Have you heard of neutral thinking? If you’re here, it’s likely—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to discover. If you’re new to the concept, welcome! Get ready to change your life.
Neutral Thinking is one of the core mindset concepts that started Limitless Minds, and four years later we’re still all about it. Today, I want to dig into what it means and how it can be applied to any situation, at any time.
Ready to shift into neutral? Let’s go.
What Is Neutral Thinking?
If asked to define the word “neutral”, what would you say? It’s not positive. It’s not negative. It’s a middle ground, impartial and unbiased. Instead of encouraging purely positive thoughts, neutral thinking is a judgment-free, high-performance strategy that places just as much emphasis on how you behave as how you think.
In coaching sessions, we often define neutral thinking as a truth- and behavior-based method of thinking that focuses on the objective facts, without judging or grading. Utilizing neutral thinking allows each moment to have a history of its own, emphasizing the process instead of the past (then) or future (when).
“The actual truth is not negative or positive when you remove judgment from it. It simply is. Neutral is the harmony between two extremes, negative and positive,” wrote Limitless Minds’ late co-founder and world-renowned mindset trainer, Trevor Moawad, who coined the term in his book It Takes What It Takes. “Neutral thinkers remain aware of the situation as it changes from moment to moment. We give ourselves the opportunity to learn from every situation, even if the outcome is not optimal at that specific time. The next behavior remains consistently in our control.”
When you find yourself in a challenging situation, neutral thinking invites you to reframe your thought process. In these moments, asking yourself “What does this situation require of me?” sets you up for a neutral answer, thus allowing you to take your next step.
Neutral Thinking and Emotions
Someone who’s thinking in neutral terms removes judgements, opinions, and biases from their vocabulary when they’re in a high-pressure situation, assessing what’s needed of them before they jump into react-mode. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that neutral thinking does not require you to be a robot and shove your emotions aside completely. Instead, it’s about not allowing an initial reaction, impulse, or intense heat to result in a decision.
In fact, accepting your emotions is integral to reaching higher levels of fulfillment. Treating your feelings as only a distraction, or avoiding all negative emotions and pretending you’re happy when you’re not, will have its own negative consequences. The trick is to extract the lesson from the emotion. Downshift to a more neutral space and use the lesson to help you take the next right step toward what matters to you.
In his book Getting to Neutral, Trevor offered some beautiful insight into the subject:
“When I tell you to think neutrally instead of positively, your natural response might be “But I don’t want to be a robot.” And I get it. We associate positivity and negativity with emotion. We associate neutral with simply being blank,” he wrote. “Some have asked what the difference is between neutral thinking and nihilism. Nihilism is essentially a rejection of every belief system. It’s a combination of pessimism and skepticism so extreme that its adopters tend to believe that life is meaningless. That is the exact opposite of what I want you to get from neutral thinking. I want you to use it to help create a vibrant, meaningful life.”
Ultimately, taking that next step remains the most important part of living neutrally. We can’t let anything—not success, not failure, not fear—keep us from it. In that, we have to accept emotions as part of the deal and, as psychologist Dr. Susan David wisely says, use them “as data, not directives” to inform our goals.
Applying Neutral Thinking, Day-By-Day
Once grasped, neutral thinking can be applied to any situation at any time. Here are some specific application areas that clients frequently ask my team about, so you can glean a better understanding of how to tackle your own situation(s).
Neutral Thinking For Ourselves
Whenever you find yourself in a high-pressure situation (or really any circumstance that requires you to act!), pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself…
“What behavior does this situation require of me right here, right now?”
Then, act it out. It’s simple, but not easy—like most worthwhile endeavors.
Neutral Thinking For Teams
One of the best ways teams can utilize neutral thinking is by getting together to generate Neutral Reset phrases. What phrase can you agree upon as a group to use when things get challenging and high-pressure, to help remind yourselves to shift to neutral and take the next right step together?
Individual team members can choose their own phrase and share with the larger team; there can be more than one! The goal is to agree upon shared language to help discuss challenges that arise in the most productive way possible.
An example? Try “Let’s look at the facts. What are the options for what we can do right now?” versus “This is a disaster! We’ll never finish.” (Feel the difference?) More of an acronym person? Try “WIN: What’s Important Now?”
Neutral Thinking For Leaders
Like it or not, your attitude (and words) are contagious. A Gallup study found that 70% of a team’s engagement is influenced by managers. How do you want your team to feel when you enter a room or conversation?
Model courage by being honest in an evaluation of your own performance, thereby demonstrating vulnerability and willingness to be accountable to your own improvement for your team. Through this, you’ll encourage everyone else to do the same.
Take a cue from Limitless Minds coach Travis Thomas and ask each of your team members or direct reports, “What’s something I do that makes your job harder?” Commit to working on that and follow-up with them on how your improvements are going.
Neutral Thinking For Kids and Families
Remember: neutrality is more about behaviors than results. A great tip to help the kids in your life establish neutral mindset fundamentals is to highlight their behaviors or “catch them winning.” If your 4-year-old draws a picture for you, praise the behavior and effort behind the result (“Wow. I love how you took your time drawing. I’m so proud of your hard work!”) instead of only complimenting the result (“What a gorgeous picture!”). They’ll notice and feel supported the next time they decide to pick up a crayon.
In a survey by famed psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck (well-known for her research on growth mindset), 85% of parents agreed that praising their children’s ability when they performed well was key to making them feel intelligent. However, Dweck’s research shows otherwise; even positive labels can have a negative impact.
“Pay attention to the goals you set for your children. Having innate talent is not a goal, but expanding skills and knowledge is,” wrote Dweck in her book Mindset.
Neutral Thinking For Relationships
Neutral lives in the present. A 2018 study on the association between mindfulness and romantic relationship satisfaction found that accepting your partner’s imperfections (based on facts instead of judgements) may be a key factor through which mindfulness promotes relationship satisfaction.
Are you bringing too many distractions into time with your loved ones, and in doing so, are you unable to be in the moment with them? What’s one distraction you can remove to allow yourself to be more PRESENT in your most important relationships? Think of a specific example and share it with your partner, then commit to working on it.
How can you practice neutral today? Download the Club Limitless app and tune into our Limitless Live sessions Mondays through Fridays at 12:30 EST for a daily dose of free, neutral-thinking-focused coaching.