Do YOU Wish You Were Better at Focusing on the Positive?

What You Think, You Become

“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

[Tweet “”A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.” #Gandhi”]

It’s Not Easy to Focus on the Positive

Do YOU Wish You Were Better at Focusing on the Positive?  You are not alone!  My clients are constantly telling me that, even though they know it is a good idea, focusing on the positive is hard to do.  When you think about it, the fact that we seem to hone in on any negative or perceived criticism makes sense.  It is what we have been taught to do.  We instinctively look for problems and then go to work figuring out how to fix them or make improvements.

Martin Seligman in his book Flourish says, “We are bad-weather animals, naturally attracted to the most catastrophic interpretation of adversity, since we are the descendants of people who survived the Ice Age.  Those of our ancestors who thought, It’s a nice day in New York today; I bet it will be nice tomorrow, got crushed by the ice. Those who thought, It only looks like a nice day; here comes the ice, the flood, the famine, the invaders, oy! Better store some food! survived and passed down their brains to us. Sometimes thinking and planning for the very worst is useful; more often, however, it is paralyzing and unrealistic, so learning to calibrate the catastrophic realistically is a crucial battlefield and home-front skill. “

Managing the Big Hits

A writer that I was coaching recently gave me a good example of how she struggles to stay focused on the positives.  She shared with me all the accomplishments she had had in the last six months, including getting a weekly blog written.  She is pleased with the response to her blog and the many comments that she seems to get, but then she said, “But I get derailed whenever someone unsubscribes to my list.”  All of her outstanding accomplishments seem to evaporate instantly–that one unsubscribe cancels out her accomplishments.  Even though she knows intellectually that there is only a small likelihood that the unsubscribe has any substantive relationship to the quality of her blog, it still feels like a big hit.

So how do we pay attention to the positives, hear the compliments that came along with a small improvement suggestion, or remember the wins that we had in the midst of a busy day?   Seligman has an exercise that he uses and has been found by research to make a big difference in helping people focus on the positives; he calls it the WWW list (that is not the World Wide Web it is What-Went-Well list.)   I suggested to my client that she keep her WWW list every day in her gratitude journal.  Here is what I told her to do (and she loved the idea!)

What Went Well Exercise

[Tweet “You can practice the What Went Well Exercise 2 generate #Positivity”]

The WWW Exercise:   Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep.   Write down three things that went well and why they went well.   You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote.  The three things need not be groundbreaking in importance (“I went for coffee and ran into the person that I had been meaning to contact for weeks”), but they can be important (“My mother just got a great report from her doctor.”)

Next to each positive event, answer the question, “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that you ran into an important person in the coffee shop, you might write “I took the initiative to get out of my office” or “I recognized this person was in the coffee shop and introduced myself.”  Or, if you wrote about your mother’s good report from her doctor, you might pick as the cause, “My mother is doing a good job managing her health issues” or “God is looking out for her.”

According to Seligman’s research, “you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”  But maybe even more important, you really will begin to focus on the positives.  Try it and see what you think!  And I would love to know how it works out!

Would you like to be coached by Dr. Lynn K. Jones to develop your Positivity?  I would love to talk to you about some simple shifts you could make right away that will make a big difference!  Schedule a time to talk that works for you on Dr. Lynn’s calendar


Dr. Lynn K Jones

Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Board Certified Coach and an Advanced Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US. Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry. She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves. A MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment and Leadership to social work students at the University of Southern California.


Seligman, Martin (2011). Flourish. Free Press.

M. E. P. Seligman, T. A. Steen, N. Park, and C. Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist 60 (2005): 410–21.


  1. Emily Sarrat on August 7, 2011 at 2:00 am

    Thanks Lynn! This article was particularly helpful for me at this point in time! :)

  2. Patricia on August 7, 2011 at 5:50 am

    You can see Seligman’s background with PTSD research from his comments here. Much of PTSD comes from not only the trauma…but stems from the residual effects that the trauma incurred–namely making an individual feel that the events will repeat themselves if they take a second to be positive/happy–non-worrying. So, once we have bad experiences (like,say if your purse gets stolen) it’s hard to trust setting it down for a second in a public place for fear it will happen again.

