Go on, leave a negative comment
"Unlike negative thoughts, which narrow how we think and feel, positivity broadens and builds the resources available to us."
One of the things that has really caught my attention since I started writing this blog is the type of comments that are posted online.
Logically, I understand that is what blogs are for, to get people thinking and to start a conversation. And I'm the first to acknowledge that when you put yourself out there in the public domain you open yourself up to some 'honest feedback'. That goes with the job. But being an eternal optimist it really did open up my eyes to how many haters, cynics, and just plain old angry and pessimistic people exist out there.
The recent stories about Robbie Farah and Charlotte Dawson (and their swag of Twitter trolls) and the cyber bullying themes portrayed on popular TV shows such as Aaron Sorkin's latest sitcom The Newsroom, just highlight this trend.
So I thought it might be time for a small dose of positive psychology. No, not the 'happy clappy', 'if you think you can - you can', 'you need a check-up from the neck up' type of Teflon-coated crap. Just the science, a few practical suggestions and a 48-hour challenge for you.
Are you drowning in a sea of negativity?
Why is it that when we get really positive feedback in a performance review we still focus on the tiny amount of constructive feedback given? Or when we submit a proposal and a few changes are requested, we focus on what went wrong, not what went right? Or why is it when your kids come home from school and proudly tell you they achieved 18 out of 20 in their spelling bee, you automatically want to know what they got wrong?
Now, if you are a parent and this struck a chord with you, don't worry. You're not a bad parent. It's just that it really is easy to focus on what we get wrong or on the bad things that happen to us in life. Psychologist Roy Baumeister summed it up beautifully when he simply stated that "bad is stronger than good".
I teach flexible thinking skills and positive psychology on a daily basis, so of course when I receive negative comments I skip past them and just focus on the positive remarks, right? Wrong.
When I first started keynote speaking, I'd read all of the reviews and get stuck on the small percentage of people who "didn't like my approach, my shirt, my jokes, my style, my confidence, my stories, my clothes, my etc". Nowadays when I review feedback, I sometimes have a little smile to myself and remember even though I teach that humans have a negativity bias, it is difficult to move away from the bad and to focus on the good.
We all have the potential to be the type of person that focuses on the negative. We can choose to see only the bad things and always find something wrong with any situation or experience.
Although there is a time and a place for critical thinking and constructive feedback – both of which are essential to ensure individuals, teams and organisations keep evolving and improving - too much negativity is definitely bad for us.
So, what type of person are you? Do you radiate positivity, the type of person that lights up a room when you walk into it? Or, are you the type of wet blanket that smothers everyone around you in a sea of negativity and lights up the room as soon as you walk out?
The positivity ratio
Leading psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has spent the majority of her career researching the differences between positive and negative emotions. Fredrickson has concluded in order to live a satisfied, happy and flourishing life we need to experience three or more positive emotions to every negative emotion. This is because positive emotions don't just help us feel good, they do us a world of good.
Positive emotions help us develop problem-solving skills and support us to seek out and work towards achieving new goals. Positive emotions improve the quality of our relationships and they develop resilience and optimism. Positive emotions improve the quality of our life because people who experience higher levels of positivity get sick less often and actually live longer.
And let's be clear, positive thinking is not about being unrealistically optimistic. Positivity is choosing to see and focus on the whole range of positive emotions available to us. Positivity involves having a realistic and optimistic attitude that triggers more positive emotions and leads to a chain reaction of powerful feelings, actions and behaviours.
Unlike negative thoughts, which narrow how we think and feel, positivity broadens and builds the resources available to us. Positivity improves our ability to cope with situations at hand, and according to the science, create success in life.
Think of someone you know who displays a lot more positive emotions than negative ones. I bet they're a joy to be around. A good friend of mine, Paddy, is one of the most positive people you could ever meet. In all of the years I've known and worked with Paddy I've never heard anyone mention a bad word about him. He just looks at life through a different lens compared to many people, and I always walk away after seeing him feeling energised.
The 48-hour positive thinking challenge
For the next 48-hours I challenge you to build your positive emotion ratio. Your challenge is to only make positive or constructive comments for two-days. Yep, that's right. Two. Whole. Days.
Find something positive to say about the meetings you attend, the colleagues and managers you interact with and even try to say positive things about the articles you read in Executive Style (ha!).
Make an effort to focus on the good things in your life rather than the bad. Be gracious for what you do have rather than getting tied down by what you don't have. Take some time out and participate in an activity that you love doing. Give family members, friends and colleagues compliments.
You might be surprised at just how hard this can be. If you still can't think of anything, call a friend you know who has a positive outlook on life. And if you're still stuck, let me know and I'll put you in contact with Paddy.
What do you do to build you positivity ratio? And for those haters, cynics, pessimists and angry types ... Go on, leave a nasty comment. I dare you!