Strategy and framing for managers

How to be Your Own Knight in Shining Armour: the 5-step Guide

Have you been hit by the pandemic? Have your contracts stopped flooding in? Are projects frozen, and wherever you look, you see yawning boredom instead of productive hustle and bustle? You’re not alone right now, so welcome to the club. How could this happen? How on earth do we get out of it? The situation looks doomed. The fact of the matter is, we don’t get what we want, but what we deserve.

Sounds harsh, when we think of hairdressers, that now need to close and restaurants, whose only option is to deliver packed lunches. And it’s true, many of the situations in which small and medium-sized business owners find themselves are far from easy. I could write many more lines on the problems that managers are currently faced with, which simply can’t be solved. I could complain about how tough Corona is on our economy and blame the politicians who ordered the lockdown and are insisting on it. But, that would all be wrong.

Well then, who decides what we deserve? Us. We do so every day via our thoughts and actions. It’s not the situation, the pandemic, which will determine how our future looks and how happy we are with the present, but our reaction to it.

I already suggested in my last article “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” that the world in which we live is only how it is because that’s how we see it. Every crisis offers opportunities, but only for those who want to recognise and seize them. Those who don’t see any opportunities, but who would like to, must learn to perceive the world differently.

The inner state of mind

Yes, this is an article about positive thinking, in the broad sense of the term. Even if you’re not a fan, carry on reading this time. Don’t be scared of getting regurgitated carpe diem positivity nonsense, instead you can expect new insights, inspiration and food for thought. Because that’s exactly what this article is about, your mindset and expectations. They are what makes the difference. What separates people that are mainly successful, healthy, well-paid and happy and those that are none of these things, is a small difference with a big impact. The small difference is their inner state of mind.

Wouldn’t you like to be able to overcome difficulties more easily, discover more opportunities, increase your creativity and build a buffer against stress and disappointment? You could have this all right now, or at least with regular practice. The practice consists of thinking differently, not focusing on the negative.

I don’t personally believe in fake, superficial positive thinking either, in which problems are glossed over and excuses are found not to tackle problems, because everything will somehow turn out for the best. The point isn’t to repeat positive mottos to yourself all day. Let me repeat that the secret isn’t just stubbornly forcing yourself to think positively, but not thinking about the negatives.

Non-negative thinking

The difference is considerable, and isn’t just hot air. When the future is unclear and decision making becomes difficult, it doesn’t help to focus on problems and their possible consequences. If you dive too deep into the sea of negative thoughts, the most you’ll get is depression. You definitely won’t find inspiration or creative ways out of the crisis this way. You also won’t find them by telling yourself in the mirror every morning that your inner child loves you and that you’re a great bloke.

It has, however, been proven that those who focus on obstacles are incapable of noticing opportunities, as their brain won’t allow it. Creativity and foresight are connected, and are supressed when our thoughts are problem-oriented, worried or anxious. In other words: non-negative thinking steers your awareness away from thoughts which take up too much energy.

70% of our thoughts are rubbish

Over 70% of our seventy thousand daily thoughts are brief and meaningless (“I’m thirsty,” “where do I know him from again?” “what did I do with Steve’s email?” etc.) 25% of our thoughts are negative and aimed at ourselves, our current situation or the past. Only around 3% of our thoughts are constructive. But the good news is that we can change this. We can train ourselves not to think negatively. Just as our stamina improves when we go jogging regularly, non-negative thinking also gets easier with time.

Critics will certainly say at this point that we can’t escape ourselves. That we can’t change how we are or our inborn way of thinking. On the one hand, there’s some truth to this statement, as we all have certain genetic dispositions we must live with, as well as behaviours we’ve picked up from our upbringing or socialisation. That’s all true, but on the other hand, recent neurological trials show clearly that, to a certain extent, our brain can be reprogrammed through thoughts alone.

Neurological connections are reformed when we consistently repeat patterns. In martial arts for example, movements become automatic only after several thousand repetitions. We’ve known for thousands of years that we can teach ourselves reflexes. However, it was news that this is possible through thought alone. We are also not merely the product of our past, but decide ourselves, thanks to our learnt thoughts and behaviour patterns, how we’ll act or react in any given moment.

So what?

Are you not yet fully convinced, and wondering how that’s supposed to help the hairdresser that can’t run their business anymore? I can understand your scepticism, after all, who have self-help books (or articles) ever really helped? I’m not trying to claim that the hairdresser can immediately solve of all their problems with new ways of thinking. As I said, practice is required to redefine yourself through non-negative thinking and to perceive the world differently, in order to then move through it differently.

I find Helena Francisco’s hair salon in Bremen to be a great example. Just the name “Helena Francisco & Hair and Co.” demonstrates her creativity and therefore her positive mindset. She’s been giving her customers virtual advice throughout the pandemic, showing them, for example, how to do updos and braids at home or even how to trim their own ponytails. They can follow along at home with fun video tutorials, which create customer proximity whilst continuing to provide a service.

Claudia Eichhorst from the children’s clothing and toy shop Minipunktchen in Berlin didn’t let the pandemic get the better of her either. She now decorates her display window with pictures of her products, along with their item number, so customers can order them over the phone or by putting a note in her letterbox. Claudia then delivers the orders personally and, of course, contactlessly.

So, what’s stopping you from trying it out for yourself? 14 days of non-negative thinking should bring you positive new experiences.

How to work out your mental muscles in 5 steps, even during the pandemic:

  1. Critical thinking isn’t wrong and can protect you. In unforeseen circumstances, you need to analyse the situation and its consequences. You can be negative at this point, to prevent any potential damage. You just need to lift yourself back up to a positive level after your analysis. Remember that you’re in charge of your own mindset.
  2. Have you adopted measures to mitigate the pandemic? Good, then take some time to think carefully about which 10 opportunities could arise from this situation for you. Don’t stop until you have 10 points. Look at them every time you start to have doubts or concerns. Start putting the most promising idea out of the 10 opportunities into action straight away.
  3. We have negative thoughts all day long. You should simply notice every conscious negative thought that you have, but then let go of it. Then, immediately concentrate on what’s going well in your (professional) life or on things you can be thankful for. By doing this, you force yourself to adopt a positive mindset and to think differently. You make room for optimism with humility and gratitude. Remember: mindset is more important than facts.
  4. Fake it! Even when you really don’t feel like thinking or acting positively (because everything gets too much once negative or unforeseen circumstances strike.) Positive psychology studies have also shown that our mind follows our actions. If you act like you have a positive mindset if you move and speak as though this were the case, you’ll influence your mind and put yourself in a positive mood. You think this is self-deception? No, it’s masterful self-management! With a little practice, it’ll get easier and better and won’t feel so artificial.
  5. You can’t force good ideas. Did you ever have a flash of genius whilst in the shower, looking at a picture in a gallery, or taking a walk? In these situations, we generally aren’t overthinking or worrying, instead, we’re relaxed and we open up our perception. Whilst you should actively manage your negative thoughts, you need to wait for your ideas and give them time. Let your thoughts get foggy. In your armchair in front of the fire, whilst jogging alone in the woods. Make sure to have a notepad or phone with you, to note down what comes to you. You may be surprised…

How you frame events and interpret and react to contexts depends only on you, not on external factors. It is entirely up to us whether we’re happy and focused on our successes; or whether we’re anxious, grumpy, jealous and worried about ourselves and our environment. We’re all the masters of our own fate. I hope that the above points inspired you, and that you can put that inspiration into practice. Let me know how you get on.