Building Your Positivity Muscle
by Rachel Dungan
Many people exude a confident exterior, but all is not necessarily as it seems on the surface. Many seemingly confident people are crippled by secret self-doubt, worry and harsh self-criticism, driving them to burn-out and mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.
Barbara Fredrickson has calculated that in order to offset the negativity bias and experience a harmonious emotional state, we need to experience at least three positive emotions for every negative one. This, she claims, can be done intentionally for those of us less “wired” to positivity. These positive emotions literally reverse the physical effects of negativity and build up psychological resources that contribute to a flourishing life.
The attitude of forgiveness—fully accepting that a negative circumstance has occurred and relinquishing negative feelings surrounding the event—can be learned and can lead us to experience better mental, emotional and physical health. The Stanford Forgiveness Project trained 260 adults in forgiveness in a 6-week course.
- 70% reported a decrease in their feelings of hurt
- 13% experienced reduced anger
- 27% experienced fewer physical complaints (for example, pain, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, etc.)
The practice of forgiveness has also been linked to better immune function and a longer lifespan. Other studies have shown that forgiveness has more than just a metaphorical effect on the heart: it can actually lower our blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health as well. Why does clinging to past wrongs cause so much harm? The Buddha compared holding onto bitterness, resentment or anger to grasping hot coals with the intent of throwing them at someone else. You, of course, are the person that gets burnt!
Acknowledging the good aspects of life and giving thanks have a powerful impact on emotional well-being. In a landmark study, people who were asked to count their blessings felt happier, exercised more, had fewer physical complaints, and slept better than those who created lists of hassles.
Brené Brown has found that there is a relationship between gratitude and joy, but with a surprising twist: it’s not joy that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us joyful.
Dr. Andrew Weil describes resilience as being like a rubber band—no matter how far a resilient person is stretched or pulled by negative emotions, he or she has the ability to bounce back to his or her original state. Resilient people are able to experience tough emotions like pain, sorrow, frustration, and grief without falling apart—in fact, some people are able to look at challenging times with optimism and hope, knowing that their hardships will lead to personal growth and an expanded outlook on life.
Resilient people do not deny the pain or suffering they are experiencing; rather, they retain a sense of positivity and inner belief that "this too will pass" that helps them overcome the negative effects of their situation. Positive emotions have a scientific purpose—to help the body recover from the ill effects of negative emotions. Thus cultivating positivity over time can help us become more resilient in the face of crisis or stress.
So how can we build our positivity muscle? Like any other muscle, we need to be shown WHAT to do, HOW to do it, then practice consistently, measure the results. As we get feedback, the quality of our practice improves and we make progress. And like building any muscle, the concept is simple, but execution is not necessarily easy.
So what to practice?
Practices to Build the Positivity Muscle
1. Stop torturing yourself by recycling unpleasant circumstances over and over and consistently pouring acid on open wounds. Accept what has happened. Accepting it does NOT mean you like what happened, you agree with what happened or you condone what happened or that you wouldn't have preferred it to be different. But, there is little point in wishing and wanting things to be different to the way they are. What is, is. And here's the thing. Acceptance just means that you stop resisting incidents in your past and no longer allow them to control your thoughts, your feelings and your energy. The gift of acceptance is a powerful gift, and the gift is freedom.
2. Look for the lessons and deepen your learning. Every situation in life, especially our challenges, can teach us something. Think of these challenges as assignments. Show up for the assignments and be ready to receive the lesson. Be grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow.
3. Notice your self-talk. How kind are you to yourself? Would you talk to others the way you talk to yourself? Being resilient doesn't mean being optimistic and happy all the time. It does mean NOTICING your self talk, becoming more aware of how this is impacting your feelings, behaviours and actions and realising that your self-talk is just a thought. That doesn't make it reality. If the thought isn't working for you and moving you towards your goals, STOP it and ask yourself "What do I want instead?" or "What thought would serve me better in this situation?" or "What else could be true?".
Be kind to yourself. Mastery of any skill requires consistent practice, support, compassionate challenge, feedback, reflection, coaching and more practice.
To find out more about how 'The Coach Approach' could support you to achieve your goals contact Rachel at Rachel@racheldungan.com