Working with my clients, I find most to be pretty positive and upbeat already. Yet when I tell them we need to improve their positive to negative ratio, most agree without hesitation. Everybody seems to want to enjoy more positive moments.
However, a few are skeptical at first. They don’t want to take away the power that negative news wields as a motivator. Nor do they want to come across as naïve. I tell them not to worry. As long as they remain sincere, their true nature will come across. And they can actually improve their managerial skills while experiencing more positivity.
Psychologist John Gottman, PhD, an expert on marital relationships, found similar data for successful marriages. In flourishing marriages, positivity ratios were about 5:1. Similarly, research by clinical psychologist Robert Schwartz, PhD, cites an optimal positivity ratio of 4:1.
Most people (more than 80 percent), when reporting their experiences over the course of a day, report about a 2:1 positivity/negativity ratio.
For a small percentage, however, the ratio will be over 3:1. This correlates with high performance, life satisfaction and other measures of flourishing.
Improve Your Ratio
You can take a self-evaluation of your positivity/negativity ratio at Dr. Fredrickson’s site, www.positivityratio.com. To improve your ratio, you must decrease the number and intensity of negative moments, increase the positive moments, or both.
The goal is not to eliminate bad thoughts. Negative emotions are appropriate and useful. Properly used, negativity keeps us grounded, real and honest. It provides energy at crucial moments.
We need to become aware, however, of gratuitous negativity. For example, if you work with someone who’s annoying, you probably plug into negativity with each encounter. This is an entrenched emotional habit—and while it may be justified, it’s detrimental to your success and well-being.
Fortunately, simple awareness of negativity has a curative effect. Once you learn to spot it, you can defuse it. This is similar to the practice of mindfulness meditation, where you observe your thoughts without judgment.
To reduce negative thinking, adopt these useful techniques from the field of cognitive behavioral psychology and Dr. Fredrickson’s book:
- Dispute negative, black-and-white thinking habits (always/never, most/least, internal/external).
- Break ruminative thinking (use distractions to change mood).
- Become more mindful (observe without judgment).
- Reduce bad news streams.
- Avoid gossip and sarcasm.
- Smile more often at people.
Raise Your Positivity
Scientists are experimenting to discover new ways to boost positivity. Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, we can rewire it to create new thought habits and become more positive.
Like any new activity, this requires practice. It may take a while for positive thinking to become natural and habitual. Try these three frequently cited exercises to create positive thinking habits:
- Practice gratitude. Keep a daily gratitude list. Ask yourself questions like “What went right?” and “What was the best part of today?”
- Practice positive feedback. Catch people doing things right. As you practice this skill and express your appreciation more often, people will shine. You’ll also become more aware of what works.
- Envision your best possible future. When you daydream about your future, you set yourself up for goal-directed behaviors. Having a vision for the future is reassuring when the going gets tough. Envisioning your best possible future helps you persevere and provides hope and energy.
Unfortunately, few leaders pay attention to positivity in the workplace. Positivity training programs don’t seem serious enough for business allocations, and some leaders may think they’re already pretty positive.
Indeed, most people score about a 2:1 positivity/negativity ratio. While it’s rare to find people who enjoy a 3:1 ratio, remember that it’s the true tipping point between average and flourishing.
I find that the executives who recognize the value in applying positivity to their leadership styles are those who make good use of their executive coaching sessions. They seem to want to improve their leadership results and are willing to try new ways of thinking.
I welcome your comments on this important topic.