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Power of Productive Thinking

A mentor of mine used to say, “When was the last time you thought about how you think?” We used to pose this question to our learners at the beginning of every seminar, and many of them met that question with that deer-caught-in-the-headlights-look.  “Think about how I think?” “What does that even mean?”

It is no secret that our results come from what we do, and what we do is a result of our values, character, and beliefs. Connecting our actions to our beliefs encapsulates what it means to harness personal productivity. When purpose and outcome are linked, the opportunity to gain the Effective Edge at work increases, thus making it easier to “Take Back Your Life.”  Peak productivity requires understanding and living this principle. It means being willing to adopt an expansive mindset, open to innovative ideas and patterns of thinking. Let us explore how productive thinking shows up as a driver for productive actions leading to optimized results.

We regularly collaborate with Executives who express similar challenges, “…no time to answer emails…no one I trust to do the job besides myself…too many competing priorities-I can’t keep them all straight.”  With a lot of luck and a bit of finesse, we can uncover the root cause of these beliefs. However, this takes time and patience because actions and behavior are easier to see than feelings and emotions. As we unlock the limiting beliefs underpinning depreciative comments, we simultaneously create a path to positivity-a chance to rethink ideas and respond differently.

Last week, I read a story about a graduate student under a good amount of stress who came dangerously close to stealing a police car.  The night before, he decided to blow off some steam by playing a popular video game Grand Theft Auto until the wee hours of the morning. In retelling this story years later, he realized his brain was wired to a thinking pattern over the five hours of play: find a car to steal, engage in a high-speed chase, and reap the reward (i.e., get paid).  The next morning, he found himself replaying the game scenario in the real world before his rational brain had time to correct the misfire. He left his apartment looking for a car to steal. Upon seeing his reflection in the window of the police car, he at once walked away, shook it off, and reset himself to ‘normal’ status. True story. He (of course) had no desire to commit the crime that morning, and for that moment, his actions reflected the pattern he trained his brain to see.[1]

Productive Thinking

What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you look at your Outlook Email inbox?  If you are like me, it is, “Seriously? This is too much for a Monday morning”.   If this is what I think, what do I do? Do I ignore, hunt and peck for the junk mail I can delete, skip the annoying or insignificant information that is adding to my stress, snack on less important communications, or distract myself with something else?  All truly relevant and legitimate thoughts to be having, right?

What about that project you really do not want to do but it is burning a hole in the proverbial work pocket, and nothing is happening? You know it is there, but you are not doing anything about it.  Why? Perhaps some part of you THINKS it is less important than the other more fun things on your plate, so you might tell yourself not urgent, not important, and no one will notice if it never happens.  And this becomes a pattern that determines your reality. The next time you go to work on a project, you think:

Ignore now, do something else, and get back to it later.
Not urgent, not important, and no one will notice if it never happens.

And then it becomes true.

Unproductive thoughts or a “fixed mindset” impacts access to possibility and affect overall performance. Similarly, if you believe in your own ability to succeed (if your thoughts are productive), you will. Productive thinking is different from analyzing, deciding, innovating, and creating. Productive thinking is a shift in perspective to consider more creative or innovative approaches. One of my favorite quotes by Albert Einstein sums it up, “You cannot solve problems with the same thinking you used when you created them.”  How we think is as important as how we do. How about this instead:

Make decisions, act now, and create space for what matters!

If your team was adopting a pattern like this, how would your team be different?

Productive Action

I recently had a visit from my mother, who loves to travel and explore, but her partner is always working, preventing vacation flexibility. She feels guilty not including her partner on trips because she thinks “I should include them” and “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”  For about 3 years, she let go of trips to Scotland, Africa, the UK, Maine, and Colorado, waiting for the right opportunity and time to set off on an adventure. Her thoughts created her reality: no action, no trips, no exploration. She has since changed her thinking and established a new perspective. Now she sees her grandchildren and her children more often.

Productive thinking – productive action – productive results.

I am currently involved with a local government association that is seeking greater clarity, efficiency, and overall improvements to their communication and meeting culture. In speaking with their CEO, he expressed that organizational health is a top priority for them, and the well-being of his employees leads to better outcomes and better results. That shift in perspective led them to seek better communication and better meetings to support this vision. What many leaders view as impossible, this leader made it possible through productive thinking.

Productive Results

Work environments continue to accelerate. Can you feel it? To manage the present and encounter the future, we are exploring the concepts of collective wisdom and heart intelligence as pathways to success. How you think (more than ever) is vital to individual, team, and organizational performance. This is about taking control of your own life to further optimize your performance both professionally and personally, whether that be with your family or being available to do the things you love the most, or making time to do nothing at all.  Preparing for the future is less about guessing what will happen or what needs to be done, but taking the much-needed time to consider the thinking that will drive productive action, which translates to the long-term success of your organization.

So, where do our thoughts come from? Our thoughts, values, and belief systems come from our background, experience, education, and culture. Thoughts and emotions are intrinsically linked and if we are mindful of our thoughts, we may gain access to a deeper wisdom that already exists within us, and a deeper connection to our world and those around us.

Author – Joel Sutliff, InteraWorks Facilitation Lead

[1] Anchor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. 1st ed., Currency, 2010.

About InteraWorks

InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent and energy to produce results that matter most. 


We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.