Modern Mentor

How to stay positive-ish in tough times

Episode Summary

Leaders are feeling the heat of their overwhelmed teams.

Episode Notes

Let’s talk today about some of the gifts you might offer your brain which, in turn, may help lift your spirit if you’re in a tough season.

Modern Mentor is hosted by Rachel Cooke. A transcript is available at Simplecast.

Have a question for Modern Mentor? Email us at

Find Modern Mentor on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or subscribe to the newsletter to get more tips to fuel your professional success.

Modern Mentor is a part of Quick and Dirty Tips.


Episode Transcription

Hey, it’s Rachel Cooke, your Modern Mentor. I’m the founder of Lead Above Noise—a firm specializing in helping teams and organizations create better working experiences that deliver better results.

During the height of the pandemic, this talk I give—Keeping Burnout at Bay—became all the rage. Leaders were feeling the heat of their overwhelmed teams, and this talk offered a lot of counsel around how to climb out of the danger zone.

Then, for a hot minute, the talk’s popularity faded. But in recent months it’s been making a major comeback. It’s easy to see why—leaders have had to dial back resources and budgets, often while dealing with layoffs and all of the uncertainty they bring, and they still feel the pressure to deliver top-tier results. It’s no wonder they’re seeing the struggle return with a vengeance.

There is, indeed, a lot we can do to keep burnout at bay. Changes we can make to how we work, how we prioritize, how we collaborate and manage our time, and lots of other things.

And at the same time, we can also make small shifts to our mindsets. To let in slivers of optimism and positivity where otherwise darkness and dread are hanging out.

As a natural cynic myself, I know how hard this can be. But I’ve made some of these changes myself and I’m feeling just a few ounces lighter. 

So let’s talk today about some of the gifts you might offer your brain which, in turn, may help lift your spirit if you’re in a tough season.

Note your word choice

When we speak—to ourselves or out loud—our choice of words can influence our mindset.

According to the Association for Talent Development, “We respond to words at a visceral, autonomic level... Understanding the impact of words on the brain can help us to become better managers, parents, negotiators—almost any other role in which we as… professionals may find ourselves.”

If our words shape our experience, then choosing words that describe a more desirable experience can be a helpful start. 

Like, I might say, “This client is impossible to work with. They are demanding, they don’t listen, and their expectations are out of control.” And this may be true. But I might also say, “This client is challenging. They have high expectations and they keep me on my toes. My job at the moment is to communicate very clearly what I can deliver on what timeline, and to set and hold the boundaries I need.”

Same reality, different language.

If you’re a cynic like me, this may feel squishy or goofy. And yeah, sometimes I laugh—lovingly—at myself as it feels like I’m trying to run an emotional ad campaign on myself.

But also. It works. When I’m able to direct my attention toward the opportunity and where I have some sense of control—rather than just focusing on what’s awful—it moves me into a more constructive zone. 

So what stories have you been telling yourself that need a bit of reframing?

Maybe it’s been a season of “after layoffs and budget cuts I’m working to the bone to get the absolute minimum done and I’m totally fried. This isn’t working for me.”

And that may be true. And it may be time to take action. But in the meantime, to offer yourself a little breathing room, could you try shifting to, “It’s been challenging with fewer people and resources, but my opportunity is to prioritize and focus. And maybe suggest a thing or two we need to postpone or let go of.”

You haven’t changed any facts—just the way you’re framing them up for your brain.

Surround yourself with a rockstar network

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”

This applies virtually and in person. And, for me, it also applies not just to those you’re talking to, but also to those whose voices you allow in your ears. What podcasts are you listening to? What news programs? Who are you following on social? All of these voices contribute to how you show up.

Some circumstances are out of your control. But what do you control? Your attention. And which perspectives you invite to command it.

So if this season is weighing heavy on you, can you seek out some experts, colleagues, or friends with a brighter or more optimistic point of view to grab the mic?

Even just feeling a little more inspired can help us be a smidge more productive each day.

Focus on your locus.

Your locus of control, that is.

Because even when things feel dark and hopeless there is simply always something you can control. So pay attention to that.

You can read something interesting or innovative. You can phone a friend, take a walk, smooch the dog.

Taking these small steps reminds us—and our brains—that there is always something positive we can be doing. And taking one action can remind us to take another.

Start small.

What is one thing you can do right now to heighten your sense of control? Send off that customer email? Pitch your product idea? Take a class or watch a talk or even apply for that open role?

Remind yourself you have some control. Then take an action to prove yourself right.

Do something good. For someone else.

If you’re struggling to take action for yourself, then consider doing an act of kindness or generosity for someone else.

Small actions can make big ripples. Thank someone for a job well done. Offer to coach someone or take something off their plate, or listen while they vent. Reach out to the friend that was laid off. Or check in on a family member who’s been under the weather.

When we find ways to be of service to someone else, a few important things happen.

o   We remember how important we are to someone.

o   We see our ability to cause good outcomes.

o   We feel less alone in our feelings of challenge or sadness.

o   We get a dopamine hit for having done something good—which often makes us want to do it again.

Seek out surprises

When we’re feeling grey, we see the world through grey-colored lenses. 

So look around for just one rose-colored reality.

Maybe you feel like everyone is just heads down and totally disconnected these days. And it’s bumming you out. But in just one meeting, one colleague shares something fun they did last weekend. If you’re not on the lookout, you may miss this small attempt at connection. But if you’re watching for it—you’ll spot it. And you can dial it up.

Jump on that train and offer up something fun you did last weekend. And ask someone else on the team to share next. 

Find these small moments that—if we spot them—can turn into fits of brightness. And don’t let them slip away. 

The more often you’re able to prove your negative mindset wrong, the more comfortable you’ll find yourself in starting to let it go.  

Remember. A negative mindset dampens motivation, enthusiasm, and a willingness to give something a try. The more we can keep it at bay, the better we’ll feel and the more productive and successful we’ll be.

Join me next week for another great episode. Until then, visit my website at if your organization is looking to dial up its Employee Experience or deliver some leadership development that activates change. You can follow Modern Mentor on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Find and follow me on LinkedIn. Thanks so much for listening and have a successful week.