Applied EQ #28: Project Managers and Stinking Thinking

We spent a lot of time over the last few weeks discussing the importance of emotional Self-Management.  Our failure to manage our own emotions can lead to emotional breakdowns.  Emotional breakdowns are when we "lose it". 

There is one more type of emotional breakdown and that is when we cause a breakdown by the way we think.  Yep, strange as it sounds, we can affect the way we are feeling based on our thoughts.  It is through distorted thinking that we set ourselves up for an emotional breakdown.

This distorted thinking is also called stinking thinking or cognitive disorder.  We can think ourselves into feeling bad.  We can also leave ourselves open to an emotional breakdown.

Is that surprising?  Not really.  You have probably done this yourself or seen others do it.  Just when things seem to be going well our mind convinces us that things are falling apart.  It seems that we self-sabotage. 

In the Feeling Good Handbook, David D. Burns discusses 10 common types of distorted thinking.  We will tackle five of them here in this post and the remaining five in the next post. 

Read slowly through these examples of distorted thinking and consider each one carefully.  You may notice some common themes in these examples.  Negativity, despair, and global thinking are they keys themes that I notice.  Do you relate to these examples? 

  1. All or Nothing Thinking – With all or nothing thinking, we see things as a total failure if they fall short of perfect. 

    As an example, consider what happened to me recently on a return trip from Washington DC to Chicago.  My class in DC finished early and I sprinted to the airport with the hopes of getting on an earlier flight.  As it turned out, I was able to leave on a flight one hour earlier.  However, I had to give up my first class upgrade and sit in a middle seat in economy.  As I flew back, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss. 

    When I arrived at home and my wife asked me about the trip, I said it was awful.  Though I did get home earlier, I considered it an awful trip because I did not get everything I wanted.

  2. Overgeneralization – Overgeneralization is when we see one negative event as a never-ending series of defeat or failure.  The clue to this type of thinking is when we use words like always and never. 

    Do you experience overgeneralization?  When you and your project team need to work through a weekend, do you find yourself thinking "we always have to work on our weekends", or "I never get any time to myself"?   If someone else gets promoted, do you think "I never get considered for better jobs"?  These are all examples of overgeneralization.

  3. Mental Filters – Mental filtering is when we pick out the negative and focus only on that.  By dwelling on that one thing, it becomes our reality. 

    I did this recently after teaching a class.  In this case there were 26 students.  As I went through the student’s evaluations of the course, there was one in particular that was harsh.  The student felt there were "too many irrelevant stories" and that I should have kept the class moving. 

    Another situation was on a large three-year project I was managing.  At the end of the first year, we solicited feedback from our clients on how we were doing.  There was a mix of positive and constructive feedback.  However, one statement stood out.  The client stated that the delivery of "software was often late and of poor quality".  That was the only thing I remembered about the feedback.

    In both of these cases, I vividly remember the negative comment and did not remember anything else.  I was using a mental filter to focus on the negative.

  4. Discounting the Positives – Discounting the positives is similar to mental filters.  Instead of focusing on the negative, we choose to discount or reject examples where we did well or were successful.  We find a reason for that experience not to count because it wasn’t good enough or because anyone would have done the same in your shoes.  This type of thinking really rips us off from the happiness and satisfaction we should experience.

    I do this to myself by hiding behind my project team.  When there is a success on a project, I say to myself "this was the result of having a strong team", or "any PM could have succeeded in this situation". 

  5. Jumping to Conclusions – We jump to conclusions when we interpret things negatively without any facts to back us up.  We automatically attribute a negative interpretation without any justification.

    For example, consider a situation where we submit a proposal to a client.  If the client does not get back to us immediately, we may jump to the conclusion that they don’t like us or our proposal.  We may start to think things like "that was a waste of time, I shouldn’t have spent my time working on that".  It is likely that we simply expected the client to respond faster than they actually did.

In the next post, we will tackle Magnification, Emotional Reasoning, Should statements, Labeling, and Personalization.

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