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Flip the switch: 3 ways to beat negativity

Thursday, July 11, 2013   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Tricia Molloy

We are all victims of ancient circuitry. As a primal protection mechanism, our nervous system is wired to be hyper-vigilant to perceived threats and danger. Science calls this phenomenon Negativity Bias.

In other words,according to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson Ph.D., author of Buddha’s Brain, our brain is like Velcro to negative events and Teflon to positive ones.

Most people need at least three positive experiences to balance out a negative one, according to acclaimed researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., author of Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio that Will Change Your Life. It's why we tend to remember criticisms over compliments, stormy days over sunny ones and mistakes over triumphs.

Within an organization, opportunities could be missed because possible risks are overestimated. Constructive feedback to a team member could lead to a bruised ego and derail an important project.

Since positive emotions are linked to better health and resiliency, greater creativity and productivity and a deeper satisfaction with life, what can we do to counter the Negativity Bias? Here are three suggestions:

1. Consider what Fredrickson identified as the 10 forms of positivity: Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.

2. Explore how to nurture each of these forms. For example, when it comes to gratitude, write in a gratitude journal a few nights a week to remind you of what is going right and include at least one unique entry. Make a conscious effort to express sincere appreciation to others, including coworkers, clients and family members. Or, find ways to cultivate serenity by scheduling quiet time in nature each week or waking 15 minutes earlier to visualize how your day will unfold in the best possible way. 

3. Practice mindfulness to put circumstances in perspective. Acknowledge and celebrate small victories every day, like learning new technology, completing an assignment or enjoying fun family time. "The power of mindfulness,” Fredrickson advised, "is that it can literally sever the link between negative thoughts and negative emotions.”

In "The Neuroscience of Happiness: An Interview with Rick Hanson Ph.D.,” Dr. Hanson shared these insights: "If you routinely dwell on your resentments and regrets, the neurons involved in that particular mental activity will fire busily together, and automatically start wiring together. Which will add one more bit of neural structure to feeling discontented, mistreated, angry or sorrowful. On the other hand, if you regularly focus on the good facts around you and inside you ― like your own good qualities, such as patience, determination or kindness ― then the neurons involved will wire together, stitching more resilience, hopefulness, confidence and happiness into the fabric of your brain and yourself. Any single time you do either of these will usually not make much difference, but the gradually accumulating wiring of one or the other will definitely add up over time. As they say in Tibet, if you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”

In your typical workday, think about how you can focus on the positive. Choose not to gossip. Keep a file of awards, accolades, emails and notes from delighted clients and supervisors for a quick reference. Associate with others who also look on the bright side.

How can you nurture positivity at work?

Tricia Molloy is a corporate leadership speaker and the author of Working with Wisdom. She works to inspire professionals to be more positive and productive through keynote speeches and employee development talks, workshops and webinars.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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Sarah Ciccarello, Clif Bar & Company says...
Posted Friday, August 9, 2013
It is so easy to let the negative thoughts and feelings swirl around and impact your outlook on work and relationships. In our work group we often coach others and remind ourselves to assume positive intent which helps reduce any feelings of victimization. I appreciated the advice in bullet point #2, to keep a gratitude journal and remembering to express appreciation to others. Good, practical advice. Thanks.

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