“A good leader is a paranoid one.”
I can’t imagine a worse piece of guidance. So why did I get this advice from my investors?
Leaders get trained to plan for the worst.
I thought it was my JOB to feel like crap all the time. I was constantly imagining the potential demise of my company to competition, market forces, or operational errors. All in an effort to try to “stay ahead.”
But this goes overboard and 99% of our thinking and emotions goes towards the worse case scenario with 1% or less dedicated to the desired outcome.
I learned this doesn’t just feel shitty, it’s setting you up to fail.
The Addiction of Negative Thinking
The human brain thinks an estimated 70,000 thoughts a day. 85% of those are negative.
When you have a negative thought (let’s say an anxious one), you produce a cocktail of hormones in the brain. In this case, you create stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
That means the average brain is throwing back 59,500 of those cocktails back on a daily basis.
If that were alcohol, you’d be dead.
Instead, these stress hormones travel down well-trodden pathways in our brain.
Your brain creates the infrastructure to lube up negative feelings like stress, guilt, and anxiety from traveling on a dirt pathway to a solidly paved 6-lane highway.
No wonder we become addicted to negative emotion! Our internal resources are all going towards reinforcing it.
This imbalance towards negativity becomes the default balance. That’s when we live in a constant stress state.
The Science of Positive Belief
Let’s look at the hormones behind a positive thought. Let’s say you feel love for your dog (I’m a dog person — if you’re not, sub out for cats or tacos).
A positive thought (love, gratitude, joy) produces oxytocin and your heart literally swells with blood. These hormones reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative stress.
With the heart relaxed, it sends alpha waves to the brain which signals safety. This is when your brain can create and it’s called heart-brain coherence.
Science aside, it feels dang good! And it’s contagious.
Studies show that when a group of individuals enter a state of heart coherence together, a new person can walk into the room and become automatically coherent. Group coherence creates feelings of cooperation, trust, compassion and increased prosocial behaviors.
So it’s good for your brain, your heart, your mental health, and your team’s mental health.
Are you ready to drink up this positive juice to manifest your desired outcome?
The Core Formula
Desired Outcome + Elevated Emotion = Expanded State
Simply thinking of your desired outcome isn’t enough. It’s missing the juicy chemical cocktail to flood your heart and brain.
That’s where you need to trick your brain into feeling an elevated emotion like love, gratitude, or abundance.
I find the most powerful way to do this is by visualizing the positive end state.
As an example, imagine you’re about to lead a team meeting where they are feeling unmotivated and you are going to give them a pep talk.
Instead of focusing on the content of your talk, start with the outcome.
Imagine the looks on their faces by the end of your talk. Perhaps they are smiling, they have more bounce in their step, and you hear them engaging with questions and helpful suggestions.
Imagine how you’ll feel at the end of it, your posture as you stand with pride in your team and heightened belief in your mission. You also feel more inspired and feel the energy to take action.
Visualize until you feel the emotions coursing in your body. As if the event has already happened. Add as much detail as you need to make it real for you.
A Note on Things You Don’t Want
What if you can’t stop thinking about something you don’t want?
This is a trap. Focused thinking about what you don’t want still charges you with negative emotion.
As Dr. Joe Dispenza says, where your attention goes your energy flows.
Let’s say you are hiring for a new team member to replace someone else. And all you think about is how the last person was stubborn and not open to new ideas. You’re flooded with resentment and anger. You’ve contracted.
Instead, focus on the feelings around what a new teammate who is innovative and open-minded will make you feel. This is a subtle but important chemical shift.
Let me be clear, it’s okay to plan for things to go wrong. But observe what percentage of your thoughts (and emotions) go towards the negative cases.
Given the Core Formula, it’s okay to think about the downside outcome but do not invest your emotions into it. That’s how you produce a contracted state (the opposite of your expanded state).
The Daily Workshop
Living a life focused on desired outcomes is a radical notion. You’ve been trained for decades to spend most of your mental cycles on the negative outcome.
You need a daily, quiet headspace to practice the skill. Make meditation your daily workshop. I set aside a minimum of 20 minutes daily every morning to do a guided meditation to get me into that state.
My favorite teacher is Joe Dispenza, but you can also find great meditations on Insight Timer (my favorites are listed below). This is your daily workshop to practice the Core Formula above until your body is filled with the hormones that will re-wire your body and brain into an expanded state.
I wrote a piece on the energetics of leadership that explains how to integrate energy practices into work. I’ll be sharing more techniques on how to build this expanded state into daily life as I run my own experiments.
You’ll find that being intentional about where you want your emotions to land gives you more control over your life.
It might even start to feel like magic 😃