Did you know that a leader’s influence on a team member has one-tenth the power of a team member’s influence on themselves? That’s why I focus so much on mindset. If your team has the right mindset, they can influence themselves to be productive, determined and goal oriented. Shifting mindsets toward all things positive isn’t easy and it takes small but measurable changes to get it right.
Imagine you set this one goal: I want our team to stop verbalizing their negative thoughts.
Science tells us that the human mind is hard-wired for negativity. Psychologists refer to this as negative or negativity bias, and it deeply affects behavior, decision making and how team members relate with one another. Another biological fact: Language is the strongest purveyor of negativity. When you think negative thoughts, it affects your mind, but when you verbalize those negative thoughts, they linger far longer and have an even more profound impact on your psyche.
It makes sense humans are prone to dwell on the negative. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s a survival tactic. Organisms of any kind that can identify threats or foreboding risks—rather than ignoring them—are more likely to heed these warnings and survive.
However, we have evolved and become smarter and this tendency to hang onto the negative is no longer needed for our prosperity. Instead, it works against us to create unproductive mindsets seeped in negativity.
If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you’ll know I love sports analogies, so here are two that relate to the psychology of verbalizing negative thoughts:
Former Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner is a classic example. On Oct. 6, 1986, during an interview with WBZ-TV, Buckner was asked by reporter Don Shane how he handled the pressure of the high-stakes baseball games. In a now-infamous quote, Buckner responded: “The dreams are that you’re gonna have a great series and win. The nightmares are that you’re gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs.”
Cut to Game 6 of the World Series—Oct. 26, 1986—it’s the New York Mets against Buckner’s Red Sox. New York Met Mookie Wilson hits a routine ground ball that creeps through Bill Buckner’s legs. The Mets win the game, which forced a Game 7 that the Mets also won, and they became World Series Champions.
It’s possible Buckner’s words had nothing to do with his Game 6 error but it’s also possible they did. Either way, why verbalize negative thoughts if there’s a slight chance they might come true?
Bucker himself turned his negative thinking around. He would later tell ESPN: “I have come to the understanding that it is here to stay, so I try to look at it in a positive way. Everybody still remembers me, they say, ‘Yeah, he was the guy that made the error, but he was a pretty good player.’ So, I guess that is a positive about it.”
Another example of negative thinking in sports can be found by way of the late NBA basketball star “Pistol” Pete Maravich. During a 1974 interview with the Beaver County Times’ Andy Nuzzo, Maravich said, “I don’t want to play 10 years in the NBA and die of a heart attack at age 40.”
As it turns out, Maravich played in the league for exactly 10 years—from 1970 to 1980—before retiring. Eight years later, on Jan. 5, 1988, he died of a heart attack while playing a pickup basketball game in Pasadena, Calif.
Nuzzo would later recall: “The story was laying on my desk when I got to work (Wednesday). I read it and read it and read it and read it. I couldn’t believe it. Everything matched.”
So, what’s the message? What you say is up to you. If someone says, “How’s your day going?” You can say you’re having a great day or you can say you’re having a terrible day. Chances are, if you say your day isn’t going well, it won’t suddenly turn around. Again, it’s about resisting the biological, hard-wired urge to vocalize the negative, which increases the likelihood it’ll solidify to truth. As Lao Tzu said: “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.