As we approach an election that is sending our stress and anxiety levels higher and higher, it’s time to adopt a proven strategy for making good decisions and creating good outcomes: Neutral Thinking. As we approach an election that is sending our stress and anxiety levels higher and higher, it’s time to adopt a proven strategy for making good decisions and creating good outcomes: Neutral Thinking.
As many of you know, I live in Japan and so I’m not caught up in the day-to-day stress of life in America at present. I am not dealing with coronavirus second waves, out of control forest fires, protests in the streets, or all the little micro-interactions that the 2020 presidential election creates for Americans in America.
I pretty much just eat sushi and wonder how y’all are getting on.
Okay, that’s not true. I rarely eat sushi.
But if social media, mainstream media, and alternative media are any indication: people are having a tough time, and expectations for this election are making it worse. Everyone feels more stressed than ever, and the intensity of our feelings are off the charts. And with a high likelihood of no clear outcome next Tuesday, we can anticipate it getting worse…quickly.
The thing is, there are tools for handling these situations. Elite athletes and individuals in high-risk situations use specific strategies to give themselves the best chance of success. So it stands to reason that if we all adopt these approaches, we can navigate this high stress situation better, too.
So let’s talk about “Neutral Thinking.”
(Jon and I also discuss it in our latest podcast, embedded below. It’s a good one.)
WHAT IS “NEUTRAL THINKING?”
Neutral Thinking comes from a mental conditioning coach named Trevor Moawad. He works with professional athletes, coaches, special forces officers, and others who need to be mentally sharp in high stress situations. He started the company Limitless Minds with NFL quarterback Russell Wilson and his book It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Take Control fo Your Life came out in February of this year. Just in time for us all to lose control of our lives!
Neutral Thinking starts with a simple premise. Success is a product of our behavior, mentality, and language. But stressful situations cause us to have intense feelings that cloud our ability to do what we need to do.
By training ourselves to separate our feelings from our behavior, mentality, and language, we can make better decisions, take better actions, and achieve more success.
THE FOUNDATION OF NEUTRAL THINKING
There are a few foundational elements to Neutral Thinking.
Feelings must be separated from behaviors: Your feelings are normal and in many cases, uncontrollable. But our behaviors are not. When we learn to recognize that our feelings can be separated from our behaviors, we can make better decisions and take more productive actions.
If you are in a conversation and feel intense frustration, that is a legitimate feeling. But how you use that feeling, and whether it dictates what you do is up to you. The more we anticipate and practice behaving how we want to behave, the easier it becomes to stick to that behavior despite how we feel.
A lot of people are going to be feeling a lot of things with this election. Let’s not get caught up in it.
The past is independent of the future: What happened is done. The future does not have to repeat. Sure, if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll probably get the same result. But if you can analyze your situation with a clear head, make good decisions, and take good actions, you can get a different result.
Athletes know this well. Just because you’ve thrown three interceptions doesn’t mean your next throw will be picked off. And just because someone has historically beaten you in a race doesn’t mean you can’t beat them the next time. The past can teach us about cause and effect, but it does not determine the future. Our behaviors now determine our future.
So yes, just because of your last few conversations with “your conservative uncle” or “your liberal friend” went bad, that doesn’t mean the next one will. If you handle it well.
Reducing negativity is essential to staying neutral: This is a huge one, and it ties into three different sub-ideas. But fundamentally, we need to understand one key point: negativity has a much stronger effect on us than positivity does. We dramatically underestimate this fact. Ask any writer. A good review is quickly forgotten, but a bad review can stick with you for a lifetime.
Increasing positivity helps, but proactively reducing negativity is where great performers excel. They do this in three key ways:
They reduce negativity in their environment. If someone is dragging you down, find a way to get them out of your life, or at least the part of it you are trying to excel at. The same goes for the media. You can’t avoid negativity altogether, but you can choose when and to what degree you allow it into your life. Managing your environment is essential.
Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. You may not have a lot of time in the morning to get your kids ready for school, but you do have the ability to look at each task and consider it for what it really is. “I don’t have time to do it all” feels true, but it usually isn’t. “I have 2 minutes to make Billy a sandwich, and that leaves 3 minutes to get his jacket on him” is a more productive way to think about the challenge at hand. Even if there’s no way that jacket is going on in just 3 minutes =)
Don’t speak negativity into existence. Trevor Moawad gives some amazing statistics about this and says this is a key part of what they emphasize in his work. First, negative comments affect us between 4 to 7 times as much as positive comments. Second, comments spoken out loud can have 10 times as much affect on us as those we simply think. The result: a negative comment spoken out loud can be 70 times more destructive than an internal positive thought is constructive. Negative thoughts are normal but think twice before saying them. Saying it magnifies the effect.
A FEW STRATEGIES TO CONSIDER
Here are a few strategies we can adapt based on the principles of Neutral Thinking.
In Your Planning: If you have a goal, decide what qualities and behaviors are required to achieve it. Behaviors are what will get you to your destination, not feelings. Figure out what those qualities and behaviors are. Put them where you can see them (your bathroom mirror, your office wall, etc) and remind yourself constantly to stick to the behaviors, regardless of how you feel.
In Your Analysis: Focus on what you know, not what you are afraid could happen. Fear is a feeling, and it’s natural for our minds to create numerous scenarios, often of the “worst case” variety. Many people are doing this now with Supreme Court justice nominations and potential election outcomes. The reality is, much of what you imagine is out of your control, unlikely to happen, and unlikely to affect you if it does.
Letting the negative feelings overwhelm you does not help you. Acknowledge them, set them aside, and then get on with the behaviors you already determined will get you to your goal.
In Your Actions: Start with how you speak. Practice either holding in those negative thoughts or, when you are ready, converting them to practical, reality-based phrases that lack emotional charge. Exchange the “I suck at this” for an “I will focus on XYZ to get better at this.”
Most of all, decide now what you will or will not say, and how you will say it if you do. That is a behavior, so you can plan for it and prepare for it. Own that preparation and stick with it, no matter how you are feeling in the moment.
SUMMING IT UP
I’m not an expert on Neutral Thinking. But I have adopted many of the basic principles for the past decade, and the more I stick to them the more I feel comfortable being in stressful situations and dealing with highly charged environments.
2020 has been a really difficult year. The results of this election are going to make it an even worse year for 50% of the population, and if the results aren’t clean—side note: I think it’s very unlikely they will be—then the results are going to increase stress and anxiety and uncertainty for 100% of the population.
Let’s get ready for that now, and decide how we are going to behave to get through it.
Bryan Green is the co-founder of Go Be More and co-host of the Go Be More Podcast. He feels it only fair to note that his wife is not a fan of his dispassionate, emotionless approach to problem solving. Unfortunately, she likes it even less when he is passionate and emotional! Bryan would love your direct feedback at bryan◎gobemore.co or on our Facebook page.