top of page

The Fourth Commandment Of Highly Effective Leadership: Counter Your Negative Thoughts


Jacob M. Engel

Author and CEO of The Prosperous Leader. I help CEOs and their organizations prosper.

Professor Martin Seligman is known as the father of positive psychology. In his popular TED Talk, he argues that most psychologists are fixated on finding what’s “wrong” with people, while he insists on finding what’s “right."

His theory, and the theories of so many positive psychologists, are based on a study he conducted with a large group of children who were at risk of depression. In his book, Learned Optimism,Seligman shares how he taught the children to control their negative or pessimistic thinking using Dr. Aaron Beck’s cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) model. He then followed the group of children for many years and compared them to other children who were not taught any specific way to control negative thoughts. The study showed that the children who were taught and coached were half as likely to develop anxiety and depression later in life.

One simple tool to help ourselves think and feel more positive is Seligman's ABCDE Model:

• Adversity: A negative or possibly negative event.

• Belief: What thoughts kick in after the event.

• Consequence: If the belief would come to pass, what negative things would occur.

• Disputation: How to counter the negative thoughts.

• Energization: How we prove the negative thought wrong.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say your largest client calls you out of the blue, your boss asks to see you, your child’s principal leaves you an abrupt voicemail, or a friend doesn’t give you a cheerful hello. That is the adverse event.

What is the thought that then pops into your mind? That is your belief. Usually, it’s a negative one, like, "Uh-oh! What did I do now?" or "What did my child do wrong at school?"

The consequence is the next thought to cross your mind. It's the negative outcome of this event. "Will I be fired?" "Will my biggest client leave?" "Is my child getting thrown out of school?"

From there, it's a slippery slope downhill, prophesizing the very worst. Dr. Daniel Amen calls this type of thinking automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs.

With all the thoughts we think in one day, imagine if most or all of those thoughts are negative. It's like walking around banging yourself on the head all day. No wonder we end up with a headache! So we need to be able to control these thoughts.

By disputing your negative thoughts with evidence, you can counter them. You can reassure yourself that the client or the principal has called before and nothing negative happened, or at least suspend your negative prediction until you know more. These are very effective tools in keeping our minds balanced and less anxious.

How does this pertain to business? What I found working with many clients is that there are many factors that govern our decisions, and fear is one of them.

Usually, there are underlying fears, mostly unconscious, as to why we don’t do things that we know we should do, especially when it comes to making tough decisions or taking difficult actions. Let’s say you are thinking of firing a toxic employee, changing careers, creating a new business strategy, etc. All of these will elicit a certain fear. Courage, as the old adage goes, is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it. So we need to understand what fear is all about in order to conquer it.

Fear is a factor that can impact our thinking and feelings. If you automatically turn to pessimistic thinking, you will find it challenging to make sound decisions and take action. You need to be able to control your negative thoughts.

Psychologist Maxie Maultsby claimed there are four fatal fears:

• The fear of rejection (the need to be accepted).

• The fear of failure (the need to succeed).

• The fear of emotional discomfort (the need to feel emotionally comfortable).

• The fear of being wrong (the need to be right).

Most leaders need to understand how these fears affect their own decisions and their team’s decisions. Share these fears with your team, and have them identify some or all of their fears to bring the issue to the forefront. Then you can work on finding solutions.

Remember that FEAR simply stands for False Evidence Appearing Real!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page