Monday, October 1, 2012

Avoiding Emotional Black Holes

When I was studying astronomy in college, I found myself very intrigued (and still do) by the subject of black holes -- massive stars that have experienced a supernova an imploded upon themselves. What remains is a gravitational force so powerful that not even light is able to escape it.

I'm sure that at some point you've been around a griping, whiny person who has devolved into an emotional black hole. Their negativity is so overt that they not only affect themselves but seem to sap your energy and attitude as well. Some people brighten rooms upon entering while this type of person brightens the room by leaving it. 

In a blog I read by Geoffrey James, he offers some suggestions on how to improve your own attitude and increase your ability to influence others in a positive and helpful way. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Stop using negative phrases such as "It's impossible," or "This won't work," because they program your mind for more negative thinking and negative results. Instead, say phrases such as "That might be challenging," or "We should think of some alternatives," that leave the possibility of eventual success open and available. 
  • Whenever somebody asks, "How are you?", don't come out with something depressing or uninteresting like, "Hangin' in there" or "Same old, same old." Instead respond with something more enthusiastic and exciting such as "Terrific!" or "Fantastic!" or "I've never felt better!" Then make that your reality too.
  • Stop complaining about things you have no control over such as the economy, your company management or leadership, customers, etc. Focus instead on what you can change, influence, or accomplish. 
  • Stop griping about your personal problems and illnesses. What good can it do other than to depress everyone else? Remember: This too shall pass. Do what you can to deal with your problems and then use your remaining energy to keep yourself on track and in high sprits. 
  • Substitute neutral words for emotionally loaded ones. For example, rather than saying, "I'm enraged!" say, "This is making me feel a bit annoyed..." or (even better) "I've got a real challenge here." Neutral words keep your mind from getting into emotional feedback loops that keep you feeling miserable. 

I like these reminders. I need to review them myself. Our words are powerful. They have consequences. What we choose to say, whether in casual conversation or in a professional setting, can make a significant difference. Be aware of what you say and how you say it. Listen to what comes out of your mouth and make a conscious decision to avoid becoming an emotional black hole.

Lee McCroskey
@rleemcc
Director of Leadership, Southwestern Advantage