improving thinking skills

4 Ways to Build Resilience in your Team: Part 2 – Improving Thinking Skills

Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as the ability to adapt well when faced with adversity. In this article, part 2 of a 4-part series, we show you how you can build resilience by improving thinking skills.

We are going to cover 4 important ways of improving thinking skills. They will help you build your resilience and confidence as you analyse problems, seek successful solutions and keep on top of the demands of your job.

Our 4 ways of improving thinking skills are:

  1. Organising your thoughts
  2. Problem solving
  3. Reflection and suspending judgement
  4. Positive thinking

Master these skills yourself then pass them on to your team. As a manager, this will allow you to understand the process and challenges of learning these skills. And then you will be a positive role model to your team. They will be much more convinced about the value of these skills if they see you using them effectively. People learn much more from those who practise what they preach.

So here is your first way of improving thinking skills.

1.  Organising your thoughtsimproving thinking skills

A great deal of stress comes from the thought of not being able to cope when faced with increasing work demands. For example, you may fear that a workload will become too great, a deadline too near, or a task too challenging.

When faced with increasing demands, one simple but extremely effective way to build resilience is to organise your thoughts.

This means taking some time before you start doing something to organise your thoughts about your workload.

It may be tempting to tackle tasks head-on, one at a time, as they land in your inbox. But in reality you are making life much more difficult for yourself. Multi-tasking in this reactive way is bad for you, and just isn’t an effective way to work. According to Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness in Peak Performance, multi-tasking is actually only neurologically possible for 1% of the population. Chances are you are not in that 1%.

Instead of reacting, take a step back and look broadly at all the tasks you need to do. You can then prioritise them and tackle them methodically one by one. Work will feel much less demanding as a result. This is also the path to getting more done at a higher quality in less time. The productivity gains and mental wellbeing benefits of deep, concentrated work are well proven. See for example Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Externalise your tasks by writing them down

Write everything down so it’s there to refer to and no task will be forgotten. Human memory is an amazing thing, but far from perfect. These days we tend to use word processing software to make notes, or dedicated organising or scheduling software which can keep not just you but your whole team on track. At Delphis we use Asana, but there are many other programs to choose from. Some task management systems, like David Allen’s GTD, inspire a cult-like following. See this article in Wired for more on the complexities and philosophies of GTD.

It’s easy to be attracted by the allure of a perfect task management system. But there is no Holy Grail. What works for one person won’t work for another. So please don’t think you have to download an app or install software in order to organise your thoughts. Paper and pencil are simple and effective tools that have served us well for hundreds of years. Their simplicity means you won’t waste time learning a new interface and won’t be constrained by the layout on screen. Just be aware of the limitations when you need to modify and share.

Prioritise

A vital skill in organising your thoughts is prioritising. It’s all too easy to start with whatever springs to mind, seems easiest, or will get someone off your back. We can get bogged down in a task which takes over our time and concentration but which may not be as important or urgent as others. Look at your list of tasks and work out an order of importance. Which ones have to be done today, or very soon? A typical bit of advice is to classify tasks according to how important they are and how urgent. The top priority – the ones you should get started on right away – are those which are both urgent and important. Last will be those which are neither urgent nor important.

Working out what is most important is not necessarily easy. You have to look at the big picture. Ask yourself some questions. What are the fundamental goals of my company? What is the most important aspect of my role? And what activities will best help me reach these goals? Time spent in this sort of reflection will pay off in the long run.

Small steps

Once you have chosen the right task to focus on, don’t be tempted to just plunge in. Once again step back and think. What is the most sensible way to go about this task? Break down your way of reaching the end goal into specific steps. These should be realistic and manageable. If one step seems overwhelming, try to break it down into smaller parts. Instead of ‘write the annual report’, identify the parts of the report and then itemise the steps required to write each one.

Work out what you need for each step. What resources or information are required? How will you get these resources or find this information? Will you need any support or input from others? How will you get that?

Make a schedule. Work out how long each step will take, and make a note in a diary of when each step will be done. Set yourself deadlines – these will motivate you to get things done. But bear in mind that frequently things take longer than expected. Don’t get too frustrated if this happens.

