Late last year researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign established a relationship between optimism and anxiety.
Common sense would suggest, of course, that optimistic people suffer less anxiety, but the research shows that healthy, optimistic adults not only suffer less from anxiety but have a more optimal size of the brain area associated with anxiety disorders, the orbitofrontal cortex.
In The Athlete’s Way, Christopher Bergland, an ultra-endurance athlete, asked the question, “Can being optimistic change the size of your orbitofrontal cortex?”
In addition to presenting the research data that affirmed the question, Bergland shared a personal example of how he developed and improved his optimism and, consequently, the size of his orbitofrontal cortex.
In my experience, optimism always resulted in better race performances, so I learned how to guide my thoughts towards optimism. In doing so, I believe that I changed the white matter integrity and gray matter volume in various regions of my brain. This is one way that your daily athletic process can literally reshape and rewire your brain in ways that benefit your daily life.
Once I realized that negative thinking resulted in less energy, I would visualize my negative thoughts as being Teflon coated and covered in Crisco. I wouldn’t let them take hold in my mind. On the flip side, my positive thoughts were covered in Velcro and super glue. I would welcome them to fill my mind and stick to various parts of my brain.
Simple self-consciousness, healthy self-doubt, and everyday worry represent levels of anxiety that help us achieve better performance. When we challenge ourselves to make a bold and breakthrough presentation to a client, for instance, it’s normal to get sweaty palms or to experience a little stage fright.
Such healthy levels of anxiety can actually raise our level of performance and achievement. When anxiety becomes debilitating, however, it’s time to address it in yourself and in your team members.
Excessive worry can cause sleep problems, muscle tension, and chronic indigestion. All of which can begin to deteriorate performance or at least make adequate performance an unpleasant chore.
It’s time to seek medical attention when anxiety manifests itself in compulsive behavior, excessive perfectionism, irrational fears, panic, and PTSD-like flashbacks.
If you regularly see genuine enthusiasm and other signs that your team members relish their work and the challenges you give them, you have an optimistic, low-anxiety team. No doubt they regularly and readily go the extra mile and invest Discretionary Effort. Keep up the great leadership in 2016!
If not, then here are three ways to coach your team out of anxiety and into optimism by consistently focusing on the positive side of the challenges they face and disappointments they meet.
Focus on winning. It works for championship athletic teams. Sure, they all chant, “We’re Number One,” but the winners believe it.
Give yourself and your team experiences to look forward to. Clearly define the rewards that will come with success. Make time and room for celebrations. Keep looking forward to winning.
In addition to throwing success parties and handing out awards for achievement, spend time reflecting on everyday steps toward success. Remind your team constantly of the little steps as well as the giant leaps forward.
What better way to start the new year than to do what it takes to address the anxiety that may reduce the performance and happiness of your team.
If you consider yourself optimistic and anxiety free, then resolve to maintain that attitude in 2016. January may be a good time to assess the levels of optimism and anxiety in you teams.
Here’s wishing you a low-anxiety and highly optimistic new year!
Follow us on LinkedIn