Why Positivity Matters and How to Increase Yours


I view myself as a positive person. I am generally happy and have a good sense of humor. I have always thought it was better to laugh than to cry about a situation. However, for much of my career, when I was trying to make a change or solve a problem, I was prone to point out what was wrong and was often harsh in my criticism and analysis.

Last week, I was reminded a couple of times about how demoralizing this is for individuals who are doing their best and working hard. I talked to two highly competent and dedicated team members who described feeling completely drained and demoralized after interacting with their respective bosses who were being critical during most of their interactions. I could relate to the supervisors who were trying to get things done and thought that they were being helpful.

That used to be me.

I have found that positivity is much more powerful than negativity and more effective in motivating others. Research has shown that the highest performing teams have a praise to criticism ratio of 5.6, which means that to perform as our highest level, we need to give almost six positive comments for every one negative comment. Moving to that level of continuous positivity is still a work in progress for me. Replacing critical comments with deep questions is something that has helped me shift toward positivity. I also have become very conscious about giving positive feedback often and, most importantly, I have made a conscious effort to stop condemning and judging.  As I have seen the amazing effects on my teams when I do that, I have been more motivated to be positive and am very thoughtful about when and how I give critical feedback to others.

This last week, I was feeling quite tired and realized that I was not being as positive as I wanted to be. My clues were that I was getting distracted, having an internal negative commentary, and avoiding engaging with others. Here are the things that I did to increase my positivity and energy.

I focused on what I was grateful for. One of my favorite quotes is from Cicero, who said that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” At the lowest point in my life, I started a gratitude journal where I wrote three things every night that I was grateful for. Some days, I was hard pressed to find something, but that repeated exercise changed my focus during the day. I would look for things to be grateful for so that I had something to write about in my journal. At this point in my life, I have so many things to be grateful for that I don’t regularly write in my gratitude journal. Last week I did daily meditation, prayers, and thought exercises on gratitude that refocused and energized me.

I looked for ways to do small acts of random kindness. Smiling and greeting people is one of the easiest things for me to do. I remember making a point to get to know the people I routinely see every work day, such as the security staff. It is remarkable how this simple practice of positivity gives me energy. This morning, I gave a token to someone who was trying to talk the subway attendant into letting him on the subway for a dollar. He was so grateful and surprised when I handed him a token. He gave me a little wave as he stepped onto the express subway and we both started our day from a better place.

I rested. I spent the weekend recovering and taking real time for myself away from work, social, family, and other obligations. I simply cannot be positive and energetic when I am physically exhausted.

These positivity practices helped me immensely and when I got the email late on Sunday night about an urgent concern with our web site, I was able to view the criticism as an opportunity to improve our service and believe I was able to convey a sense of positivity and hope to the team.

My challenge for you this week is to practice the 3 Cs : no criticizing, condemning or complaining. See if you can practice this exercise for one hour, or even better, one day. I would love to hear about your experiences as you do this.

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