The working out of plans and schedules often helps you when you do the actual tasks. It forces you to think realistically about what you need to do and how each step can be achieved.

Evaluate progress

Finally, make sure you have some way of monitoring whether you are on track and whether the task has been successfully completed. Identify your criteria for success. What will your boss or your customer want to see? What are the signs that things are going well. Or going badly? Be ready to adjust your approach or schedule as necessary. You may need to have a plan B – a backup approach in case the main one doesn’t work. And you may need to delegate parts of the job to others, or ask for more time.

Make sure you are clear from the start what you are trying to achieve and why. This will help you to judge accurately whether you have achieved your goal.

The importance of being organised can’t be overstated. It is a powerful tool not just for success in your job but also for managing worry and stress.

 

2. Problem solving

The second way of improving thinking skills is problem solving.

Sometimes work throws challenges at us which can only be overcome with more thinking. This thinking can often be difficult. But if you can learn how to solve problems efficiently, this will be very beneficial to you as a manager.  Pass on this skill to your staff and it will benefit them and you even more. They will be more independent and will not take up so much of your time with issues they can’t fix.

In addition, problems are a major cause of stress. This is why it is so important to see them as challenges which are there to be solved. A strong problem solving habit will eliminate much of the anxiety from your life. It will help build your resilience, as well as that of your team.

Identify the problem

As with any problem in life – whether work-related, domestic, personal or social – understanding the problem is the key to solving or accepting it. Often we can become overwhelmed by difficulties. This is as much due to not understanding the nature of the difficulties as it is to the distress they cause. If your computer isn’t working, that may stop your doing your job, but much of the frustration comes from not knowing why it isn’t working. The reason is that not knowing the cause of the problem makes it much harder to fix. Is it your fault? Can you do something about it? Or is it something beyond your control? You may feel helpless, anxious, and angry until you find the answer.

First of all, calm down and take a deep breath. Remember, you have solved problems before. Millions of people like you solve problems every day. You can do it if you stop, calm down and think. There are resources, information and people out there that will guide you to the solution.

Now, think carefully about what exactly is going on. What is the precise nature of the problem? Get that clear. Write it down. Talk to colleagues who are there to work with you on problems.

At the same time, identify what the solution would look like. What is your goal? And what is stopping you from reaching that goal? Don’t worry that you are spending time clarifying these things. In the end it will make it much easier to solve the problem.

Let’s take an example. The problem is you aren’t working effectively in the office. But that is not clear enough. Think and identify more clearly the cause of the problem. Lets say it’s poor concentration as you read and write on your computer. But again that is not specific enough. Why can’t you concentrate? Think again. Relax, take a deep breath and reflect. Now you see that in fact it’s because the office is very noisy – people are constantly talking, the lights are buzzing, doors are slamming.

Think again

But wait – stop and think again. Could there be any other reason why you can’t concentrate? You need a complete understanding of the problem before you can fix it. Let’s say you now spend a lot of time making the office less noisy, but find you still can’t concentrate. Maybe that wasn’t the cause after all! In fact you now realise that your mind wanders a lot and you feel worried. So maybe there is some other issue which is distracting you – something inside you rather than outside. After some thought you realise that you are worried about whether your team is going to reach its target this year and what your boss is going to say if it doesn’t.

As we can see, it may take a long time to work out the true cause and nature of a problem. But it is essential to spend the time it takes to do that. There may be several aspects to a problem. Breaking it down into smaller parts may lead to easier solutions. Identify all the parts of a problem and think about each one separately. This can reduce worry a great deal.

Identify the best solution

Once the problem is clear, think about what the solution might be. In our previous example, it could be simply being able to concentrate. It might be ‘improve marketing to get more sales’, or ‘stop Harry arguing with customers’ or ‘find bigger office space’, or whatever is relevant to you.

