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The Positivity Paradox and the Suppression of “Negative” Emotions

Lots of press about positivity these days. Dr. PurpleMandala is positive about that. What she likes is that beneath it all and fundamentally, the premise is that you are in control of how you experience the world and thus, how you perceive the world. No one else. That does not mean only experiencing positive emotions. It means experiencing the full range of your emotions to understand and perceive your world so that you can navigate it toward your purpose. Your emotions are data and that data is telling you something. From this viewpoint, how can any emotion be negative?

In her book “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life,” Harvard Medical School professor and psychologist Susan David explains the reflexive ways we handle emotion. She says we have a “Tyranny of Positivity” that not only encourages us to ignore emotions like sadness, anger, despair, and grief but that also we live in a culture that actively promotes vehicles to suppress them.

The relentless expectation to be positive inundates our worklife, homelife, and innerlife. We deny or avoid emotions that might indicate something other than life is great. When we can’t ignore them on our own, our culture gives us many things to distract us: media, alcohol, and drugs top this list. It makes for a cold and lonely world where each one of us believes that we are the only one to recognize the breakability of our existence and the grief that comes from losing people and things for which we care about as we move through life.

There is a paradox for leaders embedded in the Tyranny of Positivity. If a leader is to be relentlessly optimistic to inspire and engage the team, how can they also be authentic without displaying their less socially acceptable emotions, too? This is the essence of the Positivity Paradox. Research has indicated that Hope, Self Confidence, Optimism, and Resilience, in combination, have the strongest relationship with both satisfaction and performance. Sometimes humans, even leaders(!), must move through a murky pool of less socially acceptable emotions. How do you acknowledge your emotional state? How do you identify all your emotions, not merely the positive ones, in a productive and insightful way to add to your innerlife? Can you wrestle with all your emotions of your innerlife? And our innerlife positively affects our worklife and homelife. What are you going to do about it?

10 Things You Never Knew You Wanted (But Now You Absolutely Need)

Brilliant, insightful, and true. Word to your Mother and all intelligent human beings.

I Miss You When I Blink

Are you good at resisting advertising? I try not to be a sucker, but time and again, the glossy ads in fashion magazines draw me in with their magical promises. I don’t think I have any interest in the high-couture lifestyle they’re offering . . . until suddenly I do.

Take a look. Don’t you want it all, too?


If you’d asked me yesterday, “What’s on your wish list?” I wouldn’t have said sparkly red gravity-defying sneaker-huaraches, because I’d never seen any. But now I have — and now I feel stupid for walking around vertically like some basic fool all this time.

 * * *


At first, I thought, “Matching blue lace top and leggings with reverse shin zippers? Hard pass.” But then I looked at Jennifer Connelly’s face and posture and thought, CHANGE OF OPINION, MADAME CHAIRPERSON. She is not kidding around. I’m positive that if I wore…

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Sound Familiar?

The Secrets of Chicken Flocks’ Pecking Order by Brian Barth in Modern Farmer on March 16, 2016

“Chickens are not a particularly democratic species. They have no interest in consensus-based decision-making or ensuring that every member of the flock has equal access to food and water and a good place to roost.

But they do have their own ways of maintaining social order, which seem to have served their needs well enough over millennia. It’s a bit authoritarian by our standards, but the pecking order—in which each bird has a rank in the top-down hierarchy of the flock—is the way in which chickens govern themselves.

The pecking order is, literally, determined by pecking. Bigger, stronger, and more aggressive chickens bully their way to the top of the flock by pecking the others into submission with their pointy beaks. First they strut about, fluff their feathers, and squawk, but if that doesn’t get the point across, they peck. It can get violent. Sometimes blood is drawn; occasionally, the opponent is killed.

Pecking order rank determines the order in which chickens are allowed to access food, water, and dust-bathing areas. It determines who gets the most comfortable nesting boxes and the best spots on the roosting bar. The good news is that, at least among a flock of chickens born and raised together, the pecking order is established early on and the birds live in relative harmony, with only minor skirmishes now and then to reinforce who is in charge.

The chicken at the top of pecking order has a special role to play in the flock. Because they are so strong and healthy, it’s their responsibility to keep constant watch for predators and usher the others to safety when a circling hawk appears or a strange rustling is heard in the bushes nearby. The top chicken is also expected to be an expert at sniffing out food sources, such as a nest of tasty grubs under a fallen log, or a bunch of kitchen scraps that the farmer dropped on their way to the compost pile. Even though the top chicken has the right to eat first, he or she usually lets the others feed, while keeping a vigilant watch for predators, and dines only after everyone else has had their fill.”

