If I hadn’t become a coach, I may have become an astronaut.  As it turns out, the quality that would have made me a good astronaut is the same one that coaching skills helped me minimize: a tendency to frequently worry, fret and stew, or what I classify as “negative thinking”.  Today I share what I learned through leadership coach training about the importance of balancing perspectives to feel better, gain confidence and nurture creativity. I’ve also included a simple reflective practice that you can use for yourself and those you coach (in your role as a leader or professional coach).

The Power of Negative Thinking

“Like most astronauts, I’m pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I’ve thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right.  That’s the power of negative thinking.” (Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth)

According to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the best astronauts are those that can anticipate and prepare for the worst to happen – because, in outer space, even the smallest variances can be life-threatening.  Of course, the vast majority of us will never go to outer space and yet many of us anticipate and plan for worst-case scenarios that will likely never happen.  All of the energy and attention that goes to this kind of thinking takes away from energy and attention that could be used to gain more confidence and optimism by reflecting on what’s going well or what else could be possible.

10 years ago, when I made the decision to begin my coach training, I realized that I could benefit by staying planet-side and developing my reflective capacity.  Coach training taught me to recognize different patterns of thinking, in myself and my coaching clients.  Because our thoughts impact how we feel, behave and act in the world, they significantly affect the results we are (or are not) able to create in our work and lives.

Because our thoughts impact how we feel, behave and act in the world, they significantly affect the results we are (or are not) able to create in our work and lives.

Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect that someone who habitually plans for the worst could suddenly switch to having only positive thoughts instead.  At the same time, negative thinking does serve its purpose: to warn us if a project or plan may be going off the rails and needs special attention, to let us know if could benefit from additional support in our personal or professional lives, or to remind us that we left the oven on or a door unlocked (don’t worry, I’m sure you took care of both!).

One of the practices we can use for ourselves and those we coach is balancing perspectives.  This means taking the time to consider both the negative and the positive; to address what’s real and to imagine better, to take stock of what worries us and to inspire our own hope and optimism by remembering what we can appreciate in the moment as well.  It’s practices like these that “can literally reprogram the brain for more happiness and effectiveness in life,” according to psychologist Rick Hanson.

When you (or those you coach) feel overwhelmed by negative thinking, take a moment to balance perspectives as detailed below.

Practice: Balancing Perspectives

  1. Become aware of negative thinking and label it without judgment: fretting, stewing, worrying, catastrophizing. It can be helpful to say or jot down whatever is on your mind first and then label your thinking afterward.
  2. Next, consider: what is positive in this moment?  Name at least 3 things.  They can be as simple as, “it’s sunny and warm today, I’m wearing my favourite outfit, I’m achieving a particular goal” or more substantial, like “I’m aware of how I’m thinking and feeling in this moment, I can see how caught up I am in my fear/uncertainty”.  No matter what you’re thinking negatively about, there is always something positive to name as well.
  3. Finally, reflect on the impact of balancing perspectives in this way.  Do you notice a difference in your energy?  Did you become aware of something you hadn’t been aware of before? What is your sense of hopefulness and optimism like now, compared to before you practiced balancing perspectives?

Here’s something else that balancing perspectives is beneficial for: nurturing creativity.  In complex lives with significant leadership challenges, we need to be able to access our creative mind as much as possible in order to bring about the kinds of positive change that’s needed.  When your thoughts are focused only on the negative, it can be very difficult to brainstorm or imagine something new or better.  Balancing perspectives restores your sense of groundedness, enabling you to re-connect with your creativity and intuition.

And who knows?  A balanced perspective may be just what is needed to figure out how to successfully colonize Mars or discover a new habitable planet – then I may realize my dream of being the first coach in space after all.

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If you’d like to learn more about what is possible for you and/or your teams through leadership coach training with the Business Coaching Advantage Program, contact me today to set up a free consultation or sign up for an upcoming virtual Info Session.  There is still time to register for our fall Coaching Essentials Programs (starting Sept. 26th, and Oct. 24th, respectively), learn more here.