Once again however, stop and think. There may be more than one solution to your problem. The first one you think of may not be the best, or the best one to try first. Brainstorm (maybe with your team) some other solutions. Which ones seem the best? Are any easier than others to try out? Some solutions may be very difficult, expensive or time consuming. It may be best to try the quick, easier and cheaper ones first – if they seem like good solutions.

improving thinking skills

Think through the steps

Take each solution at a time and work out the steps involved in solving the problem. What will you need to do? Will you need any resources, information or support from others? How will you get that? How long will each step take? And how will you know if you have succeeded?

It’s really important to think about what might go wrong with your plan. For example if you’re trying to solve a conflict between two people, some interventions might make matters worse. Take the perspective of the people involved – step into their minds and personalities. Imagine how they will react if you say or do what you have planned. Will they react positively?

Again, talk to your team or anyone whose opinion you value on the subject. Often others will foresee problems which you do not. Of course they may have their own biases and may not necessarily be right. Who do you see as knowledgeable and reliable on this subject? Perhaps there is someone who has dealt well with the same problem. Get their advice.

Be creative

Sometimes it’s hard to work out a solution to a problem. You may feel like giving in and accepting the situation. But hold on. Don’t forget, people have been solving incredibly difficult problems for centuries. Sometimes it takes a bit of creative thinking, or what people often call ‘thinking outside the box’. It takes a conscious effort to step outside our usual modes of thought, as it can be frightening. You feel like you are leaving the comfort zone. You may be risking doing something stupid, or even dangerous.

But relax. You are just thinking and discussing right now. There’s no need to commit to anything – you’re just opening up possibilities. You don’t have to do anything which will make matters worse. If you or your team come up with a creative, ‘out there’ solution, you can spend as much time as you need working out the steps and the likely things that may go wrong. You only need to go ahead when you have as much information, support and certainty as you want.

Formulate a clear plan and execute

Now you have worked out the best plan, write it down so you can see it all makes sense. Share it as needed with others and get their commitment to it. Now you are ready to execute it. But keep back up plans ready, and perhaps even try more than one strategy at the same time if possible.

As you execute your plan, make sure you monitor progress. It’s all too easy to act without reflection. You may be excited about having solved the problem. But until you carry out the plan and the problem is fixed, then you haven’t solved it. Be aware, and honest about how it is going. If things start to go wrong, stop and think again. Why did it not work? Analyse, discuss, and clarify the issue. Did you use the wrong words when talking to an employee? Did you not listen to them? Was the software you downloaded ineffective? Why?

Fix problems along the way

Once you identify why a step went wrong, think again. How should you modify your plan? Do you need to rethink the wording of an email? Rethink the design of an ad? Don’t give up on your plan straight away. There may be a good fix to get you back on track. As always, use the resources around you to get help – whether people, information or equipment.

Of course there may come a point when so much has not worked out that you need to stop and try a different solution. Keep an eye on the time and money being spent on your solution and whether it is worth continuing. This can be a very difficult decision, of course, and you may need to discuss it with a mentor or trusted expert.

If you do have to give up on your solution this can feel disheartening. This is another reason why it’s so important to have back up ideas. Other ways to solve the problem mean you are less likely to despair and more likely to persist. This is why flexibility and adaptability are essential elements of resilience.

Evaluate success

At the end of your plan you need some way to tell if you have solved the problem. This may be straightforward – sales have reached the target, you can concentrate well at work, Harry is not arguing with customers any more. But there may be more to it than that. Think long term. How are you going to maintain success for years to come? What might trigger a recurrence of the same problem? Can you do anything to prevent that?

If the solution has not worked, you may need to try again with another approach. But first try to learn from your experience. What worked and what didn’t? Why? Reflect on your learning and how it can be applied to future issues.

Should you never give in?

And what if you have tried again and again to solve a problem and failed? It has often been said the key to success is persistence. In one of his greatest speeches, Winston Churchill said ‘Never, never, never give in.’ Persistence has been shown frequently in research to be a key quality of successful people. Keep calm and carry on. This will distinguish you from those who truly do fail and lead you into the ranks of those who succeed. And it is a major way to build your resilience.

