Abusing Positivity

Positivity. Perseverance. Gratitude. There is much to be said for these traits. They are proven, brain-friendly strategies that boost perspective, resilience, and success. They can shift me from an attitude of “I have to do this” to “I get to do this.”

But, positivity, perseverance, and gratitude can also have a dark side when they are over-used and abused.

For example:

  • Positivity Over-Used: When I have 18 hours of work to be accomplished in an 8-hour day, I can warp positivity and think, “I can get this done! I’ll just multitask during that boring meeting that’s coming up at 3pm; I’ll do my conference call when I’m in the car; then I’ll just work a few extra hours after the dinner party I have to attend, and I’ll be able to get it all done.” The end result is that I exhaust myself, never stop to question whether there might be some boundary of delegation issues at play, and all the while reinforce in my mind the necessity of 80-hour-work-weeks to survive.
  • Perseverance Abused: When I have a project that is not going smoothly, I might narrow-mindedly continue to apply the same approach and “hammer, hammer, hammer” away at it. In the process, I miss out on the opportunity to collaborate with others on their ideas or try out a new tool.
  • Gratitude Gone South: When I have a difficult person in my life, I might amp up gratitude and think of all the reasons I appreciate and admire the person. All the while, I silence my voice and miss the opportunity to address behaviors that need to be addressed.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for positivity, perseverance, and gratitude (and many other useful mindset tools). But when they cause me to…

  • Stop deepening my thought processes
  • Bury my curiosity about different ways to approach challenges, or  
  • Avoid conflict and challenging conversations

… I have abused these beautiful tools. Can you relate?

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The Bully in the Brain

We’ve all heard of the Gremlin/Saboteur – my favorite description is “the Bully in your Brain.” And, as coaches, we watch for this voice in our conversations with clients.

To help your clients, remember these three “S’s” that are often at the root of the “Bully”:

Scarcity – “You don’t have enough (money, time, resources). You will be left wanting.”
Shame – “You are not good enough, perfect enough, talented enough.”
Shunned – “If people knew the real you, they wouldn’t like/accept/respect you.”

Why is it important to be aware of these bully beliefs? Because, no matter how great your strategy, your clients will NOT make progress toward goals if these underlying beliefs are in place. And yet, these can be sensitive topics for clients to explore.

In the Certified Brain-Based Success Coach program, we share a KEY TECHNIQUE that allows you to explore beliefs (for yourself, as well as your clients) without sending people into fight-flight-freeze!

Bottom line: truly transformational breakthroughs.

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When I Laughed In The Face Of Fear

As a child, I made my decisions about the world quickly and assuredly. I gave things one chance and if it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, I wouldn’t touch it again with a 10-foot pole for years. I once saw a fisherman gut a fish on a pier, which was, as you can imagine, HORRIFYING. I didn’t eat fish and chips for two years after that. Also on my blacklist included the dark, the vacuum cleaner, Chuck E Cheese, and roller coasters. Actually, let me clarify that last one – anything with a slight change in elevation.

Minnie Princesses

Because of this, Disneyland was my family’s choice of theme park. One year, I decided I was old enough to graduate from the kiddy rides to something a little more intense like Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones. Not quite ready for Space Mountain, but I was stepping up the ladder. My parents decided that my inaugural adult ride should be Indiana Jones. Knowing my history, my parents knew that this would be a very important experience: this moment would either allow all of us to ride something other than the teacups every year or we’d be stuck spinning around with toddlers until I could muster up the courage to try again.

BOOM, the ride takes off. We start jostling to and fro, flying around corners. My mom has locked eye contact with me. I’m staring at her and she can see my mind quickly deciding if I like this adult ride or not. I’m quickly deducing that I definitely DON’T. But before my mind can say NOPE WE DO NOT LIKE THIS and I start crying, my mom throws her hands up in the air and starts laughing.


Errrr, screech. My mind comes to a halt as I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that my mother is laughing! On this very scary ride!…Or is it really a scary ride? Just as quickly, my mindset shifts and suddenly I’m seeing the ride through her eyes. It’s not so scary. It’s kind of fun! It’s kind of silly! I break out into a huge grin and start laughing, too. We laughed past the giant snake, we laughed across the rickety bridge, we even laughed down the huge drop. I got off the ride and declared that I loved it! It was my new favorite ride.

I often think about this memory and now that I’m older, I’m so impressed with how my mom handled that moment. If she wrapped her arms around me and told me it would all be over soon, I would’ve cried the whole ride and written it off completely, but because she laughed and threw her arms up, my mindset shifted. Our brains are so powerful and have the ability to bias us, to make us decide if something is safe or not, good or not, scary or not. As a coach, look for the opportunities to throw your hands up and laugh. You may lead your clients to do so as well.

Thanks, Mom, for making me braver. Happy Mother’s Day.

Check out the first picture, yep, that’s me along with Susan’s daughter having fun on the teacup ride many years ago.

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Leveraging Gratitude in Career Coaching

Numerous researchers in the field of positive psychology have learned that gratitude impacts many areas of our lives, as the infographic to the right shows:

  • Happy people’s income is roughly 7% higher
  • Grateful people on average give 20% more time and dollars.
  • Grateful people will have 10% fewer stress-related illnesses, by more physically fit, have blood pressure that is lower by 12%.
  • Grateful people are 20% more likely to get “A” grades

For those who coach career changers, I wish there were statistics on how gratitude impacted career changers’ success rates! If there were such stats, I’m confident they would show that grateful job seekers network more easily, get jobs faster, and negotiate bigger salaries (this last one is borne out in the first bullet above, with happy people having incomes 7% higher).

Gratitude ushers in the concept of provision. It causes us to view the world through a lens of possibility instead of problem, to believe “I have everything I need … right now.” The negative emotions of fear, anxiousness, and worry are based in anticipation of not having enough …  not having enough control, time, money, energy, health, protection, resources, wellbeing, wisdom, appreciation, acceptance, trust, ease. Simply put:

  • Lack of enough is scarcity.
  • Plenty of enough is abundance.

Practical Application

So how do you leverage gratitude when coaching your clients? If you are working with someone who is bummed out over a job loss, be cautious about coming straight out and saying “what are you grateful for?,” because it can sound insensitive.

Instead, first acknowledge the pain. For example:

“I hear the frustration… not what you were hoping for.”

And then, consider saying something like”

“Without denying those feelings, what do you hope this situation will open up for you … make possible for you?”

This is a way of tapping the gratitude emotion without using the word “grateful” or “gratitude.” So, dear colleagues and friends, what do you hope your current situation will open up for you?!

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