The Positive Psychology of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Part 1: How are you thinking?

Don’t listen to the critics. Sheryl Sandberg’s book is well-researched and very compelling.  I won’t go into debateing the details of the book because I’ve discovered that most people have already formed their own opinions – whether or not they have read the book.  And, as one blog has argued, that this proves Sheryl Sandberg’s point assertion that we hold women up to a higher standard than men and we tear them down when instead we should be celebrateing their accomplishments. (Not sure why opening graph is underlined.)

Her Sandberg’s goal, as I read it, was to raise awareness.  And Considering the number of talk shows she landed on, she Sandberg has definitely restarted reignited the conversation.  But now we need to shift the discussion the to ‘how,a topic of the book that she doesn’t get to.  She Sandberg talks about a lot number of pitfalls that professional women face in the workforce, but she doesn’t go so far as to tell you suggest how to address them.  Some of the pitfalls Sandberg describes in her book Lean In are can be explainable more clearly understood through using fundamental concepts from positive psychology concepts.

And Fortunately, both women (and men) can leverage there are skills and techniques from based on/grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and positive psychology that women (and men) can leverage to become happier and more successful at work.

Thinking About Your The Way You Thinking

Women tend to ruminate more than men.  The late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema skillfully portrays this behavior in her book Women Who Think Too MuchFor example, My husband walked by my desk, and saw read the title and said, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”  He has a point.

But, what can we women do about their propensity to ruminateion too much? Well, Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, were the gurus behind cognitive behavioral therapy suggest a method. I’ve often taught to participants in my workshops. to I have participants put a rubber band on their wrists and give a snap them while saying and say ‘stop’ when they find themselves ruminating.  And Michael Jordan managed the tendency to ruminate extraordinarily well.  famously only let himself Jordan is known for ruminating over a loss for 10 minutes following a game. and Then he moved on.  But we can’t all be Michael Jordan and, frankly, I ruminate enough that rubber bands could be the preamble to Band-Aids.

Need A Subtitle Here to Smooth the Transition in Thought

When Sandberg says in her book that men tend to think “I was amazing in that job.  They were idiots not to hire me,”  What she’s really referencing is explanatory style. As demonstrated by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman’s research, shows that the way people explain events leads to a certain style of thinking.  Do you have an optimistic explanatory style or a pessimistic explanatory style?  Three factors dictate explanatory style: Whether you do or not is dictated by :

  1. Personal – Is it me or not me?  If you were to lose your job, for instance, would you think that it’s all your fault?  Or would you take into account other factors such as the :  economy, sequestration, and or a bad boss?  The former offers an example of the would be a pessimistic explanatory style.
  2. Pervasive – Will this affect my whole life or is it contained to one event?  This Pervasive thought pertains to scope.  If you lose your job and you tend to think, “Now my husband is going to leave me and my parents will be disappointed…” you’re experiencing/stuck in pervasive, pessimistic thought patterns. (Assumption that this is pessimistic.)
  3. Permanent – Will this go on forever?  This falls under the time parameter. (rough construction)  Will With our the job loss example, if you thought thinking you will never get another job again falls into a pessimistic explanatory style.

So, using in Sandberg’s example, the men tend to have a more optimistic explanatory style and the while women have lean toward a pessimistic explanatory style.  We wear guilt and blame like a well-worn coat that we don’t ever want to take off.  But Fortunately, there are ways to counteract those counterproductive thoughts patternsStep 1: Self-awareness is a first step.

The Evil Art of Networking

Last week, I did conducted a workshop last week on networking. and I suggested to attendees bring a buddy to an event.  Then, if you wanted to meet someone or work on their team you could be the person to compliment your friend and your friend could do the same for you.  That way it doesn’t seem like bragging.  The woman balked.  “That’s the evil schmoozing side of networking.”  I pushed back a little.  I coach women at professional services firms and I constantly hear that they work hard and their accomplishments should speak for themselves.  But why are they not getting promoted?  Perhaps because they think it ‘isn’t right’ to promote yourself, or ‘I shouldn’t have to” promote myself to advance my career.  Those are all valid thoughts, but we still have a dearth of women at the top of the corporate ladder.  Perhaps these are limiting beliefs that keep us from getting to the top.  (There have been books before Sandbergs to tackle this subject.  Break Your Own Rules comes to mind, written by three power women in the leadership development world.)

One way around the toxicity of negative thoughts is to separate yourself from the thought.  Write it down.  James Pennebaker from the University of Texas has done a lot of research about how writing things down (positive or negative) makes us feel better.

Positive Accomplishment

A colleague of mine has argued that we shouldn’t ‘lean in’ to work, we should ‘lean in’ to happiness.  I think you can do both.

I have two children.  A 2 ½ year old and a 8 month old.  Both girls.  They make me happy.  Very happy.  They also drive me crazy sometimes but mostly they make me happy.  My work also makes me happy.  I love facilitating in front of a room.  I love coaching a participant to make a tweak in their presentation, which makes them instantly more powerful.  I love showing people on how they can leverage their strengths to be happier at work.  Being happy at home and being happy at work – these two things are not mutually exclusive.  So perhaps if you aren’t happy at work, it’s not the work/life balance that’s the problem, perhaps it’s your job.

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, the father of positive psychology, in his book Flourish, puts forth a a comprehensive, holistic framework of well-being (or commonly known as happiness) with five measurable and buildable components summarized by the acronym P.E.R.M.A. (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment).

Sheryl Sandberg’s book – and what she is aiming for women to work toward – would fall under the last pillar – Positive Accomplishment.  This has been a controversial addition to the theory.  How can someone who is in abject poverty have ‘accomplishment’?  Admittedly, both Seligman and Sandberg say that their books are not for everyone.  They acknowledge that you have to have a certain level of income to be in their readership (and truthfully, to be able to afford the book).  Once you’ve achieved that you are probably thinking about accomplishment – whether that accomplishment is taking your kids on a vacation or winning a seat in a corner office.

(needs an ending; and maybe combine part 2 together with one)


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About Shannon Polly, MAPP

Shannon M. Polly is a corporate communications trainer, facilitator and speaker and founder of Shannon Polly & Associates, a leadership development company in downtown D.C. Shannon works with executives, managers and employees of Fortune 500 companies in two areas: executive presence/presentation skills (based on over a decade of experience as a professional actor/singer in New York) and positive psychology. Shannon is one the first 100 people in the world who have received her Master in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) degree from the University of Pennsylvania under Dr. Martin Seligman. She also holds a graduate degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in classical acting and a B.A. with honors from Yale University. She also holds a coaching certificate from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.

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