Native Wisdom, Part 2: It takes a long time to get to know someone

“It takes a long time to get to know someone,” I heard my Father say. He was musing about two close friends who had erupted into battle. After a long heated argument, the two friends determined that the quarrel was the result of a simple misunderstanding. My father waxed philosophically about how two people who presumably knew each other so well could not comprehend the other’s perspective, or even be curious enough to explore it to avert the meltdown.

We act as if our assumptions about the world are correct. We are wandering through this world, operating “as if” what we perceive and believe is true. Our perceptions are shadows cast from our filters. Our filters are formed from what others tell us, what we read, and our experiences. Hardly the most thorough methodology.

The differences in how people view the world can be just as humorous as they are disconcerting. The classic comedy by Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First,” is an example of two individuals operating with two fundamentally different belief systems, yet failing to comprehend and address this difference. It’s funny because it’s true.

This weekend would have been my Father’s 90th birthday. My Mother and my Father had me very late in life, so our time together was short. He was Cherokee (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a tribal elder), had a high school education, was US Marine Sniper in World War II, and a Teamsters Union representative who spent 30 years delivering vehicles to various locations across the United States. He saw a lot, and saw through a lot. Although he wanted me to be a lawyer, his humor, wry perspective, insight, and keen intelligence instead formed me into a psychologist. Through the process of becoming a psychologist, leader, and then a coach of leaders, I found that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. Yet, his Native Wisdom rings true: It does take a long time to get to know someone. Next time in the heat of a battle, pausing, reflecting, and being curious might be something to explore. Ask yourself some questions: What do you believe about the world? What are your assumptions? Where do they come from and for what purpose do the serve? Perhaps the person it takes the longest to know is ourselves.

Steve Martin on Success

“I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four years were spent in wild success. I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a byproduct. The course was more plodding than heroic.” -Steve Martin.

Why are Organizations so Fouled-up*?

It was a question my husband asked over this morning’s breakfast after another of my rants about organizational politics. The answer I gave him was this: You’re fouled up, I’m fouled up, that makes organizations, which are full of people as much or more fouled up as us, even more so. How can organizations not be anything but fouled up given all that fouledupness brewing and simmering together? Then you throw in money and power, and the fouledupitude goes wild. Sadly, he agreed. I’ve consulted or been in over 50 organizations at this point, and I know that there is not one organization that is not fouled up. I challenge you to find one.

How do you avoid being consumed by all the fouled up people in fouled up organizations? Maintain a positive attitude and remember to not take it personally. Even if it is personal. People don’t know you well, so most of any feedback you get is to ensure you meet the organization’s goals or are projections of their insecurities. Or you could be one of the people others are talking about that are so fouled up! Then perhaps you should listen, and listen very carefully.

Now and then a team or a small group of individuals unite around a common purpose and have transparent and authentic relationships with one another. Their whole selves come to the experience, and they focus on something that not only meets their immediate goals but also meets some more lofty purpose. That is the trick for any leader: Alignment of individual and organizational purpose. There are glimpses of it here in there, like the glimmer around Peter in Fringe, where Olivia knew he was from a different world.

*Please substitute foul for any other f word you might choose to use

What is Your Internal State?

As a wise colleague once said, “If you want to find something on the outside, you must first find it on the inside.” Or, in other words, “wherever you go, there you are,” a saying popularized by Buckaroo Bonzai. While coaching executives and with my ongoing work with myself, the truth is that our internal state is the most important aspect of our lives to attend to and manage. And we can manage it. By doing so, we can direct how we perceive our world, what we get done, and what (and who) we attract.

What is your internal state of being? How do you feel right now? How do you usually feel? What is the noise inside your head?  Are you covering up negative feelings with food, alcohol or some more sophisticated gamesmanship where others are the blame for your problems? With what are you surrounding yourself?  With whom? How are your family and friends with their internal state? What is your purpose? Check-in with yourself and others, you might be surprised how you’re feeling. You can change how you think about things. Your reaction to the world is in your control.

A lotus is the most powerful of flowers as it makes its way through the murkiness to the light. Much like our hidden feelings, they too must make their way to the light. Without this process, they remain ever present, controlling us, sometimes choking and stifling us in ways that we don’t understand and keeping us from seeing the light.

“Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people’s religion. And religion may, in a real sense, be understood as a popular misunderstanding of mythology.” -Joseph Campbell

It is all a matter of perception, our world. Understanding our own beliefs in depth and their foundation more importantly, will enable our understanding of other’s beliefs and their foundation.

In this quiet time of the year, reflecting with renewed interest on what gives us each our sense of purpose – our destiny – is of primary importance.

Once the New Year begins, it will be difficult to slow down the sense of urgency that prevades our life on all levels. What do you love? What makes your heart sing? Who do you love and do they love you? Where are you when you feel calm and attentive, not stressed and overloaded?

Our life is not meant to be a war zone filled with unnecessary drama that pulls us into dark and meaningless places. Find the light by knowing when you light up most. The world will be thankful for your work.

Living in a VUCA world: It’s all about energy

Madonna’s song “Living in a Material World” captured the mood and feeling of the 1980s. What phrase captures the moment now? According to some leaders of the largest businesses in the world, we are living in a VUCA world. What is VUCA? VUCA is a military acronym that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

In my day job, I do research with others in my firm along with a well know international university. We are trying to learn what great leaders do that makes them exceptional. Ideally, we want to identify common themes about their thoughts on various leadership topics and how their reflections might differ from the way you and I go about perceiving our world. Our purpose is to not only be able to identify what characteristics make up superior leaders, but to also understand if what makes them exceptional can be coached or taught to others. We ask ourselves if great leadership can be learned then what is needed to create more of them, so that the world will be better led.

It is apparent to the leaders we interview that the world is a much more VUCA place than it once was. Whether this is true, or whether there is only a perception that is true does not matter to these CEOs. To them, the environment of social media mixed with immediate access to global information creates a complex, ever changing landscape of stakeholders that inverts the classic organizational pyramid on its head.

Interestingly, most of the leaders we have interviewed believe that, positive energy is the element that matters most in their own lives and the lives of others. It’s the key critical resource needed. They claim to focus on requiring this energy to have clear, positive and inspiring points of view. They want energy to manage and attend to the needs of the stakeholders that routinely confront them. They want energy to confidently engage, energize and inspire the teams they build. They want energy to develop depth of expertise and the wisdom to apply it. To them, the mechanistic drone like approach to work that infiltrated the Industrial Age is no longer relevant and definitely slipping away. Are these desires and perceptions different from yours?

How do you help the world be better led? It starts with your next interaction. Be the person, be the change you aspire to see. Become conscious of your real purpose in life and access the positive energy of yourself and others around you. Some might do this on a grander scale affecting many more people, but each of our interactions count; especially if we are to create a new shared consciousness or collective unconsciousness that focuses on a more positive way of interacting in our current VUCA world.

A Brain the Size of a Golf Ball

“If you have a golf-ball-sized consciousness, when you read a book, you’ll have a golf-ball-sized understanding; when you look out a window, a golf-ball-sized awareness, when you wake up in the morning, a golf-ball-sized wakefulness; and as you go about your day, a golf-ball-sized inner happiness.
But if you can expand that consciousness, make it grow, then when you read about that book, you’ll have more understanding; when you look out, more awareness; when you wake up, more wakefulness; as you go about your day, more inner happiness.” – David Lynch

Leadership – leading others, your family, or yourself requires consciousness, so the best way to improve your leadership is to expand your consciousness. How do you expand your consciousness? It starts with understanding that you may not have the full picture of reality, or understand other peoples’ perception of reality. This is the primary way that conflict arises: numerous people can view the exact same situation with vastly different perceptions.
Leaders often become leaders because they are comfortable making decisions. They have a level of confidence in their own perception of reality that gives them this ability. Often this confidence is perceptible by those who are unsure about what is happening, and the unsure gravitate toward those who appear surer.
This same attribute can backfire when that confidence continues in new, ambiguous and even chaotic situations. Great leaders continue to increase their consciousness as they become more senior through involving and gathering a broader range of perceptions so that they expand their conscious awareness of what is really going on.
How do you expand your consciousness as a leader? The number one best way is to remain curious. This is especially true when you feel the most sure of your own view. How do you do this? Ask questions. Probe deeper. Listen to the silences, if any, after you speak. Do people feel comfortable sharing their real thinking with you, or do they stammer and hedge their opinions? Has anyone yelled at you or acted angry with you? If not, mostly likely others are holding back around you. By being curious and encouraging other to share their minds and hearts with you, you will ensure you continue to expand your own consciousness, improve your leadership impact and grow your brain bigger than the size of a golf ball.