In October 2016, I gave an evening talk at a retreat for Bank of America in Southern California. At first, everything seemed to be going great, until suddenly, toward the end of the talk, people started to seem distracted: Some started looking at their phones, others started whispering to one another.
I didn’t know how to read it. Were they tired? Was I boring and losing them? Were they skeptics whispering about how they didn’t buy into my research? In that vulnerable and insecure moment, I decided it was all three. Determined to win them back, I extended my talk another 15 minutes, during which I worked in some material that always plays well with audiences, but that only seemed to make them more disconnected
Eventually, I gave up. Defeated and deflated, I walked back to my hotel where I found all of them at the lobby bar, huddled in front of the TV. Turns out it was Game 7 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs faced the Cleveland Indians, and Cleveland had just tied it up in the eighth inning. I hadn’t struck out with my talk after all; they had just wanted to get out of there in time to witness this major moment in baseball history when the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. I had completely misread the situation and as a result I exacerbated the problem—and my own stress.
Be on the lookout for “negative illusions” in your life. Maybe that person at the party who you think is being rude is just shy. Maybe that colleague who you think is intentionally slacking off is depressed or struggling with something in his or her personal life. Just opening up the possibility of another explanation will stop you from falling down the rabbit hole of rumination and allow you to redirect your mental resources toward something more productive.
Adapted from Big Potential. Copyright © 2018 by Shawn Achor. Published by Currency, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.