However, Winston Churchill also said ‘Never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.’ Persistence can be obsessive and irrational if taken too far. At some point it may be best to stop and think – is this a problem I cannot overcome? Persisting will waste time, money and resources. A radical solution may be in order. You may actually need to cancel the project, leave a role, or close down that business. You may need to let someone go or drop a client. This most difficult decision may need to be made.  If all alternatives have been exhausted, the right thing to do is make the drastic decision.

Problem solving summary

  1. First, calm yourself down so you can start to work on the problem effectively.
  2. Identify the true and full nature of the problem. Write it down.
  3. Work out what a solution would look like. Are there several possible solutions?
  4. Use your colleagues, or anyone you consider an expert, to get advice. If you know someone who has dealt with this problem successfully, ask them, or read what they have written.
  5. Make a careful plan of all the steps you will need to take to solve the problem.
  6. Think about what might go wrong at each step. Modify the plan if necessary.
  7. Work out what resources, time, money, support, etc. you will need at each step.
  8. Come up with alternative solutions and plans in case this one doesn’t work. Make sure you are prepared to try other approaches if necessary (check that resources, time, etc. will be available). Perhaps consider trying different solutions at the same time.
  9. Work out how you will evaluate the success or failure of your plan.
  10. Monitor progress as you go along so you know straight away if problems arise.
  11. Whether the plan succeeds or not, learn from it. Make a note of what will help you in the future with a similar problem. And pass this knowledge on to others.

 

improving thinking skills3. Reflection and suspending judgment

In much of the advice in this article so far you may have noticed a theme. One of the reasons why we sometimes make mistakes or fail is that we rush into action or judgement. It can be very enticing to do so. We get afraid, excited, angry, or irritated. These are emotions, and as the word emotion implies, they are there to move us into action.

Emotions have evolved over millions of years to help us survive. When a rival tribe was attacking, we needed the extra energy from the adrenaline response to help us fight off the enemy. This way we protected ourselves and our families and ensured our genes got passed on to the next generation. And this includes the genes which give us the anxiety response. That’s how natural selection works. We will discuss emotional skills in the next article in much more depth.

So emotions are real and necessary to us, and we feel instinctively justified in taking the action they push us towards. This may mean avoiding situations or facing them aggressively. The problem is that we are now no longer in our primitive state facing the dangers of lions or enemies throwing spears. A work confrontation is a much more delicate and complex affair. Attack, even if only verbal and not physical, can easily make matters worse.

Stop and think

The phrase ‘stop and think’ is vital. Our emotional responses bypass the complex cognitive process. With a lion running at us, we can’t afford to waste time in careful analysis of the problem. But at work that’s usually what is needed. If you take control of your actions – if you act rather than react – you will achieve your goals much more easily. If you take time to reflect and suspend judgement, this will allow you to make the right judgement. As we have seen in our discussion of problem solving, it can take a long time to work out the solution to a challenging task. Your immediate emotional response may be the right one – but not necessarily. And if you give into it, you may cause real damage to the situation.

Given the power of our emotions they can be difficult to repress. Self-control, however, is a skill like any other. It’s a skill you can learn – and pass on to your staff, by role modelling first and then direct teaching. And like any other skill it takes time and persistence to learn. Be patient with yourself. You would not expect to master a musical instrument in a week – or even a year. And this means when they are learning new cognitive or emotional skills you should be patient with your staff too (not to mention the other people in your life!).

improving thinking skillsFaulty reasoning and cognitive bias

The first step in learning to reflect is simply to recognise that self-control of emotions is a good thing. Root out any deeply-held feeling that your emotions are always telling you the right thing. They are not. We humans may have amazing brains but they are prey to numerous types of biases.

Some of these biases are due to emotions but others are faulty reasoning. This article from Better Humans on cognitive biases is worth a read.

Confirmation bias

One example of faulty reasoning is confirmation bias. This is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. If we decide we believe in astrology, for example, then we will remember any instances when a horoscope or other prediction is proved right. However if we made a note of every prediction and whether it came true, as scientists have done, we would soon see that the predictions are very rarely correct.

