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How to Think Positive to Be More Productive

In times of crisis, negative thoughts lurk around every corner. Use these techniques to rediscover your optimism and bump up your productivity.

By
Rachel Cooke
5-minute read
Episode #594
positive mindset

At a time when days blend together and uncertainty pervades, there's so much that lives outside of our control. So for today, let’s focus on something we can control, at least to some extent—our mindset and, in turn, our personal productivity.

What is a mindset?

According to an article by Gary Klein, Ph.D., for Psychology Today:

A mindset is a belief that orients the way we handle situations … our reactions and tendencies. They let us frame situations: they direct our attention to the most important cues so that we’re not overwhelmed with information.

In other words, your mindset impacts how you receive and respond to information, and ultimately the choices and actions that follow.

A positive mindset doesn’t mean you have blind optimism; it's more about having a willingness to believe in possibilities. Are you trying to get things done at work but finding that an anxious mindset is dragging you down? Here are some ways to achieve a positive mindset that can help you be less overwhelmed and more productive.

Choose words wisely

When we speak, the words we use impact our mindset. And that's true of both our external conversations with others and our own internal monologues.

According to the Association for Talent Development

We respond to words at a visceral, autonomic level ... Understanding the impact of words on the brain can help us to become better managers, parents, negotiators—almost any other role in which we as … professionals may find ourselves.

Words can prime our brains to respond in certain ways. So if we can’t change the situation we’re in, we can choose words that help us feel more hopeful or optimistic in how we navigate it.

“This crisis is never going to end” might be what your brain is telling you right now. But challenge your brain instead to think “I can’t see the end of this crisis, but it will come at some point.”

Same facts, different words.

RELATED: How to Avoid Common Thinking Traps

If you’re natural cynic, this change may feel forced at first (trust me; I know this firsthand). But remember that we want to direct our attention toward optimism and productivity. If you lean into the belief that a crisis is neverending, then of course your brain won’t want to be productive. What would be the point?

By shifting our mindset into one of possibility, we once again become able to focus on our work. What stories have you been telling yourself that need a bit of reframing?

If you lean into the belief that a crisis is neverending, then of course your brain won’t want to be productive. What would be the point?

“My customers don’t want to hear from me right now” could become “I don’t know how my customers are doing. Maybe I’ll check in with a few to find out.” Or “My boss doesn’t want to hear another excuse about why I’m falling behind” could be “I’m going to trust my boss’s promise that she's here to support us.”

You haven’t changed any facts, just the way you’re framing them up for your brain.

Mind the company you’re keeping

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”

In this moment of quarantine, we have little to no control over who shares our physical space. But Jim’s words still resonate.

You can’t control your circumstances. But you can control your attention and which voices you invite to command it.

Instead of concerning yourself with who you're physically spending time with, pay attention to the voices, opinions, and points of view you’re letting in. What podcasts are you listening to? (Hint: This one's a positive voice!) Who are you following on social media? Whose thoughts are you reading? Whose advice are you taking?

RELATED: How to Stay Calm During the Coronavirus Crisis 

You can’t control your circumstances. But you can control your attention and which voices you invite to command it.

So if you’re feeling down, find some experts, colleagues, or friends whose thoughts and ideas seem honest but also hopeful and maybe just a bit inspiring.

Hope and inspiration are precursors to productivity.

Focus on what you can control         

There is plenty, now and always, that lives outside of your control—maybe more so today than is typical. But at any given moment there's always something small you can control. So turn your attention there whenever possible.

You can read something inspiring. Check in on a friend. Find a new recipe. Wash your hands. Taking these small steps reminds us—and our brains—that there's always something positive we can be doing. Action begets action. Start with these small tasks, and then lean back into your work.

Is there an email you can send? An idea you can pose? A virtual meeting you can prepare for? Or perhaps it’s editing your resume or taking that first step toward networking if a new job is on the horizon.

Remind your brain of what it can control, then do something to prove yourself right.

Be of service

If you’re struggling to take action for yourself, then consider doing something of value for someone else.

Small actions can have a significant impact. Thank someone for a job well done. Offer to coach someone, take something off their plate, or listen while they vent. Have a friend who's job hunting? Invite them to share a draft of their resume for your review, or roleplay an interview with them.

When we find ways to be of service to someone else, a few important things happen.

  • We're reminded of what we have to offer
  • We see our actions or gestures positively impacting someone else
  • We remember that other people are struggling and trying, too
  • We are primed for more kindness, generosity, and—ultimately—action

Prove yourself wrong

Can you recall heading into a pre-pandemic party or networking event telling yourself “This is going to be awful—I just need to stay for 20 minutes and then I’m free”? But then you arrive and only notice three hours later how much fun you’ve been having.

Even people with the sunniest dispositions are guilty of being certain the worst will happen only to be pleasantly surprised by a positive outcome.

Or, do you recall the job you definitely weren’t going to get ... but did? Or the presentation your boss was definitely going to hate ... but she loved it?

The list goes on, but you get my point. Even people with the sunniest dispositions are guilty of being certain the worst will happen only to be pleasantly surprised by a positive outcome.

Start to pay attention to these moments as they happen.

When you turn on the news bracing for certain doom and gloom, but find yourself watching stories of kindness and recovery, note that moment.

When you realize you’re bracing for a fight with your kids about remote school, but actually they’re starting to accept it as their new normal, note that moment.

And when you knew for sure it would be ridiculous to send your resume out now while no one is hiring, but you did it anyway and got an interview, note that moment.

The more often you’re able to prove your negative mindset wrong, the more comfortable you’ll find yourself in starting to let it go.  

Remember: A negative mindset dampens motivation, enthusiasm, and your willingness to give something a try. The more you can keep it at bay, the better you’ll feel and the more productive and successful you’ll be.

 

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

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