Is the cultural tsunami of negativity wearing down your ability to stay hopeful and optimistic? Here, I explain how to overpower these voices, change your circumstances for the better, and become a positive leader and influencer to those around you.
By Jon Gordon
You’ve probably noticed: Negativity has pervaded our culture and daily lives. Whether you love or hate the current political climate, it’s hard to deny that our nation has ever been as divided, fearful, and vocal as it is today. Add in the avalanche of complaining that dominates social media and it’s not easy to be positive or happy right now.
There is a solution. You absolutely can rise above the negativity all around you. It’s not easy but it can be done.
Throughout history, there have been times of extreme negativity, pessimism, and fear. Those who rose above it were able to change their circumstances for the better instead of allowing their circumstances to change them for the worse.
It turns out that positivity doesn’t just make you feel better in the moment; it makes you more successful too. Research conducted by Manju Puri and David Robinson, business professors at Duke University, shows that optimistic people work harder, get paid more, are elected to office more often, and win at sports more regularly (1. Puri, M. & Robinson, D. (2007). Optimism and economic choice. Journal of Financial Economics, 86, 71-99.). They also have stronger relationships. And not surprisingly, when positive energy is shared in the workplace, teams perform better.
Being positive doesn’t just make you better. It makes everyone around you better.
Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally is a shining example of a positive leader who rose above negativity to create a better world. When he stepped into the CEO role in 2006, Ford had just suffered an annual loss of $12.7 billion and was on the verge of bankruptcy. But he managed to put Ford back in the black in just a few short years, and then the Great Recession hit. In these dire circumstances, it seemed like his efforts had been in vain—and plenty of people doubted his ability to save the struggling company. But Mulally proceeded with optimism and saved Ford and thousands of jobs in the process, while positively impacting the American economy and country as a whole.
You may not be a leader on the level of Mulally, or have “leader” in your job title at all. That doesn’t matter. We’re all leaders in our own lives and can be a positive influence on those around us. But first we have to rise above our own negativity and reset our belief system. Here’s how:
Realize you have the power to distort reality. We often think that reality is objective, but that’s not true. If you take a look at how leaders of positivity have changed the world throughout history, it becomes clear that we can define reality and distort it in a positive way. Before there was an iPhone, iCloud, or Apple Watch, there was Steve Jobs, a man with vision, positive ideas, and a reality distortion field.
Jobs repeatedly convinced Apple employees that they could meet deadlines everyone thought were impossible. Time after time they would tell Steve he was being unrealistic and there was no way they could create software or hardware in the amount of time he was expecting. And yet, they did accomplish the “impossible.” Jobs’s team said he distorted their reality from pessimism to optimism. Their newfound optimism ultimately helped them succeed.
Take an inside-out approach to success. It’s important to understand that we don’t create our world and success outside-in. We create it inside-out. This means that your circumstances and the events that happen outside you in the world are not meant to define you. You are meant to define your circumstances. The power is not in the circumstance. It’s in your state of mind and the love, passion, soul, purpose, and perspective that you lead and create with.
Coach Donna Orender is a great example. When she served as commissioner of the WNBA, she saw a lot of negativity amongst those in the corporate offices. There was a feeling that no one
cared about women’s basketball and a lack of belief that the organization could be successful. But Orender saw the passion and optimism in the coaches and players, and she believed in them and in the future of the WNBA. She began building an optimistic belief system and inspired her colleagues to believe in the WNBA’s future as well. By focusing on one success at a time, she helped create a new reality for herself and changed the organization from the inside-out.
Choose people over politics. People have “unfriended” longtime Facebook friends because of political views. This phenomenon is not limited to the virtual world: Some “real-world” friendships have ended because of politics as well. Even siblings have stopped talking to each other because of who they voted for in the presidential election. This is why I advise you to make relationships—not politics—your priority.
Focus on your connection with other people rather than the politics of the day. Research shows that one of the key factors in success, happiness, and longevity is not your political opinions but your relationships and connections with others. Focusing on politics divides. Focusing on relationships unites and creates a better future for you.
Control what you can control. A person with an internal locus of control believes they can influence the events and outcomes of their lives by how they think and act. A person with an external locus of control blames outside events for how they feel and believes they are a victim of circumstance. During the Great Recession, those who had an internal locus of control were more likely to embrace the change, take action, and thrive.
The truth is you can’t control what decisions the White House makes. You can’t control what other people are going to say or do. You can’t control the negativity that exists around you. But you can control whether you look for the good or bad in the world. You can control what you read and write on social media. You can control the actions you take each day to make your life better and the lives around you better.
Instead of looking at your phone and getting angry at the world around you, look up. Take a quiet walk and decide what actions you will take to create your positive future. You can’t change the whole world, but you can change the world around you, and that’s a great place to start.
Implement a “no complaining” rule. It’s a simple rule with a powerful impact. The rule says you aren’t allowed to complain unless you offer one or two possible solutions. When we complain we focus on what’s wrong and feel disempowered. But when we focus on solutions, we feel empowered and empower others to make positive changes.
As I share in my new book The Power of Positive Leadership: If you are complaining, you’re not leading. If you are complaining, you are not showing your team the way forward. Complaining causes you and your team to focus on everything but being your best. It causes you to be stuck where you are instead of moving forward to where you want to be.
Choose faith over fear. Fear and faith both believe in a future that hasn’t happened yet. Fear believes in a negative future. Faith believes in a positive future. If neither has happened yet, why not believe in the positive future?
Ultimately, being a positive leader is all about leading with faith in a world filled with cynicism, negativity, and fear. The ultimate battle we face every day is the battle between faith and fear. The people around you are facing this battle daily. They are filled with fear, doubt, and uncertainty, and it’s your job to inspire them with faith. If you don’t have it, you can’t share it.
Now, share your newfound positivity with the world. For example, some people are turning away from social media because of the negativity. Instead, use it to spread positivity. Change the perspective and conversation.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, every single effort you make to be positive will create an effect in the world. Your words—typed or spoken—your intentions, and your actions matter, so use them to make the world a more positive and hopeful place.
When you make the decision to rise above negativity, you can finally become the leader of your own life. Leadership is not just about what you can do but what you can inspire, encourage, and empower others to do. Your commitment to a positive mindset will show the people in your life once and for all that they—not outside forces—shape their own lives. When you feel better about yourself and your actions, you feel better and you help the people around you feel better. In this way you help others become all that they are meant to be—and ultimately, change the world for the better.