We all face big challenges in our working lives. Maybe you have a disability, a major health concern or facing something in your personal life that is making a huge impact on either finding a job or making progress in your current one. Or you simply can’t find a job right now in the area you want to work. It can be hard. Well here’s some news that will probably come as a relief to some of you: positive thinking is not the answer.
I would go so far to say that positive thinking is a total crock. In fact it can have some adverse effects to our well-being in work/life.
In her new book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life, Harvard Medical School professor and psychologist Susan David explains and then challenges the reflexive way of handling emotion i.e.avoidance in favour of positive thinking aka “The Tyranny of Positivity”. Why can’t we just will ourselves to be positive? If we just imagine that great job, will it not come to us, as proposed in so many self-help books? Let’s get real. David comes up with an alternative to positive thinking and a very helpful four-pronged path to what she describes as emotional agility:
- Showing up: facing, not hiding from your negative emotions. We need to go through the range of emotions to learn how to be resilient .
- Stepping out: observing and creating space between you and the emotion. In my view, this may involve riding it, but be mindful and aware that the emotion is there but doesn’t control you. Get some space between you and the feeling.
- Walking your why. This step is about identifying the beliefs and behaviours that are important to you and then acting. Now that you’ve created a space between yourself and these emotions, what are some choices that you can make? That could be to hide under a duvet for two days and eat Oreos, and then start looking for another job, but do what” serves you best” and know your “why”/your values.
- Moving on is not about flitting on to the next-best thing in a state of denial, it’s about “cultivating effective habits that are congruent with your values and creating want-to goals. A want-to goal is a change that is driven by your values, as opposed to a have-to goal that is externally imposed”.
Try Susan David’s Emotional Agility quiz . You can receive a free emotional agility report, which offers useful tips and advice and it gives you a chance to really think about what your core values.
To explore this stuff a bit further, watch this lecture by the journalist Barbara Ehrenreich; based on her book Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Undermines America. Essentially Enrich debunks most of the positive thinking or prosperity doctrine as espoused in books such as The Secret as delusional and dangerous i.e. if you think it, it will happen. Visualisation and goal achievement are way more complex than that.
So what about job interviews? Do you really want to radiate sad/tired/stressed/stuck vibes to the interview panel? Surely an interview panel would favour the positive Pollyanna over the emotionally-aware Eeyore? It depends. Barbara Ehrenreich talks about how dangerous and delusional it is to tell yourself that if you only believe /visualise good things they will happen rather than listening to where you are really at. Good recruiters can spot a fake. If you are realistic, but mindful with goals that are driven by your true values, you are more likely to come across as confident and authentic. Eeyore may be a bit pessimistic, but he is also resilient and loyal, and he sure does have a good sense of irony.
If you work on your emotional agility, you will be happy to receive feedback if the interview doesn’t go so well, for next time. You are more likely to think of creative solutions and alternative options if you are not bogged down by unaddressed emotions. A last thought from Barbara Ehrenreich:
We may not be able to bring about all the changes we want to see in our lives/the world, but we can have a good time trying.