“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
It’s Not Easy to Focus on the Positive
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
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.