    The confundity of this to me is mentioned here. Namely,how to have a calibration of catastrophic events. To me that means: how to perceive the negative that can happen with balance vs. what is actually happening and more importantly…how many GREAT things CAN happen!

    I suppose its like a recipe…food cannot be all salt or sugar–nor can life be all negative. But once you get a taste for negativity and hardship, it’s hard to forget…and that which i cannot forget I end up focusing on.

    Your blog this week is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately! Thanks for your commentary.


    • Executive Coach on August 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks for your comments. You are right Seligman and his students have done some amazing work with PTSD and they are having excellent results. Why don’t you try the WWW list for one week and see how it works out?

      • patricia on August 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm

        I think whats cool about the www is that…if you’re a person who has a hard time journaling, this really gives an easy way to put in writing whats on your mind focused on the positive. I’ll give it a shot.

        • Executive Coach on August 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm

          Excellent! Check in next week and let us know how it works out! :)

  3. Calla Gold on August 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    The three things you did right per day and validating your cause in them is a great and easy action to take. Thank you for that.
    Your focus on the positive is such a gift to those you work with.
    When I focus on the positive wondrous things that “happen,” now I’ll take credit for manifesting them. Mmm, that feels really good.

  4. Executive Coach on August 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Love that you are taking credit for all the fabulous things that you are doing! Keep bringing the wondrous life!

  5. Neha on August 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Great blog Dr. Lynn. I have always tried to be a positive person come what may. I have tried to do that through self-talk because a lot of time I am too lazy to write things down. I remember writing things down when I was most frustrated just to get them out of my system. Being positive is not easy but once you get used to it, there’s no looking back. Its just a matter of changing our own perspective. Recently, my friend and I were trying to motivate her freshmen in college sister who doubts her skills a bit too much. She was about to drop a summer class because she did not think she could do well. We encouraged her to hold on tight and keep trying by staying positive and Thank God her results were better and hopefully will be for the final grade. Now she said she regrets she failed her other class because if she had tried harder, she could have done better. So I told her being positive will teach you to appreciate your failures even more as those are the best moments you can learn the best from.


    • Executive Coach on August 7, 2011 at 11:32 pm

      Self talk has been shown to be very effective, but
      Seligman is firm on writing the WWW down so that there is a physical record. I am not sure why
      he feels that is so important, but I suspect it has to do with imprinting our brains. Care to experiment on that?

      • Neha on August 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm

        I would love to give it a try on my blog so its public and I am forced to think positive!!! But I will have to give it a try after my GRE exams…taking one next week on tuesday!!! So maybe after that!!!


        • patricia on August 9, 2011 at 6:51 pm

          Neha, I’m about to prep for my GMAT so I know how you feel!!! You got this…is what my friends and I always say! Keep me posted and I will too. That’s a good idea re: your blog!


          • Neha on August 10, 2011 at 4:45 am

            Patricia…Thank You so much. Good luck with your GMAT. I have to take General GRE and Psychology GRE. Hoping to do the best. My friends had taken the GMAT years ago so I totally remember the studying process and the intensity it requires. Definitely will keep you updated!!!

            Please check out my blog for updates on WWW as well starting next week!!! And if you have a blog, please let me know.


          • Patricia on August 12, 2011 at 3:18 am

            Neha, what is your blog url?

          • Patricia on August 12, 2011 at 3:25 am

            We shall now be pen pals! I’ll try to keep up! GMAT starts this weekend! gah! gl on GRE…what is it you want to do with your degree–you have MSW right?

        • Executive Coach on August 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm

          Perfect! :)

  6. Neha on August 12, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Hi Patricia,

    My blog url is and you can actually just click on my name and it shalltake you to my blog. Thanks!!!


  7. Neha on August 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm


    Glad to be your Pen Pal!!! Thank you and good luck with the GMAT Course!!! Hope you are doing it with Kaplan because I have heard they really help improve your scores!!! I am hoping to pursue my PhD in Psychology. What are your plans with GMAT??