Humans are prone to belief systems. These may be philosophies, customs, religions or political ideologies. And we don’t like them to be challenged. We therefore tend to avoid evidence that they are false, and cling to any evidence that they are correct.

Hostile attribution bias

Another common thinking fault is hostile attribution bias. This refers to the tendency to perceive hostile intent in another’s words or actions, when there is none. This habit may have been learned as a way to cope with frequent hostility in childhood, for example. If a parent is often threatening or critical, we may learn to anticipate aggressiveness in others so as to deal with it better. But in adulthood, the reality is that others are generally not hostile.

Assuming hostility when there is none will make us defensive or aggressive in our responses or our judgements. This not only creates unpleasant feelings, it also harms our ability to interact with others and maintain good relationships.

Learning to identify potential thinking biases is an important way of improving thinking skills. We strongly recommend you learn more about them.

Self-control techniques

So what practical steps can you take to learn reflection and unbiased thinking?

1. Learn to be aware of your emotional state

Learn to spot when you are getting upset, worried, irritated and so on. What are the signs? Do you shake, feel hot, grit your teeth, or sweat? Do you have dark, extreme or hostile thoughts? Get in the habit of being aware of what’s going on inside you.

Try it now: rate your emotions on a scale from 1-10. How calm/anxious are you? How happy/depressed? Do this regularly through each day and you will train yourself to know your feelings.

2. Learn to recognise your thoughts

What goes through your mind when you are stressed, angry, or moody? These thoughts may be unconscious, but they are there. Thoughts may include: ‘I need to get away from this’; ‘I can’t cope’; ‘I can’t stand this person’; or ‘I’m going to go ahead and do this whether it’s the right thing or not’.

3. Use a mantra

A mantra is a simple phrase or word you repeat to yourself as a habit in certain situations.

People use mantras to meditate, but you can use them to calm yourself. As soon as you recognise the harmful emotions that have been triggered, the mantra should be the next response. Imagine it as a shield you put in front of yourself. The mantra might be ‘stop and think’. It could be ‘calm down’, or simply ‘relax’. Some people focus on their breathing, or take deep breaths to physically calm themselves, or intentionally relax their muscles.

You can learn relaxation techniques from books, recordings or websites. Our previous article contains tips on mindfulness and relaxation.

4. Use helpful thoughts

Once you have stopped yourself from reacting without reflection, the next step is to ensure the right response.

If you have identified an unhelpful thought like ‘I can’t cope with this’, counter it with ‘I can cope with this’, or even better, ‘I will cope with this’. Of course the helpful thought will depend on the situation.

In an argument a helpful thought may be ‘don’t lose your patience’, or ‘remember this person is important to me so don’t say something I will regret.’ If it’s a complex task you need to do, a good thought might be ‘this seems very difficult but there will be a solution’, or ‘I have solved hard problems before so I can solve this one.’ Or perhaps ‘if I relax a bit I’ll be able to concentrate and start working on a solution.’

improving thinking skills5. Take a break

When it comes to reflecting, you need to ensure the best circumstances for detached and unbiased thinking. This might mean taking yourself out of the situation which has provoked the emotion. It might mean taking a break to calm down first. It might mean resting so you are not too tired.

Fatigue and stress are the enemies of calm, rational thought.

6. Cultivate a mature, detached attitude to ideas

We get emotionally attached to our beliefs and opinions. In arguments especially we protect these ideas as if they are our children, even when we can sense we are wrong.

An argument triggers the stress response, which is all about survival against threats. This means that admitting the other side is right about something is the last thing you want to do. Ultimately however you are only hurting yourself. The truth is your friend. Knowledge is power. We fear that losing battles will make us weaker, costing us respect and status. But in the long run we gain power and respect if we are able to admit when we are wrong.

Consider whom you admire more – those with strong convictions who never admit they are wrong, or those who will, when presented with strong reasoning. Being able to change your opinions when you can see they are wrong makes you a better person. And a wiser and more successful one too.

