Research tells us that to experience a more contented, fulfilled and happy life we need a ratio of 3:1 positive to negative outlook on life. In other words, to find the silver lining in situations in our situation more than 75% of the time.
That’s easier said than done. Consider how since 2004 we've designated every 3rd Monday in January as Blue Monday – where the theory goes, we’re all cold, broke after Christmas and riddled with guilt for having already dropped our New Year’s resolutions. Psychologist Cliff Arnall created a scientific formula to account for the level of stress and unhappiness based on thousands of conversations from ‘depressed’ managers. Add to that the fact that 50% of the words in our emotional vocabulary are negative, compared with 30% as positive, and how our brain is wired to find more negative situations than positive; its then no wonder thinking positive can feel like an uphill slog! It’s therefore not a wonder that we can feel sadder, lower and more negative than we'd really like to be.
As most of know, evolution has given us our Survival brain – the part of the brain that in the past had us looking for dangers around every rock and tree. Back then, knowing which snakes were poisonous was really helpful, so our brain focused on looked for dangers in our world, rather than spotting the beauty around us.
Today our Survival brain doesn’t need to look out for snakes, but some of us will be more Hyper Vigilant than others and will see still danger, concerns, health hazards in any given situation. My daughter constantly spots opportunities for my son to go off and break his leg, get into trouble or badly hurt himself even on a country walk. She constantly tells him to ‘be careful’ to ‘not climb that tree / rock’, all just in case.
When our fight, fight and freeze kicks in, our thoughts or feelings will have us feeling more anxious, stressed, cautious, lacking in confidence – all of which are a negative response. This is where we get hijacked and hooked by our Saboteurs – those negative voices that on paper are trying to protect us and even sound rational and reasonable, but who are really are focused on one thing – survival.
The other side of our brain is our Success brain – where our inner Sages of compassion, curiosity, choice, innovation and action reside. Our positive mindset – where we are more creative, decisive, are able to problem solve and be action orientated.
So how do we move from that negative to positive mindset when we are wired that way, our language impedes us, and the media reinforce the negative? The answer is working on our 3:1 ratio – for every 1 negative feeling or thought, we need to think of 3 positive ones.
Today I want you to notice when you have those negative thoughts and feelings inside your head or body – moments when you feel anger, blame, guilt, stress, anxiety, self-doubt, regret for yourself, others, situations or circumstances. When you notice then, come up with 3 positive thoughts instead, using one of these 3 positive ways.
Just imagine you are kicking yourself for not getting a project finished on time. Instead of listening to the negative voice telling you how lazy you or chastising you for having done it again, instead try one of these three approaches:
How can you show yourself some compassion about the situation? (Remind yourself what else you were working on, how much of a learning stretch it may have been etc)
What is the gift or opportunity by not finishing that project on time? (You may have found some new information, worked with someone new or realised that your working patterns need to change)
Or get really curious– like a child – without judgment, as to what really went on? (How excited were you at the onset, what bits did you like doing and not doing of the project, what would have helped?)
So now it’s your turn.
1. Think of a situation current or something from your recent past, where you felt those negative emotions.
2. Now free – write using one of the tools of seeing it from compassion, exploring what the gift or opportunity is, or exploring the situation with child-like curiosity.
By taking time to explore a situation and to actively seek the positive from a negative you’ll gradually build up your 3:1 ratio and become one of the growing number of people who see the world more positively 75% of the time and ultimately be happier. And if you'd like to find out more, why not come along to one of our free Mental Fitness HIIT sessions or webinars,