The Being & The Doing EPISODE 20:
Positivity: Is It Overrated?
In this last episode of season 1, I tackle the question of whether positivity is just another overdone idea. Can we simply ignore what is going on and look on the bright side? Or have we missed the point about the power of optimism in a negative world? Tune to find out the real goods on positivity.
*A full transcript is at the bottom of this page.
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This Episode’s Homework
Something to think about:
What is my positivity account balance?
Something to try:
Try one day of positivity. See what it’s like to shift into that space for just a day. Pay attention to making deposits into your positivity account. Then at the end of the day – notice how you feel.
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CREDITS: The Being & The Doing podcast is produced by Neela Bell. Voiceovers by Jason Harris. Music is GoodMorning Sunshine by Yoav Alyagon and Firefly by Scott Buckley.
Full Transcript of the Show
Laurel: Hey, lovely ones, Welcome to Episode 20 of The Being and The Doing. Before we dive into today’s topic, I just wanted to let you know that this is the last episode of Season 1 of The Being and The Doing. We’re taking a little summer hiatus to work on some ideas for Season 2, which will be ready for you this fall. In the meantime, this is a great time for you to catch up on any episodes that you might have missed during the season.
So this summer, while you’re sitting on your deck or on the road trip, you can take time to enjoy some of the more popular episodes like Episode 5, which is all about getting stuff done or Episode 8, where I asked you the most powerful question that can have a dramatic impact on your life or Episode 15, which was Part 1 of the Clutter Series.
I’ll leave the links in the show notes to those particular episodes. But of course, feel free to go back and listen to anyone that you didn’t have a chance to listen to during the season. Now the best way to keep getting your dose of inspiration and tips and strategies is to join my mailing list to get my Weekly Newsletter and to follow me on social media. Because while we are in hiatus for the podcast, I’m still going to be hanging out on Facebook and Instagram and the links for those social media channels will also be in the show notes.
Today, we are going to dive into this very juicy question, is positivity overrated? That’s a good question and the answer may be. It kind of depends on what kind of positivity you’re referring to. So there’s the, what I’ll call the Pollyanna kind of positivity. Now, Pollyannaism, being a Pollyanna that that term came from a 1960s movie with Hayley Mills, in which she played an orphan who had this very upbeat positive outlook on life that went to irritating proportions. And so the idea of being a Pollyanna is about taking positivity to the extreme.
So, yes, that kind of over-the-top positivity is overrated because it’s not genuine or authentic or even sustainable. Now, there’s also an idea that positivity can be an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Sort of positivity where nothing is ever bad or sad or tragic in life and we just put on a happy face, no matter what and that too, is overrated because life has both happy and sad aspects to it. Now, that being said, positivity is a really important component of resilience in stress management so that is not overrated.
Let’s talk about a couple of important facts about negativity. We all have a negativity bias. So our brains are wired for negativity. That means that our brain pays more attention to negative things than positive ones. It’s much more sensitive to negative news. It gives more weight to negative input things than to positive input.
Now, why is that? Well, it’s an evolutionary thing. Our brains first developed addressing our survival needs. So in order to be able to avoid danger, we needed a heightened awareness of things that might indeed be dangerous. And so we always have this kind of radar on for danger, hence the negativity. So fast forward to today and our brain is still hypersensitive to negativity in all areas of our lives. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the way our brains are but it’s something that we really need to be aware of.
In fact, studies suggest that you need five positive events or experiences or inputs to balance every negative one. Let’s think about that for a minute. You need five positives to balance one negative. So maybe think of it this way, it’s like having a positivity bank account and every positive experience or event or thought input adds to the balance but every negative one, subtracts five times the amount. So just think about your regular bank account. You put a dollar in, you put a dollar in, you put a dollar in; oh, you took out five, you took out five, you took out five, you took out five, doesn’t take long before the balance doesn’t look very good in the bank account. And it’s actually the small consistent positive experiences that help tip the scale, so to speak. More than having one like a super big happy event, it’s about the small little positive events that we collect up and deposit into that account. So that’s the first kind of important consideration about negativity.
