Fake Smile (My son being funny with his fake smile. He makes the same face when he is showing off his muscles.) © 2007 by Eric Fleming. Via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Depressed About Work? Positivity May Not Work

Forrest ChristianChange, Underachievers Leave a Comment

Job hunters often get depressed from their hunt, and it’s probably even worse in a stagnant, depressed economy like we’re in today. One of the coping techniques that misguided but well-meaning people teach them is to use Positive Thinking. People regularly use these techniques and believe strongly that they are effective.

Nice, except that it will often backfire.

ScienceDaily reports that three Canadian researchers — Joanne V. Wood and John W. Lee (University of Waterloo) and W.Q. Elaine Perunovic (University of New Brunswick) — “found that individuals with low self-esteem actually felt worse about themselves after repeating positive self-statements.” Even people with high self-esteem didn’t get much benefit from repeating “self-affirming” statements.

Positivity, it seems, is not all that we were told in the 1950s. If something as beloved as self affirmation doesn’t work, can anything work?

It turns out the answer is “yes”, and luckily for us, it’s not that hard. It’s just a bit more complex than telling yourself “I’m a likeable person”.

And, like everything I tell you, this form of positivity comes with some caveats.

Dancing can work, though: Positivity through motion!

The simplest and most resisted thing to do is simply get out and see people. It’s a radical cure for depression that people who get out of depression faster do. You don’t want to go meet and greet when you’re feeling low, and you resist doing it. Getting moving and interacting with people is a great balm.

There’s also Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which TIME covered some while back. (“The Third Wave of Therapy” by John Cloud.) Boiled down, it involves simply being aware of what you are feeling, acknowledging it, and deciding then what to do with it. You notice a feeling, tell yourself that “I’m having the thought that I’m depressed”. Surprisingly, this “mindfulness” method has outperformed most methods on the market.

For job hunting, it involves getting out there and meeting people. Have your elevator speech ready and go to various meetings of different organizations. It’s probably even better to have a small website and call yourself a “consultant” than to say that you are “between things”. No one wants to talk to an unemployed person right now.

The problem comes for Hidden High Potentials. You are alienated even from the people you know because of the way that your mind works. Your life experience — because you came to mental milestones earlier, understanding things at a different age than your peers — can often alienate you from others because you lack a shared experience. Add to that the issue of recognition, that people cannot fully “get” you because your time horizon extends farther than theirs, and a strange language of achievement,

So the caveat here is that you have to be willing to accept other people where they are and who they are — and that you are who you are and where you are. Many of you will not find people who can “get” you, at least not fully. But we can all find common ground on our values, which are not tied to work levels. (This is why so many evil people are very intelligent.)

The much-maligned and much-worshipped Good to Great study has something important to add here: great companies started by taking a serious, unadulterated look at what they were, could do, had. To move forward, you often have to be willing to leave behind what has worked for you in the past, to really see who you are (not just “warts and all” but also the beauty and strengths). From there you can be positive and “play to your winners”, meaning investing your energy in your strengths and what you really add to the world, rather than your faults or supposed shortcomings.

Let’s close this ramble with some real Positive Statements by someone who cares. Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darn it, people like me.

Fake Smile © 2007 by Eric Fleming. Via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *