Updated: Jun 13, 2019
When we feel stuck, we don't know where to start.
Our negative emotions and thoughts make us feel more stuck.
Do you sometimes find yourself in a negativity spiral? Criticizing or blaming yourself or others? Thinking there's no way out of your situation?
It's really hard to come up with new ideas when you're feeling negative.
One of the best places to start if you want to get unstuck is to try to increase your positivity.
Positivity is NOT pretending nothing is wrong.
However if you only focus on what's wrong, you won't get anywhere. Science has proven that if you are able to shift our perspective to what's right, you can broaden your view and enable new ideas to arise.
My Top Hack to Increase Positivity
(Don't need to read the science to know you have to do this, skip right to action at the bottom of this page)
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is “a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a gift whether the gift be a tangible benefit from a specific other or a moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty.”
(Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
How Does Gratitude Work?
Gratitude, when used in the correct ways and doses, combats our negativity bias.
The negativity bias is a tendency our brain has to perceive negative information from our environment as more important than positive information. We retain this tendency in our brains from when we were apes. At that stage of our evolution, our brains were wired to sense danger so we could escape if a predator was after us.
We survived over thousands of years by focusing on the negative.
However, in the modern world the perceived threats are not usually mortal or physical.
In the modern world, focusing on the negative hinders us.
Gratitude enhances and broadens our focus allowing us to notice what good things are happening.
The benefits of gratitude are many. It counters our natural psychological tendency get used to new achieved states of wellbeing (known in psychology hedonic treadmill). It counters materialism and social comparison. It decreases stress and boosts the immune system.
In our careers, gratitude can help make us better managers as employees respond better to praise than criticism. It improves our network by recognizing those who have helped us and by enhancing our ties to others by thanking them.
The Most Effective Ways To Use Gratitude To Increase Positivity
1) Make sure it’s something you’re really feeling thankful for not the things you “should” feel thankful for.
2) Find something! Even if 95% of life feels negative right now- find ONE thing in the 5% that you are grateful for. It could be as simple as “How the sun shined in my window this morning.”
3) Be very specific. Rather than “I’m thankful for my spouse” try “I’m thankful for my partner doing all the dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor last night while I finished my report.”
Put The Research Into Action
This is not a one and done hack. This is a practice. To get used to it start writing every day for one week. After that move to once a week. Put it in your schedule to make sure you keep at it.
Find yourself somewhere quiet where you won't be interrupted. Sit down for 10 minutes and write out your thoughts on the following prompts.
1. Three good things that happened in the last 24 hours and one way you contributed to it happening.
2. Three things you are grateful for (in the past or present)
3. Three things you are grateful for in the future (written as though it already happened)
*This activity comes courtesy of The Flourishing Center