Close-up of a Mexican Hat flowerbed at the London Wildlife Centre.

We tend to focus on the negative and forget the good things in our lives and work. It takes 3 positive thoughts to break the “stickiness” of one negative. Track the good!

After years of delays I was finally in London. In July. During a heat wave. London was packed with tourists, there were heat stroke warning signs everywhere. I saw more than one EMT team wheeling unconscious passengers through a Tube station. Traveling through one of the jammed stations, I was jostled on the escalator by a short-tempered man in a hurry and unkind expletives were exchanged regarding London courtesy and “effing” tourists.

I was no longer thinking about how fantastic it was to be in London finally, or about the amazing experiences I was having each day. I was thinking about how hot and tired I was; about the angry, large man who’d shoved me on the escalator so he could get by; about how stupid it was that the Tubes weren’t air conditioned or at least properly ventilated. Then  I spotted a poster for the London Wetland Centre, and on impulse I opted to see otters and birds rather than stand in a long, sweaty line at Westminster Abbey. (Uhm, Simple Action, Carolyn? I’m almost there.)

Keep-calm-read-on-graphicI discovered that while the Tube trains were un-air conditioned and packed, the Overland train to the LWC was cool and nearly empty. And once there, though I could see the overcrowded press of London’s metropolis in the distance, I was in a well-groomed open space filled with trees, flowers, paths, ponds, birds, creatures, and fascinating exhibits. By the time I got to the otter feeding, I remembered how lucky and happy I was to be in London, heat wave and all.

I’d fallen victim to our hardwired tendency towards focusing on the negative, but when I  focused on all the good things around me at the LWC, my positive perspective returned.

How can we overcome negativity?

We need to take active note of the positive.

Each day write down in a journal or log 3 positive things that have happened.

Why 3 things?

Positive psychologists, such a Martin Seligman, report that it takes a ratio of 3:1 to change a negative attitude to a positive one. In other words, it takes noting 3 positive thoughts or events for every negative one to shift from negativity to a positive perspective.

Do I have to write the 3 positive things down?

Yes, for several reasons. First, writing (or typing) requires us to focus our attention on the positive thought. Second, the kinetic action of writing (or typing) reinforces the thought or memory in our minds. Third, we have a record of positive events and thoughts that we can review in moments of negativity.

Should I just make a list of 3 positive things?

Ideally, you should write more than just a list, expanding on how you felt, or are feeling, as well as any other observations you may have. Dwell on the positive moment for a bit, ruminate on your positive moments (we tend to ruminate on the negative, playing them over and over like a looped tape). However, you may want to use social media as your “journal” or log book by posting positive events or things (do remember some discretion, though, because the Internet is the elephant who never forgets). Or you may choose tracking in your own computer file or hardcopy journal, where you have complete control and privacy.

Positive psychology writer and speaker Shawn Achor calls this “positive journaling.” I’m going to discuss the value of journaling (i.e., keeping a log)  — for our business, our marketing, and our personal lives— soon, but journaling scares off some people who associate it with deep dark secrets or a massive time sink (which sounds remarkably like some people’s use of social media, but that’s another post). I knew someone who tracked the good things in her life on Post-It notes and stuck them around her desk; when feeling stressed, she’d glance at one and remember it wasn’t all bad. For now the important thing is to keep it simple and regular. Even jotting a cryptic note on the margins of a memo is useful.

The key is to focus on 3 positive events to overcome the stickiness of one negative thought.

And if you find this post useful (and thus positive), feel free to share it (allowing you to engage in another Simple Action — a Random Act of Kindness). Or let me know your favorite way to track the good in your life in the comments below.

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