So often we are bombarded by messages that we just need to “stay positive”. People say things like, “Let’s look at the bright side” or we’re told things like, “Anger will kill you.” Really? If this was the case, why would we have evolved the complex capability of experiencing such a vast array of emotions – both positive and negative? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating we should all be miserable and I think by most accounts I’m a pretty positive person. I would actually describe myself as a positively realistic person.
After spending 25 years in the fire service helping people make it through their toughest days, I think you become a realist. Combine this with a passion for studying human behaviour and what helps people become high performers and I’ve learned that just being “positive” all the time is not really the best way. In fact, when you look at the latest research from the University of California in San Diego and the Naval Health Research Centre, where they study the brains of Navy Seals and ultra endurance athletes, we find that it’s how we handle our negative emotions that will either build or destroy our resilience. When you hear the term “emotional control” you may think this means being sure that you only feel the positive emotions. This would be a mistake.
Our experience at my company Tignum, supported by the latest brain research, shows us that true emotional control is being able to experience all of your emotions (from sadness to happiness, from fear to love) but then being able to purposefully decide how you want to respond to these emotions. Advanced emotional control teaches us to be able to introspect into our emotional state by further delineating what exactly we are feeling. Instead of just feeling angry you are able to recognise the difference between feeling annoyed or feeling resentful. Instead of just feeling love you are able to recognise the difference between feeling acceptance or maybe even lust. When you achieve the higher levels of emotional control you are able to feel an emotion, explore and understand it without it owning you, and then purposely deciding how you want to act.
So where does resilience come from? Resilience is the product of stressful situations + emotional control + adequate recovery. Stressful situations often create negative emotions such as frustration, fear, uncertainty, etc. Wallowing in these negative states and creating drama destroys resilience. Being introspective and reframing these negative emotions into positive solutions (not just thoughts but thoughts plus action) creates resilience and is the best way to develop a high performance mindset. In this way, negative emotions should not be avoided, unless your intention is to stunt your resilience. Instead they should be embraced as a needed part of the process of developing your high performance mindset and your Sustainable High Performance.
Of course, the final part of the resilience-building equation that is very often overlooked is the need for adequate recovery. In the absence of this, stress hormones spiral out of control, growth hormone is diminished, critical neurotransmitters are depleted, the post insular areas of your brain shrink, and your resilience is destroyed. In this state, performance decreases and sustainability is impossible. This is why the integrated approach of Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery is critical for building resilience.
A High Performance Mindset not one that is merely positive. It is one that is highly aware, focuses on those things within your control, and is solution/action oriented. In this mindset, negative emotions help us develop resilience and some of our best solutions.
Written by Scott Peltin
Scott is founder and chief performance officer of Tignum, a company that helps executives achieve their full potential to maximise business performance. He’s worked with CEOs, C-level executives, professional athletes, and many top leaders to improve their performance and sustainability. Scott was also a previous guest on the show – check out his podcast here.