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  • Josh Vaisman

Want More Well-being? Be Like Eminem

I love the movie 8 Mile. If you haven’t seen it the plot goes something like this. Young, white kid from a predominantly black part of Detroit aspires to be a big-time rapper. His mom is an angry alcoholic, dad isn’t in the picture, and the local small-time rappers keep running him off the stage at the local “Rap Battles” by poking fun of him in biting ways that strike at his ego. But he keeps at, writes his rhymes day and night, and one night in a epic string of monumental raps, he crushes the Battle and walks off into the sunset. That scene gives me goosebumps every time.

You know, this movie sounds a lot like Eminem’s actual life. How ironic given the movie’s protagonist is played by none other than Eminem.

It’s not the movie I’m here to tell about as much as the tactic Eminem’s character used to win the day. What was his tactic? Acceptance.

As researchers recently said in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “When people accept (versus judge) their mental experience, those experiences run their natural…course, rather than being exacerbated.” More often than not, the natural course for negative emotions is short-lived.

When people accept (versus judge) their mental experience, those experiences run their natural…course, rather than being exacerbated.

Furthermore, those of us who can actively recognize and accept negative feelings are less likely to ruminate and enjoy a decreased propensity for experiencing “meta-emotional reactions.” You might be asking, “Josh, what in the world is a meta-emotional reaction?” It’s like what Mark Manson calls a Feeback Loop From Hell. Ever get mad at yourself for getting mad at yourself? Ever follow that up by getting mad about getting mad at yourself for getting mad at yourself? That’s a meta-emotional reaction. It could also be a scratch on your CD. Remember those??

Here’s the thing – in today’s society we are obsessed with positivity. We think the only “good life” is a life of always feeling good. This extends to the workplace in unhealthy ways. Research shows there’s a magical ratio of positive to negative experiences that drive work team performance. But here’s the interesting thing – the same research shows there is a ceiling to the ratio. Workplaces in which the ratio gets above about 12-to-1 (positive to negative experiences) see a significant reduction in team performance. Why? Because all positivity, all the time feels fake and oppressive. People begin to feel bad about feeling bad…..yup, the Feedback Loop From Hell. Besides, we actually need negative emotions - but that's a whole other blog post.

Workplaces in which the [positivity] ratio gets above about 12-to-1 (positive to negative experiences) see a significant reduction in team performance.

So how can we learn to better accept our negative experiences? I’ll offer two ways:

  1. Name Them: There’s power to noticing and naming our emotional experiences. It’s so simple and yet few of us do it and even fewer do it regularly. Simply saying out loud, “I’m feeling flustered” lets us take ownership of the emotion. This ownership actually softens the feeling and allows it to run its course. Encourage your employees to do this as well. You’ll be amazed at the natural empathy and desire to help that comes from team members hearing their co-workers name their emotional experience at work out loud. 9 times out of 10, when a technician stops and says, “I’m feeling flustered,” during a hectic day in the treatment room, the other techs around her will leap to her assistance. Here’s an extensive list of feelings to help you and your team expand your naming menu.

  2. Ask What Instead of Why: In her groundbreaking research on self-awareness Tasha Eurich uncovered some important revelations. One such revelation, which she discusses in her TED Talk, is that we often do introspection the wrong way. We tend to ask “why” questions such as, “Why do I feel so annoyed right now?” What we need to do is ask “what” questions such as, “What are the situations that make me feel so annoyed and what do they have in common?” You can coach your team on this tactic as well. The next time they say, “why is it always so insane on Friday afternoons,” ask them in return, “what about Friday afternoons feels so much crazier than other days? What’s different?”

So, there he was on stage, the whole room expecting him to fail, staring into the eyes of his rap opponent who clearly KNEW he had him beat, and what did he do? He named all the things they judged him for – he OWNED them. And then, in 2-minutes of cinematic power, he didn’t ask, “why are you treating me this way?” Instead he said, “here I am, this is all of me. What are you gonna do about it?”

Boom. Mic drop. I think I need to watch 8 Mile again.

What will you do accept the inevitable negatives in your personal and work life?

- written by Josh Vaisman