Pretty much every job in the world has its bad moments...
Super Bowl-winning quarterback? By the end of the season your ribs, shoulders, knees, and arm are so sore you probably have trouble turning over in bed.
Brilliant inventor/entrepreneur? We heard Elon Musk on the radio, and he sounded like he was in physical pain having to do another media interview. The only time he perked up was when the host asked him an engineering question, which hinted at what he really loves to do.
Nobel Prize-winning scientist? You have to labor for 20 to 40 years before (maybe, please, maybe) the world takes notice. You have to beg for grants and rely on an endless stream of graduate students.
Normal professional? At various times, you will be underpaid and overworked. You may be forced to work for an idiot, or to promote someone you really, truly don’t like. You may feel caught in the middle, or under-appreciated.
But you can decide to be positive, no matter what happens
The most likable people generate their own energy. Their attitude does not depend on everything going well and everyone being so grateful for their good work.
They are just positive because they are positive.
We know all the reasons this is hard. We know what it’s like to be grumpy, discouraged, and frustrated.
Kim Cameron, Associate Dean of Executive Education at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, cites the power of the heliotropic effect. He writes:
This effect is defined as the tendency in all living systems toward that which gives life and away from that which depletes life—toward positive energy and away from negative energy. All living systems have an inclination toward the positive—for example, plants lean toward the light, people learn and remember positive information faster and better than negative information, positive words predominate over negative words in all languages, all life forms from bacteria to mammals possess an inclination toward positive energy—so strategies that capitalize on the positive similarly tend to produce life-giving, flourishing outcomes in individuals and organizations.
HINT: don’t fight a natural law.
Let’s consider the opposite of being positive. When you’re in a room filled with people and someone near you is whining, complaining, and generally criticizing or attacking others… what do you do?
Our bet is that you move away from him or her.
Yes, you are basically one super-smart, highly mobile plant.
A few words about positive thinking
Being ridiculously positive is a choice. It is a decision to change the world with your thoughts. Yes, your thoughts. To do this, you must think with coherent intention.
This means you must…
Think the same thing every day
Fully believe in your thoughts
Match your actions to your thoughts, and more importantly…
Conduct your life in a manner that is entirely congruent with your thoughts
Let's start with a simple, if somewhat dramatic, example. If you thought that a 100' high tidal wave was going to hit your city in the next hour, what would you do? Would you listen to the news and hang around in your home or office? Hell, no! You would gather your loved ones and race to higher ground, even if it meant driving the wrong way down the highway or leaving everything you own on the sidewalk.
Your thoughts can change the world IF one thing is true
Powerful thoughts change the world, once they reach a certain consistent intensity. The true test is whether your thoughts are powerful enough to change your own actions.
You've probably heard the story of Scott Harrison, an NYC club promoter who became the founder of the non-profit organization Charity: water. He had the thought to change the direction of his life and started applying to work at major non-profits. They all turned him down, because of his partying background.
Did he abandon his thought? No, he doubled down on it, kept working until someone said yes, and then expanded his vision once he realized just how great the need was for clean water.
"I was running around telling everybody I wanted to see a world where everybody drank clean water regardless of where they are born," says Harrison via CNBC. He didn't just allow his thought to reside in his head; he shared it with everyone who would listen, including some who weren't inclined to listen.
This is how your thought changes the world: when it is powerful enough that it takes you to northern Uganda and also compels you to sleep on floors while you raise money to help people you don't know.
But wishes that you make while waiting in line at Starbucks? They don't change the world. In most cases, you have forgotten them after a few days or a week.
To change the world, you need persistent and positive thoughts that are strong enough to change your own actions.
In other words, before your thoughts can change the world, they must change you.
Three positive suggestions
Henrik Edberg, author of The Positivity Blog, has a number of useful tips for how to stay positive, three of which we would like to share here:
1. In a negative situation, spread a positive point of view
Henrik asks himself questions such as, “What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation?” There’s always some way to come up with a good answer to this question, even if the answer is: I’m going to be so happy when this day is over.
For example, we have a strict rule on social media, and it is: always be positive.
There will always be things that you don’t like, opinions that—to you—seem factually wrong, and times when everything in your being calls on you to correct a mistake. Don’t do it on social media. Our world is already filled with too much negativity, and social media magnifies emotions.
Instead, post only when you can be positive. Don’t just present a problem; share a solution. Compliment initiative and innovation instead of criticizing laziness and stagnation. Be uplifting. Elevate others.
2. Cultivate a positive environment for yourself… and others
Your environment always wins. If you hang out with nasty and sullen people, you will become nasty and sullen.
So choose your team carefully. Surround yourself with positive people who are eager to tackle a challenge. They don’t have to agree with you, but they should be able to disagree in a constructive and empowering manner.
Hire for culture first, and competency second. If you do it the other way around, it will be nearly impossible to maintain a positive environment. Don’t allow a negative manager to drown the talent underneath him or her. Don’t allow the pressure to perform (i.e., “We gotta close more sales before the end of the quarter!) to cause you—or anyone else—to stop treating people with respect.
3. Be very slow to anger or criticize
Most anger is impatience in disguise. The faster you act, the more likely you are to lose your temper or do something rash.
It takes patience and willpower to remain positive, calm and coherent in the face of difficult challenges.
In Positive Psychology: An Introduction, Martin Seligman writes about the time he was weeding in the garden with his five-year-old daughter. He yelled at her because she was throwing weeds into the air and generally fooling around. She ran away and then came back. According to the article, here’s what happened next:
"Daddy, I want to talk to you."
"Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday?
"From the time I was three to the time I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. When I turned five, I decided not to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I've ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch."
At that moment, Seligman resolved to change.
At this moment, you can do the same.
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