There is an accident on the way to that critical meeting. You will never make it in time. Well, that deal is lost. Your coworker called in sick. Ugh. That project is stalled yet again. Can we never make a deadline? Your son is not returning your text. He must have been in a car accident. Or abducted by aliens. Or in jail. The one constant in all these situations is your negative bias in the interpretation of events. It’s stressing you out. Believe it or not, you oversee how you view these events. But Cathy! How can I possibly view these things in a different light?
I just started reading Shawn Achor’s book Before Happiness. Shawn suggests that success is based on being a positive genius. A positive genius is someone who can change their brain patterns to view the world in a positive light; to take in information and put a positive spin on it rather than wallowing in negativity. Seems hard, doesn’t it? So much easier to succumb to the negativity bias that our brains are seemly hardwired for. You can change it, though. You can overcome your predisposition to view information in a negative light. You can. Really. Imagine all the worry and stress you can let go of if you choose to be the architect of your reality.
Here are Shawn’s three main points in choosing the most valuable reality:
- Recognize the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on. This reminds me of Byron Katie’s The Work. The first question in The Work is “Is it the truth?” I want to look at my son not returning a text as, “He doesn’t love me.” I can ask myself, “Is it the truth?” Let’s see. He got up at 6 AM to take me to a Colonoscopy. He’s been really supportive with recent issues with my dog. He sent me flowers for Mother’s Day. Nope. It’s not true. Of course, he loves me. So I need to realize that there are many interpretations of the information I have. So what if it’s been twenty minutes since I texted him. Maybe his phone is dead. Maybe he is working out. Maybe he is sleeping in. Focus on the details in a more positive light. As Mike Dooley says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.” There are multiple realities at any given time. Decide on which reality to focus on.
- See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective. Shawn quotes a study where a group of people were asked to draw a coffee cup and saucer. EVERY person drew the cup from a side perspective. EVERY LAST ONE. I have to admit, if I am asked to draw a coffee cup or a house (for that matter), I will draw it from the side perspective. But can’t you draw it from a bird’s eye perspective? Are both true?Don’t you look down at your coffee cup in the morning? Isn’t that the perspective you usually see? There are hundreds of vantage points. It’s so easy to get caught up with our status quo perspective. We don’t typically re-frame it. There is a whole range of views. If my coworker is sick and the project might be delayed, maybe there are more resources I haven’t thought about. Maybe this is my chance to step up and own the spotlight. Maybe we need more data before proceeding. Open up your perspective to see more points of view.
- Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio. This is not creating a panacea. Choose data that is true and the most positive. If you constantly seek positive data, the outcomes are better. In companies, a Losada ratio of 3 positives to one negative indicates a more profitable business. So, when you get a seemingly negative data point, look for something positive. Rethink it – the car accident on the way to work, not a big deal? If you had been five minutes earlier that could have been you in that accident. At least you are still on your way to your destination. Be grateful for not being involved in an accident and still on your way. As Achor has advised, “Go out of your way to build employee strengths instead of routinely correcting weaknesses. When you dip below the Losada line, performance quickly suffers.” Look for the good and it will appear.
I’ve been trying to live by this over the last week or so. I look to interpret the current reality in a positive light. I’m not saying that my negativity bias doesn’t creep in from time to time, but I am slowly changing my default to looking at what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. Be a positive genius.