Visitors to last week's Success Steps luncheon left with a bounce in their step and whispers of grins on their faces.
The session, led by Steamboat Springs newbie Christina Haxton, focused on helping small-business owners keep a positive attitude in a tough economy. The hour-and-a-half presentation seemed to work, at least in the immediate term.
"I thought it was terrific," Rich Lowe said afterward. "I think we're all, because of the economic environment we're in and the issues, it all affects us mentally, emotionally. ... It's great to get some tools on how I can respond and keep myself on a positive emotional keel."
Haxton runs speaking, coaching and training sessions, often relating issues to lessons learned from her horse. Thursday's equine-free talk was titled Sit Deep, Hold on and Keep your Eyes Up: How to Stay in the Saddle in Hard Times.
People frequently make the mistake of focusing on negative aspects of business or life, Haxton said. She compared that process to a bucking horse and then a car wreck.
"You look at what you don't want to hit," Haxton said. "And you aim for it, because the rest of your body goes that way."
Her goal was to help participants avoid a psychological recession. Nearly 20 people attended the lunch and lecture at Steamboat Smokehouse. Haxton defined psychological recession as "a depressed and anxious feeling that the present is no good and the future is even more catastrophic."
People have a tendency to fall into that mindset when they're surrounded by negative news, Haxton said.
"Even the word 'recession,' even the word 'crisis' ... the way our bodies automatically react; we start going into that well," she said.
Haxton aimed to teach the audience how to manage negative behaviors. It's all about changing feelings, she said, which can be tough.
"We are hard-wired to work harder to avoid pain than we are to seek pleasure," Haxton said.
Participants described their worries and concerns in small groups and then discussed what they like about living in Steamboat. Those characteristics included community, trust, beauty and recreation.
The trick, Haxton said, is to counter the negative impulses with those positive feelings.
"Gratitude is absolutely the key to happiness," Haxton said. She suggested that people show sincere gratitude to those who help them.
Staying positive also involves escaping ruts, Haxton said. She sought an example from Randy Rudasics, who runs the Small Business Resource Center and helped organize the lunch.
"When you experience worry, Randy, what's one small thing you could do to interrupt the worry?" Haxton asked.
"I have friends who send me jokes at the middle of the day from across the country. ... It always breaks up the mood," Rudasics said.
Those types of interruptions are key, Haxton said. When worry sets in at work, people should break the pattern physiologically, by moving around, or with language or self-talk, she said. The process isn't about denial; it's about switching from pain to pleasure.
"Every time you experience one of the good things, pause and figure out what just happened," Haxton recommended.
Business owner Judy Strnad was delighted at the end of the lunch, calling Haxton "refreshing" and "encouraging." Strnad said she appreciated the positive approach.
"You have the power to design life the way you want it to be," Strnad said. "You can choose to take in or not take in what's around you."