The Psychology of Saying “I can’t do it”
A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way to a prestigious leadership symposium of a large car...
How do you deal with setbacks and how can you break through negative thought patterns? Coach Uta Nachbaur shows how to train mental agility.
"Think flexibly and simply change your perspective sometimes - that's part of it!"
"Regardless of whether uncertainty reigns and surprise sweeps in, I look at what is possible and design the next step in a focused and proactive way!"
"Opportunities lie outside the familiar!"
This, or something similar, is how mentally agile personalities sound. But is it as simple as it sounds?
This is how people react to setbacks
How do you feel when you experience setbacks, when uncertainty reigns or surprise ruins planning? The first reaction is quite normal - stress, accompanied by an emotional cocktail of frustration, disappointment, self-doubt, fear or anger. This first stress reaction is important and serves as a warning signal. Even though the days of the sabre-toothed tiger are long behind us, the human alarm system still works the same: when we feel a psychological or physical threat, we switch to fight or flight mode, our body activates all physical resources, blood and oxygen are drawn from the neocortex, and our clear thinking is restricted. Mental agility, in other words: thinking freshly and creatively about new possibilities, would take too much time in acute emergencies and is therefore blocked in the brain.
In view of the challenges we face at work, the "sabre-toothed tiger" reaction pattern is of little help. The decisive factor is therefore how quickly we get out of stress mode and back into mental strength and creative power after the "hello-wake-up call" - after a few hours, minutes or perhaps only seconds?
It's all about recovery speed. What can we do to increase it and regain our mental agility?
Recognise and break through negative thinking patterns
Awareness of one's own negative thinking patterns that keep one in stress mode is required. It is about recognising your own saboteurs and consciously letting go!
Under pressure, does an automatic thinking mechanism set in that whispers to you that you are not good enough and drives you to become even better - with great emotional and mental energy expenditure?
Do you go into "controller mode" and bite down, or into "avoider mode" and duck away?
Or does an automatism set in that makes you give up because "it's no use anyway and because I'm going to lose anyway!"?
It is crucial that we become aware of our thinking and feeling highway as a failure pattern and let it go.
This lays the foundation for agility: the decisive factor is whether we fight against the reality we are confronted with or whether we accept and shape it as a gift and possibility. In the first case, the stress mode remains our companion, in the second case we are in our mental power and can activate our strengths. Mental agility is the attitude that makes this possible.
The attitude of mental agility means looking at things freshly and asking yourself: What am I learning from this? What does the situation inspire me to do? What is possible now?
Positive thinking increases possibilities
It has been scientifically proven: Those who think positively and go through the world with a view of possibility not only feel better, but also perceive more possibilities. In the vernacular, we speak of the "self-fulfilling prophecy". From a neuroscientific point of view, we have the choice between activating the stress region in the brain through a negative mindset and seeing more and more problems, or activating our creative centre through a positive mindset and discovering opportunities. The perspective we adopt is the basis for our reaction. Those who adopt the attitude "I can make something good out of anything and just explore how that can be done" make a conscious decision for mental agility.
What does agility have to do with personality?
There are people who by nature have a high eagerness to learn and enjoy change and new things, people for whom mental agility is normal. Others need a high degree of stability and security and value planning and reliability. Mental agility is less pronounced in them.
But the good news is: mental agility can be trained.
Our brain can change continuously regardless of age and adapt to external influences and demands, the scientific term for this is "neuroplasticity". By practising new behaviour and reaction patterns, we build up new neuronal networks over time. The same happens when we make a positive attitude and the conscious question "What is possible now? Over time, new neuronal pathways emerge that weaken and replace old reaction patterns and stress automatisms. This neuronal muscle training only requires a conscious decision for a positive mindset and perseverance.
First step to more mental agility
The whole thing goes easier when you are energised. So pay attention to your resources whether through sleep, nutrition or activities that are good for you and give you energy back.
Here are first steps to strengthen and build mental agility. C-A-S-E can serve as a thought support. Any case can be successfully tackled with mental agility.
C for chance
Train the view of possibility! The agile perspective means "every situation is a gift and an opportunity"; this is not automatically there, but needs to be explored and developed. Ask the question "What is possible now?".
A for animation
Draw animation from the situation! Focus on your values and your goals and start an action that has high meaning for you.
S as in stage
See the current situation as a step for the next step! Ask yourself what has to happen that after one year you say you got more out than you invested.
E for experimentation
Get out of the routine, try something new! Deliberately try out unfamiliar procedures and activities - whether professional or private - outside your comfort zone.
You will notice that the security of habits is not necessary for survival. On the contrary, breaking habits opens up new avenues for you, makes life more interesting and creates new AHAs. Over time, mental agility will become more and more normal for you and you will deal with uncertainty, surprise and crises in a more focused, calm and effective way - whether the path leads via A or B!
Dr. Uta Nachbaur ist Expertin für Führung, Kommunikation, Persönlichkeitsentwicklung und Personalentwicklung. Sie ist als Coach und Trainerin international tätig. Mit 20 Jahren Erfahrung als Managerin in einem großen Medienunternehmen kennt sie die vielfältigen Chancen und Risiken, Perspektiven und Dynamiken im Zusammenspiel von Mensch und Organisation.
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