When Barbara Fredrickson published her ground breaking research into positive thinking, it had the effect of turning a previously fluffy and easily dismissed topic into something else.
Positivity becomes edgy
Suddenly, positive thinking was equated with mind expansion and the possibility of seeing options where previously they were closed off. It was about enhancing and developing skill sets.
It’s what Fredrickson refers to as, ‘broaden and build’. Positive emotions, she argued, broadens our perception of what’s possible in ways that negative thinking never can. What results is the acquisition of skills and resources that provide value and lead to success.
Taking advantage of broaden and build
So, the first step in taking advantage of broaden and build is simply to increase the things that provide enjoyment.
This flips on the head the notion of ‘no pain, no gain.’
We’re far too used to thinking that forward motion is impossible without huge effort, candle-burning, and personal sacrifice.
Okay, you’ll struggle to get your qualifications without some level of personal commitment, but the central message here is that fun-free, single-minded focus doesn’t necessarily lead to success.
Step one, therefore, is to remind yourself of the things that give you pleasure, happiness and contentment. Maybe you should dust off that guitar you used to pluck? Is that a sketch pad languishing in the bottom of your drawer? Those garden boxes you love tending could maybe be added to. You get the picture.
I’ll be happy once . . .
Let’s face it, we’re conditioned into accepting the idea that happiness is a bonus of success. In other words, if we strive hard and become successful, then we’re entitled to happiness because we’ve earned it.
Well, that’s one model, but it’s also got more holes in it than a slab of emmental cheese. At exactly what point does success begin? Is it goal driven as in, when I make my first million only then will I be happy? Does happiness just switch on when some random goal is achieved?
Well, for one thing we’ve known for a long while that happiness doesn’t correlate with cash. Sure, if we live in abject poverty, we need enough to get us out of that state of affairs so that we can live a half decent life and feel safe.
But beyond this, the effects of money start to taper off. You don’t need to look far to see the number of celebs who are cash rich but impoverished in so many other aspects of their lives.
Happiness actually precedes success as much as it results from it.
Happy people are much more fluid and creative with their thinking. This alone opens up avenues and experiences that can lead to success. And if things don’t work out, that’s just the way it is.
Behaviour doesn’t change without feedback and feedback comes in various forms, some pleasant, some less so. But we learn from these experiences and we develop as a result.
Develop an upward spiral
We’ve all heard of downward spirals. They typically involve drugs, alcohol, mood, or all three and more besides. Fewer of us may be aware of the upward spiral, its benefits and how to go about developing it.
The upward spiral refers to ways in which researchers have discovered scientifically proven ways to increase positive thinking and emotions. In this article, a few of the exercises are described. If you want to climb on board, you’ll need to offer up some level of commitment. If you adopt a suck-it-and-see approach, you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a quick fix, it’s deeper and richer than that, and you have to give yourself to it.
You’ll probably find some suit you more than others.
Grab a notebook. At the end of the day write down three things, big or small, that went well for you, but try to articulate why they went well.
It sounds almost too simple, but journaling has been shown to relieve the symptoms of depression over a timeframe of three months. We’re not hardwired towards positive thinking (but we are with negative thinking) so anything that helps us reflect upon and connect with our inner selves in a more positive way is to be applauded.
You’ve heard of mindfulness. This ancient form of Buddhist meditation has gained traction in our modern lives. The science behind the effectiveness of mindfulness is still relatively young and the results somewhat varied. There is evidence that regular practice has a number of health advantages.
We’re all too familiar with beating ourselves up over real or perceived mistakes but the idea of self-compassion is maybe just a bit weird and self-indulgent.
But – various lines of evidence point to the fact that it’s good for us. Barbara Fredrickson refers to the importance of using ‘micro-moments’ of love which helps boost health, vitality and wellbeing. Kristen Neff, studies self-compassion as a way we should support ourselves and cut ourselves a break when we make mistakes. The overall effect, she claims, is to boost positive emotions and allow a little more kindness towards others.
Otherwise known as reframing. The way we interpret events around us influences the way we cope with them. Reframing is about examining and changing perspectives on negative events. We can do this by identifying the emotions we experience and the thinking traps that prevent us from seeing alternatives. Then, by putting our negative thinking in perspective it becomes much easier to turn things around and take positive action.
If there’s one thing we’re all used to it’s scheduling. We set alarms, we keep diaries, we put things on calendars, and we plan ahead. But check your schedule. Does it include fun? If it does, that’s great. If not, why not?
Give yourself the time, the space and the permission to have some regular ‘me time’. None of us can gain from this information unless we’re prepared to take the message on board.
In a nutshell
Neurons that fire together, wire together. If our brain only has the experience of worry, anxiety and stress it provides more and more resource in that direction. Free things up, and our brains respond accordingly. The resources given over to limited activities suddenly have greater freedom and scope for expansion. The rest follows naturally.