter took her A-levels and one paper was horrendous. At the time she reported it as a complete meltdown moment, tears throughout and only 50% of the questions answered – you get the picture.
Roll on a few weeks and this memory had blown into something much greater, and more pervasive, in her mind (and mine!).
Stress and anxiety levels were increasing by the day.
By the time we got to results day we were fully expectant for results that would mean she wouldn’t be accepted into either of her uni choices. We researched and ensured we knew all we needed to about clearing and reflected on other options in case uni wasn’t a viable option at all.
Then on results day itself, our negative bias & pervasive pessimism magnified further, prompting us to interpret everything through a negative lens:
- No email from UCAS confirming her place – she must have failed
- An email from UCAS informing us that clearing was open – a message of our task for the day
- The Head of Sixth Form averting her eyes as we passed her on the way to pick up the results – a sign of her disappointment
- A results envelope with a teacher’s initials on the corner to go to on opening the envelope – we needed help and we’d been allocated the Head of Year – this was serious!
- Unable to acknowledge the results shown on the pieces of paper in the envelope – we were stuck in our ‘truth’ – these results were clearly examples of what a results paper looked like, they can’t be hers
It took a while for us to calm ourselves, open our minds to what was actually in front of our eyes and read the results – she had achieved what she needed, and more – amazing!
Now I am not denying the benefits of being prepared or the downfalls of inappropriate optimism.
My point is, that when we allow a negative viewpoint to spread across all areas of life, and be a source of significant emotional suffering for a period of time beyond what is needed to prepare and take action, this is when our negative bias is ‘unhealthy’ and inappropriate.
This is when it stops us from thriving.
In short, the stress, anxiety and low moods experienced in the weeks between the ‘bad’ exam and results were a complete waste of energy and suffering.
We were prepared and able to respond to whatever we were faced with. Why allow something that never actually happened to be a source of suffering?
And this is just one example.
Most of us are facing several challenges at any one time, layering on even more unpleasant emotions.
No wonder reported levels of stress and anxiety are higher than ever.
So what’s the answer?
Let’s be smarter with our feelings – use them as information and a source of energy for action, and not a source of unnecessary suffering.
Basically, let’s learn how to be emotionally intelligent, and be the master of our emotions instead of letting our emotions be the master of us.
And the great news is that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned, and is fast becoming an essential life skill if we want to do more than just survive.
Now is the time.
With this in mind I am rolling out a wellbeing programme in schools supporting teachers and their team of support staff to master and model these skills with the aim that social emotional learning is at the centre of education, equipping the next generation with the skills to thrive.
If you would like to get involved or find out more please get in touch – I am keen to connect with anyone who would like to join me on this mission.
Please share this idea with anyone who you feel might benefit from it.
Also, if you’d like some support taming your negative bias and using your emotions more effectively, then please get in touch with me at [email protected].
As always, here’s to a life of success. Until next time!