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Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

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"Unlike negative thoughts, which narrow how we think and feel, positivity broadens and builds the resources available to us."

"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!


49 comments so far

  • Totally agree with this topic, ‘you reap what you sow’ is the oldest cliché that comes to mind.

    It is frustrating that on most occasions when things are going great, not much effort in appreciation, or acknowledgement of these times occur. But as soon as things look like they aren't going so well, the guns come out & are firing in all directions. Look at the current rate that the mining industry is cutting back their jobs for example? Not 3-4 months ago they were all huff & puff about how good their yearly earnings were, & now it looks like things are going to come back down to earth, they are getting rid of their greatest assets, their employee's.

    This happens far too often & to use another old cliché, ‘they can't see the forest from the trees’. Doom & gloom is unfortunately an easy train to ride, it’s a lot harder to be optimistic. I for one hope that this topic at least makes some people realise what their own emotional effect has not only themselves, but those around them.

    +1 for always looking on the bright side of life xD

    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 11:22AM
    • I made a similar pact with a friend when we both went through a rough period. We would think of one good thing about our lives before leaping out of bed. If we needed support, we'd message the other saying "today I am grateful for..."
      It does work. Life is too short to keep being miserable and dragging down others around you.
      Ps. Today I am grateful I have great health, a job that challenges me, the sun is shining and I am going for a tasty lunch with a friend.

      Port Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 11:41AM
      • totally agree with this article :)

        Date and time
        October 09, 2012, 11:50AM
        • Great article. I think the world could use more positivety right now.

          From my personal perspective, a positive/optimistic attitude has helped me immensely in life. In fact, I don't know if I would be alive, or have a good life, without that positive outlook.

          I have had a lot of challenges and struggles in my life (poverty, disability, multiple family deaths, to name just a few) so far that could easily have resulted in me going down a very different path, had I decided to let myself be overcome by anger, saddness, grief, frustration etc.

          Life has definitely had ups and downs, I've suffered depression and felt all the spectrum of emotions. And maybe it's just that it really comes down to something simple but true for me: If I didn't laugh, I'd cry. If I sat and thought and felt too deeply the loss and pains through the years, they would maybe have crippled me.

          Instead, I have always done my best to plough on, be thankful to be alive and to be living, to see the bright side as much as possible.

          Living my life as positively as I can has served me well.

          Date and time
          October 09, 2012, 12:43PM
          • I cannot recall where I found this idea (read it/heard it ?) ... but If you ask someone to write down six things they like about themselves (positive thoughts) and six things they don't like (negative thoughts) ... they'll rattle of the 'don't likes' in a heartbeat. I've done the exercise myself and also struggled to find six 'likes'.

            Long story short ... my 10 year old has anxiety issues and worries that he's not good enough for life full stop. He is dearly loved, encouraged, challenged and on a few occasions reminded firmly that being negative is unhealthy for his head and his heart.

            We've found a novel way to 'distract' him when a negative comment slips out. His dad, his older bro (14yrs) or I will ask ... 'are you SURE that's what you REALLY mean to say?' ... then put our hands up with the 'pointing' fingers at the ready.

            At that moment in time he knows he has only seconds to back-track on what he's just said ... or run like the wind. If he doesn't run ... he gets a pit-tickle, or an extended pit-tickle if he doesn't come up with something positive. Usually he laughs, says he was 'just kidding' and runs like a mad thing to get away from us. For whatever reason ... he's far more positive than he's ever been.

            I'm not suggesting we run around threatening to pit-tickle the negative people of the world ... however for those with kids who lean more towards negativity ... give it a try and see what happens :o)

            Six Things
            Date and time
            October 09, 2012, 12:44PM
            • I reckon a solid beating would work better than a tickle. He'll never say anything negative again if you give him a whopping every time he spouts one off!

              Date and time
              October 09, 2012, 2:04PM
            • @ Bob .... thanks for the 'advice' but I'll stick with the pit-tickling. It's far more effective.

              Six Things
              Date and time
              October 09, 2012, 3:30PM
          • Where does sarcasm fit in this grand scheme of karma? It's one of my specialties.

            Date and time
            October 09, 2012, 12:58PM
            • +1

              Date and time
              October 09, 2012, 1:35PM
            • + 2

              Date and time
              October 09, 2012, 2:13PM

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