The Power of States of Mind


Picture this: you forget to set your alarm and wake up late, and you have an important meeting first thing. You don’t get time for your usual morning routine and then on the way to work the traffic holds you up, or your train is running late. You arrive at the office late and need to head straight into the meeting. 

Do you think you will leave the meeting feeling completely satisfied with how it went?

Our state of mind has a powerful impact on everything we do. Whether it is our colleagues, our friends, or our families, the people around us are affected by our state of mind no matter how well we might think we are handling ourselves. Our state of mind fluctuates constantly throughout the day, and we can go from feeling great to feeling miserable from one minute to the next. This is completely natural and normal, but how we feel influences how we experience life, and how others experience us. As leaders, it is crucial that we are aware of this influence.

Have a look at the States of Mind chart below. In the middle of the chart is the “neutral” line, which is a rare state to be in, but represents when we are feeling neither particularly positive or negative. Above the line are positive states of mind ranging from content and calm to ecstatic, ranked as +1, +2, and +3. Below the line are the negative states of mind, from anxious to despair, ranked as -1, -2, and -3.

Obviously this chart doesn’t cover the vast expanse of all human emotion, but it can be helpful when considering your state of mind and putting a number to how you feel.

So if our states of mind affect everything we do, what can we do to work towards keeping our interactions with people positive? When we feel ‘below the line’, what can we do about it?

There is a three-step routine that can be helpful for managing our state of mind, which I’d like to share with you. It’s a routine that I learned from Alexander Caillet, and one that I have found useful for myself countless times. The routine is:

Notice. Shift. Share.

Step one is to Notice. Whenever you know you are about to engage with a person or people, check in with your state of mind. This is a common mindfulness practice, and one that we often don’t do enough. If it helps, you could try rating your state of mind according to the above chart. Maybe you’ve been having a great day and feeling a solid +2, or perhaps you’re a little stressed at -1. Once you’ve noticed how you’re feeling, ask yourself: “What might the impact of my state of mind be in this interaction?”

If your state of mind is good and you’re feeling positive about how you can handle things, great! If you notice that your state of mind might not be helpful in your upcoming engagement, move on to step 2: Shift.

There are a lot of techniques for shifting our state of mind, but the one described by Alexander Caillet, and which I like to use as well, is called Breathe and Reframe. If you’re feeling ‘below the line’, take a few long, deep breaths. You’ll immediately feel a little calmer, more coherent, and more equipped to reframe your thinking. Ask yourself: “What really matters about this engagement? What outcome do I want for it? How should I show up?”

As you ask yourself these questions, you’ll find that answers will come to you. If you listen to these answers, you may notice a shift in your thinking, and so your state of mind changes as well.

But what happens if you’re in a particularly stubborn -3 state of mind and you find yourself unable to shift? Sometimes it isn’t possible or appropriate to do so. Step 3 in the process is: Share.

We may feel like we want to just push whatever negativity we’re feeling down and get on with it, but acknowledging your state of mind and sharing it with those you are engaging with is a powerful thing. If you’re feeling stressed out and can’t get over that hump in the moment, letting people know and asking them for their understanding or support lets them empathise with how you are feeling and understand what you’re experiencing. Everyone has been there, and you may be surprised at the compassion people will show if you are open with how you’re feeling. You don’t need to get into specifics, but something simple like, “hey just letting you know that I’m feeling really stressed out at the moment so I’m sorry if I’m a little off today”, will let those around you acknowledge and understand your state of mind.

Being mindful of how we are feeling and thinking is a powerful thing, and often we have more control over it than we realise. So next time you’re feeling off and about to enter an interaction with colleagues, friends, or family, try to notice, shift, and share. It’s amazing what a difference it can make.