Be patient with yourself

People vary a great deal in their personalities and skills. Therefore emotional self-control may be something that is more difficult for you than others. And you may even be proud of your emotional expressiveness. Indeed, repressing emotions can be a bad thing too. What we are advocating is not that you become a robot and squash everything you feel. Far from it. Instead, recognise that in certain situations it can be harmful to act without thinking.

If you do find this difficult, be patient with yourself. Don’t feel frustrated or aggrieved if others seem to have more self-control than you. You can still learn it. You almost certainly have strengths which others don’t. A part of building resilience is also accepting that you have weaknesses, as we all do. But we have valuable qualities too. And we can work on our weaknesses. Isn’t that what you’d like other people, such as your staff or your boss, to do?

4. Positive thinkingimproving thinking skills

The idea that much of our distress comes from how we think goes back thousands of years. Stoic philosophy from the 3rd Century BC is a good example. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, written in the 17th Century, the hero says ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Several modern approaches to psychotherapy are also based on the idea that we can learn to control our thoughts and thereby make ourselves happier.

Today we know this type of approach as CBT, or cognitive-behavioural therapy. Other versions are Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy, and more recently Seligman’s ABCDE method.

In addition, many people writing about work stress have argued that the stress response is mediated by cognition. This means we can learn to think more adaptively to cope with or avoid stress at work.

The power of positive thinking

The aim of all these therapeutic approaches is to learn how we tend to react automatically in our thinking, in ways which lead to painful emotions. After that we can learn to control our thinking. We can replace our negative or irrational thoughts with more positive or rational ones. These then lead to more pleasant feelings, and so more adaptive (positive) behaviours.

As an example, imagine you are going to a job interview and are wracked with anxiety. You are trembling and sweating and can’t concentrate. You are terrified you are going to mess it up and be humiliated – and of course, not get the job.

Instead of giving in to these feelings, you might ‘stop and think’. Reflect on why you are so afraid. Normally underlying any unpleasant feeling there are one or more beliefs or thoughts. In this case you may believe you are not going to be able to answer the interview questions very well, or that they interviewers will see you are incompetent. You may simply fear that your anxiety will be obvious – you’ll have a panic attack and be extremely embarrassed. Anxiety can be a self-fulfilling prophecy – we fear fear itself and so the anxiety response is inevitable.

Even worse, you may have had panic attacks in previous interviews, so it is not unreasonable to expect it will happen again. And each time it does you are reinforcing the idea that you cannot cope with interviews, you will be anxious, and there is nothing you can do about it. This is a vicious circle which many people with anxiety feel trapped in. And each time the anxiety can be worse than last. Clearly we have to find a way of breaking this circle.

improving thinking skillsBreaking the vicious circle

To break this vicious circle we need to learn to understand the underlying, possibly unconscious thoughts that are undermining us. It’s good to stop and think when anxiety grips us, and try to identify the harmful thoughts.

But this can be difficult – emotions can be so powerful that we struggle to think clearly. So it’s better to reflect on the matter at a calmer time.

If you tend to feel anxiety or depression in certain situations, think about those situations and what might be going on in the back of your mind.

Taking the example above, you may think the interviewers will ask questions you can’t answer very well. Examine this idea. Is it really true? Do you have any real, rational reason to think you won’t be able to answer the questions? What is that reason? On closer examination we often see that our fears are exaggerated. When we feel calm we may be perfectly able to answer most interview questions. A practice session with a friend or partner may reveal that to be true.

If you do struggle with answering questions, what is the healthiest way to deal with that? Surely it is to do whatever reading or thinking or further interview practice is necessary. And if that is still not enough, maybe this is really not a job you should be going for right now.

Seligman’s ABCDE Model

Reflection in a calm environment should allow you to see things much more clearly and accurately. And by replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones, we should be able to calm our emotions. In this way we can then act in healthier, more successful ways.