And the second is that negativity is contagious. Imagine that you go into, perhaps, the lunch room in your workplace or maybe even it’s a family event that people tend to complain in so it’s kind of a crabby, crabby place. And when you go in, maybe when you first stepped into that lunchroom or you first came and sat at the dinner table, you were feeling okay, but the negativity there becomes contagious and it has an impact on you. So think of it, maybe, the opposite of that. If you’ve ever been to a terrific motivational speaker, where the energy is just really upbeat and positive, by the time you leave that, oh, you feel like yay, I can do that and you’ve had a lot of deposits into the positivity account.
So here are some things that we know is true about positivity. The research suggests that there are a lot of health benefits to positive thinking. That’s because a positive outlook helps us cope better with stressful situations so there’s less accumulation of stress having a negative effect on your body. And people who are more positive, are more likely to actually make healthier choices. So yes, they are healthier. And positivity or optimism just makes for a happier life.
If you’re always focused on the negative or expecting bad things to happen, well, your life doesn’t feel so happy. But on the flip side, if you are more focused on the positive things that are happening and are not expecting the other shoe to fall, well, then life feels pretty happy. Think of it this way; you’ve probably heard that that phrase about ‘glass half-full’ and ‘glass half-empty’ people. So, glass-half-full people are the positive, optimistic ones. They tend to look on the brighter side. They tend to see opportunities. They tend to believe that they’re able to weather difficult situations. And glass-half-empty people are ones who tend to focus on the negative things that are happening and they have more of a ‘why is this happening to me’ and feel that bad things are being done to them, pessimistic.
But the really important shift in this thinking is not about being a glass half full or a glass half empty person, but it’s remembering that the glass is actually refillable. It comes back to that whole bank account idea. So you have this glass that is constantly either being filled up or drawn down and that’s what’s actually important. It’s not a steady state. It’s a continual organic kind of experience that’s going on that we, by and large, have control over because we can either be adding to the glass adding, to the bank account or we are drawing down on it.
I really want to emphasize that this whole idea about positivity is not about always being happy. Rather what it’s really about is how you approach challenges as they come. So for example, you think, yes, this is a difficult situation I find myself in but step by step, I’m going to get through it. Instead of you know, oh, well, this is a difficult situation and this is the way it is or why is this happening? Positivity is much more about thinking that this is a temporary thing, this too shall pass. Rather than, well, this is the way that life always has been.
So, if positivity is a good thing, how do we create more of it? Well, the first step is to pay attention to the conversation that you are having with yourself. And, yes, you are continually having conversations with yourself as am I and as is everyone else around you. You know that perhaps negative conversation that’s going on in your head because we have lots of negative conversations that we have been practicing over and over and over again. And if we can begin to pay attention to the conversation that we’re having in our head, it gives us an opportunity to be able to change it and it gives us a little clue about where are we on the pessimism-optimism scale or the positivity-negativity scale.
Where am I right now? Well, if you listen to some of the things that you’re saying, it kind of gives you a clue. Because pessimists sound like this: “Well, that was a disaster or that’s just the way it is. I can’t, there’s no way. I’ve tried that before, that’s not going to work. Yes, but this is impossible. Well, I should,” that’s what pessimists sound like. Optimists sound like this: “I can, I will, I choose to, I expect, How can I, well, that was a learning experience, yes and..”
So there’s a whole different flavor of the conversation in your head, depending on where you sit on the positivity-negativity or optimism-pessimism scale. Here’s the thing, your thoughts are either empowering you or they’re holding you back. So you might as well make your thoughts work for you. And, yes, I get that that’s not a quick fix, but the first step is being aware of the conversation that you’re having before you can begin starting to change it.
Now, next, you can focus on building some positivity habits. Kind of increasing the number of positive experiences or events or inputs that you’re having. Remember, you need five for every one negative thing. Let’s start by talking about the people that you hang out with. Now there’s a great sort of philosopher, a motivational guy named Jim Rohn. He passed away a few years ago, but he had a very powerful idea and that was that you are most like the five people that you spend most of your time. So I need to think about that. Think for a moment about the five people that you hang out with the most and you are most like them. You take on the qualities and activities and habits of the people that you hang out with. So that idea might be really reassuring to you or it might be kind of unnerving as you think about the people that you hang out with most.
We do become like the people we’re with; so, coach potatoes don’t hang out with marathon runners. If your group are people who complain, I hate tell you but you were probably a complainer too, maybe not necessarily in that group, but I bet you go away and complain to other people about someone that’s in your closer group. So we do take on the qualities of the people we hang out with and if we want to be more positive, be more optimistic, we have to hang out with people who are more positive and more optimistic. Because if we hang out with negative pessimistic people, that is what we become.