    • Neha on August 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      Hopefully I will become an Assessment Psychologist!!!

  8. What went well…!!! « Live in the moment…!!! on September 4, 2011 at 4:05 am

    […] month or so ago, I was following Dr. Lynn Jones blog on “Do YOU Wish You Were Better at Focusing on Positive?”.  This blog discussed on an exercise called What Went Well (WWW), which helps us focus on our […]

    • lynnkjones on September 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      I hope everyone will go over to Neha’s blog which you can get to by clicking on the red title of her post and read her WWW experience. Thanks for sharing, Neha!! Very inspiring. :)
      Dr. Lynn

  9. Neha on September 4, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Hello Dr. Jones,

    As per my promise and thanks to your reminder I have completed my first WHAT WENT WELL. Please visit my blog and read over my little achievements in the month of August and today. Sorry about the delay and thank you for the reminder.

    P.S. It is very nice your caught that little birdy as your pet. Speaks a lot about the person you are. They are the best pets ever. My birds rule me over me and order me to do massages on them or play with them and what not…Hopefully you will experience the same joy very soon. Would love to see pictures!!!


    • Executive Coach on September 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      That is very exciting! Can’t wait to read it and am running over to your blog right now!!
      And yes, it has been quite a little adventure with BlueBell. I can’t imagine that he/she? will ever let us massage him or handfeed him, but I am staying open to the possibility!
      Dr. Lynn

      • Neha on September 5, 2011 at 1:08 am

        It will take your bird some time to get accustomed to you and your environment. Unsure if it belonged to someone or was in the wild by itself because these things do make a difference. Hope you have taken it to the vet for check up for any diseases, or infections it might have caught while outside. If he is eating well, then you might want to start attracting him towards you by offering him special treats in your hands like millets (my birds fave). My birds know exactly when I am about to give them their treat and they come jumping all over me. Check with the pet store owner you are getting the birdy food from. GoodLuck and if you need any more info on birds, let me know!!! I feel like I am a pro in it yet they teach me something new everyday.

  10. Malcom Halsey on December 20, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Howdy. Basically would like to make a short mention and tell you that in fact I’ve loved reading your particular blog page and will be promoting it to my friends. Keep up the good work! Thanks again.

  11. Silvio Di Loreto on January 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Once again you are right on. I have found in my life that I probably have been focused on the fear factor and not the positive. I do feel though that our life should be kept in balance and whenever we find ourselves going too far one way or another, it is wise to correct our habits and do what needs to be done. As an example. An artist once taught me the way to get better as an artist is to pick three things in you latest work and do them better the next time you paint. Stop at three so you do not give up on yourself. I applied it to my life and I call it my period of divine discontentment. Each night before I go to sleep I pick three things I can do better in my life the next day. I then stop looking for fear of giving up on myself and the next day I focus on doing those things better.

    It may just be my attitude but I do believe that each of us is motivated either by fear or by desire. Every thing we do we do either because we want something or wish to avoid some happening. You can substitute many words for either fear or desire. Especially desire can be replaced by love or need etc. Thanks for being my friend.

    • Executive Coach on January 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks for your wise comments, Silvio! I actually like the idea of focusing on 3 things each night to do better the next day. The only tweak I would make, and it is a subtle but important difference, would be to focus on the 3 things that went well and focus on how how you can do more of them the next day. We are so wired to be problem focused that it takes practice to make that subtle shift. Anything we can do not to act from fear is a good thing!

  12. […] written about on the Appreciative Leaders and Organizations Blog before.  You can read about the WWW exercise here, but in a nutshell, it helps you focus on the positives in your life–the positives that our […]

  13. Why SHOULD You Focus on the Positive? on June 26, 2016 at 2:12 am

    […] is that we can give our attention to things that we want to be more important. That is why the WWW list developed by Martin Seligman may be so useful in helping you to develop more positivity in […]

  14. […] how to do the What Went Well  exercise in your journal, the activity developed by the positive psychology and used by thousands […]

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