Positive thinking. These words are actually a little bit foreign to me. Whether it is my British background, my inner scientist or I am just a real Grinch, optimism is not my normal state. What about yourself, are you a positive thinker? There are available a whole raft of online tests to analyse your position, including those of Pennsylvania University.
Depending on whom you ask, optimism as a state of being is associated with longevity, better mental processing and physiological health, as well as increased success in the workplace. Importantly, findings suggest that optimists have stronger coping strategies and are more likely to have better outcomes when faced with adversity or stress. Optimists are more likely than pessimists to achieve their goals.
So perhaps we should all be looking inwards, identifying areas for change within ourselves and practicing positive thoughts. After all, who wouldn’t want to lessen the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease or be better thought of by our peers and work colleagues?
Dr. Martin Seligman, a well-known psychologist in the field of positive thinking cautions against assuming that this is a pseudoscience and belongs in the realms of highly marketable self-help books. It is a Science with real aims and factual real and continuing studies attached to it. In fact should you wish to attend the inaugural conference headlined by Dr. Seligman amongst other notable psychologists, it will be held in Texas this July.
The field of positive psychology aims are that psychology should be:-
• As concerned with strengths as with weaknesses
• As concerned with building strength as repairing weaknesses
• As concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling and nurturing high talent as with healing
Dr. Martin believes that you can permanently change a pessimistic outlook into a positive one through the practice of looking differently at how you view and interpret events around you. He classifies three different groups of happy people.
1. The Pleasant Life
Happy people look like this: they have a wide social circle and are in a romantic relationship (that’s the glossy version). What makes them happy people, is positive emotions. This kind of happiness can suffer from overexposure and is somewhat thrill seeking when we cease to be satisfied by the ordinary.
2. The Good Life
You can be extremely happy and not be in a relationship however. If you have experienced ‘flow’ during work it is when you have been perfectly challenged by a task, it’s intrinsically rewarding and you feel an intense sense of accomplishment. Ideally we should gravitate towards projects where we can express our key strengths and experience this sense of flow, where time flies and we don’t feel anything. If at work we are unsatisfied in a mundane job we can recraft it to include a key strength where we can flow more, we just need to be creative. These are happy people Mark 2.
3. The Meaningful Life
The third group of happy people know their strengths and use them in the meaningful service of something larger than themselves, e.g. charitable good deeds.
Are we therefore able to intervene in each of these happy lives and deepen the positivity? One quick example is how to intervene in Happy Life 1 by learning to be more mindful of the present moment and how we gain pleasure from events and situations, whether it is better to be philanthropic or lead a life of hedonistic fun. To begin to explore and use our strengths and recognise them in others.
We do live in unsettled times with uncertain futures and economies so we have to be adaptable and be able to rebound from setbacks. We need to be able to flourish in all aspects of our life, developing positive relationships, deeper meaning to our lives and being better engaged in the workplace. If we apply the tenants of positive thinking to business and build on our individual strengths and focus attention on well-being, what might be possible? ‘Learned Optimism’ is a path to sustained well-being and can benefit all areas of your life, not just your work environment.
When you know a bit more about the Science of Positive Thinking, you can start moving towards using some rational thinking exercises and mind tools as well as identifying your negative triggers. I have discovered I just might be happy after all, just not in the conventional sense.
ISM’s John Hill will be running a ‘Power of Positive Thinking’ Workshop during our Summer Short Courses week from June 26th to June 30th, Dubai. Get in touch if you would like to know more. Pessimists are encouraged to apply.