What verb tense is your mind spending most of its time in – present, past or future? How about the members of your team – what time frame are their minds working in? You might consider those questions to be a bit weird or out there, but if you stop and examine the nature of your language and the quality of your thinking, you may find they’re more relevant than you’d initially think.

If you want to examine it, start by paying attention to the language you and your team members are using. Is it reflective of minds being in the past, the present or the future? Here are some clues to listen for.

If you hear a lot of discussion about the way things were before COVID-19 disrupted everything then you or your team are having trouble letting go of the past. Tip off phrases include, “I wish that…,” “I miss…,” and “I’m sorry that…” Thinking back to the past can be a source of energy and motivation when we’re reflecting on peak experiences or how to apply lessons learned. There’s a big difference though between reflecting and ruminating. When we ruminate, we stew. The ancient root of the word actually means to “chew over.” The sense of loss or regret that comes from spending too much time and attention chewing over the past can mire you in the mental and emotional muck that keeps you from taking constructive action in the present.

The flip side of being stuck in the muck on the way things were is freaking out about the way things might be. This is what happens when folks start catastrophizing about things that haven’t happened yet and may not ever happen. The mind can spin out of control into what Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey in their classic book, Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, called thought attacks. When you start hearing language (either in your own head or from the mouths of others) like, “I’m worried that…,” “I’m nervous about…,” and “I’m overwhelmed by…,” those are clues that you or your team members are over indexing on the future tense. Anxiety, fear and dread are the kinds of emotions that flow from that time frame of mind.

And, as I wrote about last week, your feelings flow from your thinking and the actions that lead to results (positive or negative) flow from the emotional state of feelings. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the connection between leadership and the time frames of mind. Clearly, the only verb tense in which anything can get done is the present tense, so, as a leader, that’s where you want your team to direct most of their thinking, time and attention. That’s not to say that you’re not working on preparing for and creating the future. It is to say that you’re making strong connections between what’s done today and what happens tomorrow. As Gandhi wrote, “In regard to any action, one must know the result that is expected to follow.”

Focusing your leadership on the present tense and how it creates the future gives you and your team a sense of agency and control. One way to do that is to regularly ask, coach and lead around the question, “What can we or should we be working on or doing today to put us in a better position one month from now, three months from now or six months from now?” Before you ask the question, you might push the mental reset button by asking everyone to clear their mental chatter by taking three deep breaths. But before you do either of those, check in with yourself. What time of frame of mind are you in? If you need to make your own adjustment, now is a great time to do it.

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Remember how our elders used to tell us that too much of anything can be bad? Well, they were right. Most of us believe that positive thinking is the key to success, and based on that belief, we tend to teach ourselves to radiate positivity under all circumstances. But what if one day you discover that your overly optimistic approach towards everything is the real reason why you haven’t achieved anything concrete in life?

The fact can be hard to digest, but a number of studies have supported it. Over the years, people have achieved great feats with a positive attitude and the right amount of optimism, but nobody has ever said how much positive thinking is ideal for success.

Here are 4 reasons why your positivity may be stopping you from success:
1. Ignoring the existence of negative emotions

Life is all about maintaining a balance. You learn the value of “good” because of the existence of “evil.” People value life because death is undeniable. Similarly, in order to succeed in life, you need to keep a balance between your positive and negative emotions. There’s no way you can feel complete if you start ignoring all your negative feelings.

If you stay positive all the time and never experience the emotional pain, you may never find the reason to change yourself for the better. Negative emotions like anger or rage teach people how to grow in life amidst all the challenges.

There was a study done when researchers asked a group of students with low self-esteem to repeat the statement “I’m a lovable person”, the students ended up feeling more insecure than ever. If they were asked to face their insecurities, it might have worked better.

2. Creating your own version of reality

People may have told you to nurture optimism to have a prosperous life, but the practice often distracts you from acknowledging the real issue.  Too much optimism can undoubtedly cloud your mind and influence your decision making abilities. As a result, we often fail to measure the risks.

Furthermore, being overly optimistic often makes us feel invincible. It tricks us into believing that nothing bad can happen to us. Every day, we make unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking and drinking (alcoholism), thinking it won’t affect us too much. But in reality, these are the leading causes of deadly diseases like cancer and cirrhosis.

Optimism is not a bad thing. It encourages us to take the leap of faith when everything else slips out of our hands, but when you start ignoring the real situation or begin to believe that magic is going to happen – that’s where you make a mistake.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”– Winston Churchill

3. Imagining you control everything

Have you ever heard of the term “illusion of control?” Psychologists describe it as a tendency in people to overestimate their ability to control every outcome. If you are overly optimistic about everything, the chances are that you may also develop an illusion of control.

Let’s make the point even simpler for you with an example. You may have noticed how people still invest in lotteries, despite knowing the fact that their odds are as low as one in a million. It’s funny how people think they have a better chance at winning if they get to pick the numbers for themselves in a lottery.

The ideal way to deal with a challenging situation is to assess all the crucial factors and keep yourself from getting carried away by enthusiasm and extreme optimism. If we wear the glasses of positive thoughts all the time, it may prevent us from looking at the situation with a realistic approach. Eventually, it may lead us to failure.

4. Finding solace in utopian thoughts

Success comes to those who dare to defy the odds, not to those who only think of succeeding. It has been observed that when people are told to imagine the best possible way of accomplishing a particular task, their productivity is negatively impacted. On the other hand, when people are told to think about the adverse or realistic outcomes, their performances actually improved.

It is true that we often lose motivation when we know how we can simply overcome the challenges. Once our mind goes through the experience of achieving success, it becomes harder to convince the mind to accomplish the task in reality.

In a recent study, it was revealed that people who display an incredibly optimistic approach, were less likely to clear their dues (outstanding credit card balances, bank loans etc.) and save a lesser amount of money than an average person. It is because they believe that they can tackle all these challenges quite easily. What they don’t understand is that they are actually dragging themselves into a bigger problem.

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” – Elon Musk


No matter how many self help books you read or how many motivational speeches you listen to, nothing can lead you to success unless you figure out your own way to deal with your emotions.

Optimism can be helpful if it’s put in the right place. In fact, it can improve your chances of achieving success to a great extent, but you should not get carried away with all the positive thoughts and utopian beliefs. Perhaps, the ideal way to achieve success is to maintain a right balance between your realistic approach and optimism.

How do you make sure to maintain a balance between optimism and realism? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

Read more: addicted2success.com