Using the ABCDE model (Seligman, 2006), here are the steps you can take:

  1. Adversity- recognise any unfavorable thought patterns or emotions (e.g. anxiety when meeting with client)
  2. Beliefs – find the true reason behind the emotions (e.g. belief that you are going to mess up the meeting)
  3. Consequences – recognise the negative impact of these emotions (e.g. the belief makes me afraid I will fail and be embarrassed and they will tell my boss, etc.)
  4. Disputation – challenge the belief (e.g. I have succeeded in previous meetings, I have the skills and knowledge to succeed)
  5. Energisation – begin choosing new and more effective courses of action (e.g. I will believe in myself next time)

Negative versus irrational thoughts

But what if you feel that your fears are rational? For example, if you have done poorly in previous interviews and experienced a lot of anxiety, it is reasonable to predict the same thing will happen again. If you have failed in an important project, or had a bad argument with the boss, it is not ‘wrong’ to feel bad about that.

Negative thoughts like ‘I failed badly’ or ‘I really messed up that interview’ are not necessarily incorrect. But they are negative in the sense that they are a negative judgement on yourself (or a situation) which makes you feel bad.

What we need to do is move beyond those bad feelings – overcome them and find a positive way forward. While some ‘feel-bad’ time is natural and even healthy, as in grieving, it should eventually end. Otherwise you will descend further into misery, fear and failure.

So the CBT approach should not be used as a condemnation of all emotional pain. First, it is a way to analyse when our thinking is irrational and getting in the way of our success. Second, it is a way to acknowledge the painful reality of some situations, but then move beyond those feelings through positive thinking.

improving thinking skillsTricks of the mind

The thing is that bad moods and anxiety affect our thinking, and often in unhelpful ways. How often have you said or done something you regretted because you happened to be in a bad mood?

Often, underlying the bad moods is a thought or a belief. And thoughts and beliefs can be challenged. If you memorise the ABCDE method described earlier, you can apply that in the right situations. And you can spend some down time reflecting on the habits of thought which trick you in to bad feelings. This will allow you to create a new habit – a new trick of the mind which helps you to feel better, to cope and succeed.

Let’s return to the interview example. Even if ‘I’ve had panic attacks before and messed up interviews’ is a rational observation, it can still be replaced by positive thoughts. As we noted in the section on reflection, mantras can be useful. ‘I will cope with this’, or ‘I am a good candidate’ will help, if repeated often enough. More long-term positive thoughts might be ‘I will find a way to deal with my anxiety’, or ‘I will work out how to do better in job interviews’.

Build a positive thinking habit

It is useful to try and make a habit of positive thinking. Like any skill, it takes time and persistence. And a lot of patience.

One of the reasons many people give up is the same reason they give up on exercise: it’s difficult, and the rewards take time. But they are worth it.

Thinking of positive thinking like exercise is useful. Imagine your brain as a muscle. You can’t strengthen a muscle by exercising for only a few weeks and then expect it to remain strong for the rest of your life. You can’t eat a good diet just for one month and then expect to feel healthy forever after. We have to keep these things up to maintain physical health. And the same applies to mental health.

So be patient, and get used to using positive thinking every day for the rest of your life, if necessary. The rewards you will reap will be enormous. And by demonstrating your positivity to your staff you will be a wonderful role model.

Summary of how to learn positive thinking:

  1. Recognise the negative feelings you have in particular situations.
  2. Identify the negative thoughts underlying these feelings.
  3. Learn to stop and think – use a mantra to halt the negative thoughts.
  4. Take time outside the stressful situations when you can think calmly. Use that time to identify all these difficult situations and the thoughts and feelings you tend to have.
  5. Identify positive coping thoughts you can use to replace each specific negative thought.
  6. Allow yourself the time it takes to learn difficult skills like positive thinking – don’t give up. In time it will become a habit.
  7. Remember, it isn’t ‘wrong’ to have bad feelings. Still, life will be much better if you can overcome them.

Learn more about improving thinking skills

We hope you have found this article useful. You might like to read the other articles in our ‘Building Resilience’ series. Part 1 of our 4-part series is available here. Parts 3 and 4 are coming soon.

At a Delphis workshop you can learn more about resilience and other ways of improving thinking skills. Contact us for further details and to discuss your requirements.

Thanks from Tony, Ian and David at the Delphis team.

Share your thoughts