Now another positivity habit is really about taking care of yourself because it’s really hard to be positive when you’re not at your physical and emotional best. So, you know, same old same old that we here all of the time and the reason why we hear it all of the time is because there’s so much truth in it. You need to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. So yeah, you have to eat right and you have to move more and you have to do things to manage your stress.
Now, this might be the one that is perhaps seemingly the most challenging and that is kind of the principle of ‘junk in, junk out’. So you are consuming a lot of stuff; books and television and social media. So not just the people, let’s put them aside for a second, but other things that you absorb into yourself and they are either adding to your positivity bank account or they are withdrawing it. So when you go on social media and you are reading some of those negative things or you’re reading those comment threads that are just so outrageous or in people’s faces, even if you are not posting, you are still consuming that. If you’re always watching television that as a negative tone to it, that’s confrontational or even violent, if that’s what you’re consuming, then you’re absorbing that or books that you’re reading or whatever it is.
Now, I am not in any way suggesting that you should never consume any of that. What I want you to do is just be really conscious about what you’re consuming and remembering again, five to one. So think about it; when you were scrolling through social media and absorbing all of that negativity that, yes, social media can have, you need five times the amount of time and input in order to offset that. And what I know is most people just don’t have the time. You know, okay, great. Now I have to spend five times as much time, rebalancing the positivity, it might be better to limit some of that.
So in no way am I saying you can’t watch this or you can’t read that or you must give up all social media. Just be a real conscious consumer of what it is that you are absorbing because it’s affecting that account that you have. Let’s think for a minute to about what we typically call random acts of kindness. Well, there’s a positivity habit that is, taking that idea and adding some oomph to it. So instead of doing a random act of kindness, do an intentional act of kindness. Which means, you’ve decided, when you get up in the morning, this is the intentional act of kindness that I am going to do, instead of just waiting for an opportunity to pop up. Sure, that’s great but there’s a lot more power in the thinking ahead and the planning because now you’ve extended the positivity around that activity.
The other thing is about practicing good gossip; great positivity habit. Gossip is just such a negative withdrawing from the account kind of activity and it’s easy to participate in it; particularly, if you’re in an environment that encourages it or allows it. And so, gossip is about sharing negative information about other people or unconfirmed information about other people who are not present to participate in the conversation. So instead, think about sharing good gossip.
There’s actually some research that suggests that when we do that, it actually increases the positive emotion of the event that you’re talking about. So feel free to gossip about other people. Go ahead and talk about them but only in sharing positive things about them.
And the last one I mean, there are lots of other positivity habits but the last one that I want to highlight is about expressing gratitude. And there’s just so much research that says what a positive effect that expressing gratitude and appreciation has on our well-being. I did a whole episode on that; Episode 14 was all about gratitude. And so, I encourage you to go back and listen to Episode 14 if you want to kind of dig into how you can use gratitude as a positive force in your life.
Now, there’s a couple of other articles that I’ve written about how we can cultivate more positivity, I’ll leave the links to them in the show notes so that you can get some other ideas. But for now, as always, let me leave you with a little bit of homework. a little ‘being and doing’ homework; something to think about in something to try.
So your something to think about for today is, what is my positivity account balance? Are you in the black? Are you in the red? Are you hopelessly overdrawn? Where are you? And be honest, have an honest conversation with yourself about where you are.
And then something to try; try one day of positivity and see what it’s like to shift into that space just for one day. Pay attention to making deposits into this positivity account and then at the end of the day, just notice, what did that feel like when I had an intentional focus on positivity?
So that’s a wrap for this first season of The Being and The Doing. Now, remember to connect with me on social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and be sure to join my community by subscribing to my newsletter. And hey, if you’ve got an idea for a Season 2 topic or a question that you would really like me to address, let me know and you’re going to find a link in the show notes about how you can contact me to do that and I really would love to hear your input.
And until then, lovely ones, thanks for listening this season. Pause, breathe, and enjoy each and every day and I’ll see you soon.
Outro: You’ve been listening to The Being and The Doing with your host, Laurel Vespi. If you liked this episode and think other people would, please subscribe, rate and give a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Be sure to tune in next week for another conversation about The Being and The Doing. Thanks for listening.