Try not to be catastrophic, I was advised by a business coach recently, and it was probably the best thing that has been said to me in years. We know how important ‘self awareness’ is, and with a sudden jolt I realized he was completely right.
I am not a cup half full person. I am a cup 90% full person, happy and positive and determined, 90% of the time. It’s that other ten per cent you want to be afraid of, very afraid. Because during that time I am completely and entirely CATASTROPHIC.
The world is suddenly a very grim place and nothing seems right.
Thankfully, while I may not have termed it as such prior to my encounter with the business coach, I have always known the cure for my personal kind of catastrophe – a really good sleep. It may not work for everyone, but certainly for me there is very little that I can’t shake off by crashing out – for as long as I can get away with in a very busy household.
Feeling overwhelmed is all too common in the workplace today. Busy lives, incessant social media, and fewer staff tasked with a greater output can cause tempers to flare and rows to develop.
A video director told me recently that the thirty-something marketing executives he regularly works with are increasingly snappish and rude in their dealings with him.
“It must be small children at home”, he was ruefully musing. “Sleepless nights, long commutes, too much stress at work.”
Whatever the cause, some people believe that ‘venting’ is good; that ‘saying it as it is’ or ‘being direct’ allows emotions to dissipate and the air to clear. But the thinking may be flawed.
Science now suggests that letting rip, complaining or going on and on about stuff, doesn’t make you feel better. It actually makes you feel worse. And what’s more, it affects everyone around you.
Bad mood spreads like a virus. The most negative person will always suck the energy out of the room and leave everyone else stressed out and exhausted too.
The complainer may not know it, but he or she is actually working hard at wiring his or her brain for a lifetime of discontent.
Here’s how it works.
Synapses in the brain build little chemical bridges one to the other every time we have a thought. The more we have the same thought, the more of these little bridges are created, bringing the particular set of synapses closer and closer together, making it much easier to have that thought again.
As we come to know more about the brain’s plasticity, we realise that the brain is constantly wiring and re-wiring itself, building new circuits that encourage us to behave in one way or another.
So if you indulge in negative thoughts, and regularly dump them on others, you are actively training your brain to keep having more of those negative thoughts and outlandish outbursts. You are teaching your brain to actively seek out the negative, and to land you in the middle of it at every opportunity.
What’s more, if you hang around with negative people, you are doing the exact same thing. Their negativity tells the synapses in your brain to send some more signals off down cranky road, and you are well on the way to turning into Victor Meldrew.
And the physical impact isn’t pretty either. Negativity and anger release the stress hormone cortisol, elevated levels of which can impair memory and concentration, lower the immune system, cause weight gain, raise blood pressure and do a whole lot more damage.
But it is not all bad, I hasten to say, lest I was beginning to make you feel down!
The good news is that you can train your brain in the opposite direction too. Surrounding yourself with positive people and experiences causes the synapses to fire off good connections, the kind that build resilience and allow you keep your cool under pressure.
You know those funny sayings and affirmations that people like to post? Twee as some of them might sound, noting them actually builds those happy bridges in your brain, and makes you emotionally stronger.
Thousands of people were at the Pendulum Summit at the Convention Centre in Dublin last week, starting 2017 with a positivity tune-up from motivational speakers such as Jack Canfield and John Demartini.
They heard enough affirmations and were given enough coping tools to fire off a few billion happy brain signals.
I am imagining their workplaces today buzzing with a palpable electrical charge, elevating the mood all over Ireland.
Blue Monday? What’s that then?
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