[6 min read - You can also listen to my podcast about this, here.]
In the my previous article we discussed how an organisation should respond to people who don’t embrace a culture of Zest, who become dissident. However I have yet to discuss in any detail the enormous upsides of living with Zest and the behaviours and mindset for this fantastic high performance way of being. Over the next three blogs I shall focus on precisely this, starting with Positivity.
Positivity being one of the three major areas of Zest along with Resilience and Confidence.
Positivity and Optimism
When we’re thinking about how to check ourselves for our own levels of Zest there are three aspects of happiness which get refracted beautifully in the idea of Positivity: Positivity itself, Optimism and Motivation. When we are working with people to improve their happiness, we often ask people to undertake exercises to make sure that they have positive emotions in relation to three aspects of their lives: their past, their present and their future. So let’s discuss Positivity using this idea to deepen our understanding of what genuine Positivity really means and how we can make small changes for lasting improvement.
Positivity in the Past
I think for a lot of people Positivity about the past is the most challenging to bring about. Because what it means is that we need to see the whole of our past in some kind of positive light. And by the time you’ve been on the planet for a few decades most people have got things about which it’s very challenging to feel upbeat! This can require a lot of effort, in terms of bringing about genuinely positive feelings about the past, and is the sort of thing that professional therapists get heavily involved in. For example, helping people deal with trauma. In part 2 of New Impetus, we use a couple of techniques to help us improve how we feel about things that have happened to us in the past. I’m thinking in particular about memory detox and techniques in relation to gratitude and forgiveness.
In Positive Psychology, Forgiveness is very much thought of as an internal act. So if you’re forgiving someone who’s made you unhappy in the past you’re doing that privately and secretly for yourself as a way of getting out from under the negative influence of all of the memories of what happened and what went wrong.
Finding a way of reframing things that have happened to you in the past makes a very important contribution to delivering genuine Positivity in the present.
The things that have happened to us in the past are continuously popping back into our mind and informing the way that we perceive current events. So if a person has had a lot of negative experiences and associated negative feelings, that negativity is constantly being brought into the present tense and changing how they experience what’s going on in their current life. A person who has a lot of negative stuff in their past finds it harder than somebody with a lot of positive stuff in their past to interpret current events in a positive light. Crucially, it is not the nature of the event itself which determines how we experience it, it is how we perceive the nature of that event that determines that. So finding ways of, if you like, tidying up our memories so that we can bring genuine Positivity forwards is a big part of making sure that our current efforts are given the best opportunity to succeed. Our future efforts to increase our own Positivity are only going to be supported, improved and strengthened by how we feel about our past life when we do this.
So start with the smaller things, next time you tell a story about your past, to yourself or others, ask yourself are you giving yourself the best opportunity to boost your Positivity in the present? I’m not saying make it up (!) I’m suggesting you look for the opportunities to focus on the most positive aspects. Get into good habits and start to reap the rewards.
Positivity in the Present.
Secondly, Positivity in the present. This I guess is the one that we are mostly familiar with. We know that a positive person is always going to be looking at the upside, at the seeds of opportunity and success amongst the shards of something that hasn’t worked out. A positive person not only projects Positivity in that way, they also consume Positivity. Because genuinely positive people are predisposed to seeing the positive in every situation. They are not in stasis, they are in this vibrant dynamic relationship with their environment whereby they are pushing out Positivity to other people and into situations whilst they are gathering Positivity from what’s going on around them.
Positive people simply notice more of the positives going on around them.
Their unconscious expectation is that the world is going to present them with a lot of positive. So, if you like, they are primed for opportunity. They will preferentially notice the positive stuff going on around them. They are that magical thing in our teams: solutions-oriented. All people notice the stuff that’s dangerous or really important. Positive people also notice the secondary or less critical positive stuff that people who are negative miss.
So, again start small. Question yourself in a situation. Notice how you’re experiencing your day to day life. Are you looking for the best in a situation? Are you giving yourself opportunities to feel positive about things as they happen? Start priming yourself for Positivity via your language choice, and observations. Try the “three good things” technique. Keep a notepad by your bed and spend 5 minutes writing down three good things that happen to you every day. After a while this will condition you to look for good things as they happen.
Positivity in the Future: Optimism
Being positive about the future, which is the third aspect, is an almost perfect definition of optimism. Optimism can be thought of as Positivity or happiness about the future. Optimism is nothing more, and nothing less, than expecting positive outcomes.
Language choice is again a small change that will have a marvellous impact on your optimism. When you think about the future events, always use positive terms. Get into the habit of choosing to think in terms of the opportunities that are coming your way. If you are blocked by a feeling of fear or nervous anticipation, it’s ok to acknowledge this but in positive terms, then talk/think your way through how you will overcome e.g. “yes, it will be very challenging to achieve that target by this date, but I know we can do it because we have time to prepare and the skills within the team to make it happen.” Again choosing to see future events in a positive light – reframing – will prime your brain to look for those opportunities to succeed.
One of the major benefits of being in a positive emotional state is that your level of motivation is at its highest. So one of the ways that highly positive people can be distinguished is by looking at their motivation. Very positive people have very high levels of motivation much more often than other people. This is one of the reasons that positive people achieve more of their own potential in life. There’s a myriad of studies which demonstrate that whether you’re talking about health or income or relationships or goal setting and achievement or a whole load of other things, one of the reasons that positive people do better is because their motivation is higher. That motivation then feeds into the persistence that they bring into the pursuit of their own goals. I am, of course, talking about resilience which is where I shall start off in my next blog.
So there you have a slightly expanded definition of Positivity against which we can, each of us, evaluate our own experience of our mindset and say, “well is there something about my Positivity about my past, about the present or about the future that I can further improve?” And if you identify something like that you will find you get massive returns, from the inputs approach. Simply changing the conditioning you allow into your brain to make sure it’s the stuff that will actually produce the outcomes you want.
When you’re thinking about Positivity, think about past, present and future. Think about Positivity itself. Think about Optimism and think about Motivation. If you find any areas there that you want to strengthen, you’ll get great rewards from doing so.
For some more techniques on how to build positivity see here.
For further information on Zest try: