We all categorize things — it’s how we sort our world and make sense of it. Good things over here — bad things over there. Similar things in this box — other things in another box. Even Sesame Street encourages us to sort our world.
We also categorize people. Yes, we do. All of us. Sometimes we assign them a description without knowing enough. And, if you think you don’t do that — you’re wrong.
We read a news article about a person and consciously assign intent or bias
We see someone speeding down the road and label them as dangerous and thoughtless
We dislike someone’s decision so, therefore, that person ‘just doesn’t get it’
We all do it. But, why?
It’s easier to assign intent to others which then justifies our own bias — the other person is either in-line with our own thinking and an ally, or their intent is misguided and they are an adversary.
By assigning intent without inquiring about it, we limit the amount of time we need to put into understanding someone.
Pick a topic, especially one that has a pretty clear line of delineation — global warming, poverty, systemic racism are three that come to mind. All three have some pretty polarizing viewpoints. It’s easier to align oneself with those who are similar to yourself and also assign blame or ignorance to those who are not.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s take a look at social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I wrote a Nov 2020 blog post about how social media platforms have algorithms that use Artificial Intelligence to find persons who are aligned with your way of thinking. Your clicks, swipes and pauses all help shape the opinions you see on these platforms. Social media builds your belief that many others think just like you — it’s a main reason why the platforms are so popular.
No one else hears it, yet it can be quite loud — as well as effective. ‘Self-talk’.
And, it’s critical for effective Leadership.
When we talk about Leadership qualities, most of the conversation tends to be about what an effective leader DOES. Leadership is certainly about doing good stuff but, at the heart of it is having the right inner voice. Leaders who have it propel themselves through a solution-seeking lens of optimism and hope and are the ones who lead us through difficult times.
Self-talk is the stream of consciousness that runs through our head every day. It can be positive or negative — and typically falls in line with whether you are a positive or negative person. Successful people use positive self-talk to overcome the stray negativity that enters their mindset from time to time.
I’d rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.
Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.
Besides the obvious benefit of using positive self-talk as a spring board to create solutions, there is some research that also points to some interesting physical and psychological benefits:
These are big WINS that are worth paying attention to!
We are capable of more than what we probably think we are capable of sustaining. Researchers Aknin, Zaki and Dunn conducted a review of close to 1,000 research studies examining hundreds of thousands of people across nearly 100 countries and they came to a conclusion:
We are remarkably adept at finding solutions to what might appear to be insurmountable problems.
THE MENTAL HEALTH CHECK
You’ve probably heard that the coronavirus pandemic triggered a worldwide mental-health crisis. This narrative took hold almost as quickly as the virus itself. In the spring of 2020, article after article—even an op-ed by one of us—warned of a looming psychological epidemic.
As clinical scientists and research psychologists have pointed out, the coronavirus pandemic has created many conditions that might lead to psychological distress: sudden, widespread disruptions to people’s livelihoods and social connections; millions bereaved; and the most vulnerable subjected to long-lasting hardship. A global collapse in well-being has seemed inevitable.
Lara Aknin, Jamil Zaki and Elizabeth Dunn, The Atlantic (July 2021)