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    Positive Thinking, Positive Results
    The Vault

    Positive Thinking, Positive Results

    May 2016

    Scan the internet or browse the business section of any bookstore and you’ll likely soon find gads of articles and books about successful business leaders.  Entrepreneurs are eager to learn from each other.  We read these publications time and again in hopes that some of the knowledge and skills of other business leaders will influence us, and we’ll experience the same good fortune.

    But are we wasting our time?  Research is beginning to reveal that positive thinking, beyond just being happy and upbeat, creates such real value in our lives that it’s directly responsible for our success.  And while it’s impossible to say that every single successful entrepreneur is a positive person, it’s very likely that their approach to their professional goals, their “can do” attitude, is exactly the reason they’re so successful.  So when we read these articles and biographies of the best business leaders, we really shouldn’t be asking, “What do they do?”  Rather, we should be asking, “How do they do it?”

    Positive vs. Negative

    I was recently out walking my dog on a trail and came upon a copperhead snake (thankfully, before I stepped on it!). Instinctively, I turned around and began walking (much faster) in the opposite direction.  Sure, I could have walked around far around it, grabbed a stick and prodded it along, but I couldn’t.  You see, I’m terrified of snakes, and in that moment my mind couldn’t think of other options.  I just wanted out of there so I fled.

    Negative emotions (like fear) narrow your mind and focus your thoughts.  They literally program your brain to do a specific action.  When that snake crossed my path, I ran.  I focused entirely on it and the fear it created in me.  In that moment I could only see one path to a blissful, snake-free existence.

    Very thankfully, we don’t run across copperheads in our office, but the situation reveals just how dangerous negative emotions can be in business.  Focus on the bad, and you’ll shut off the outside world and limit your options.  For example, when you’re in conflict with a co-worker, you can become so consumed with anger and emotion that you can’t think about anything else. Or, when you are stressed, you may find it hard to actually start anything because you’re paralyzed by how long your to-do list is. In each case of negative thinking, your brain closes off — just like mine did with the snake -- and your approach to the problem is far less creative.

    By contrast, when you think positively, focusing on emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life.  In the research mentioned above, scientists isolated groups of people into control groups, showing different groups different film images.  Afterward, participants were asked to imagine themselves in situations where similar feelings would arise and to write down what they would do. Each participant was handed a piece of paper with 20 blank lines that started with the phrase, “I would like to...”  Those who were shown negative images wrote down very few responses.  Meanwhile, the participants who saw images of joy and contentment wrote down a significantly higher number of actions that they would take.  The findings conclude that, when you are experiencing positive emotions, you will see more possibilities in your life.  (I’ll try to work on thinking more positively about snakes.)

    The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside.  The above research also concluded that positive thinkers regularly have more energy, are more resilient, and create positivity in people around them.  

    How much more effective would your leadership be if you focused on positive emotions?

    How to Increase Positive Thinking

    Positive thinking is nothing without positive action.  How can you increase positive emotions and take advantage of their benefits?  Find your joy.  Maybe it’s playing the guitar, or going out for a long run with your running partner. Maybe it’s hiking, or spending time with friends outside of work.  Maybe it’s underwater basket weaving.  You know what works for you.  Whatever it is, do it.  Anything that sparks feelings of joy, contentment, and love will do the trick.  

    Here a few more ideas:

    1. Meditate.  People who meditate daily display more positive emotions than those who do not, and report increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness.
    2. Write.  Whether it’s on paper or an online blog for your business, writing regularly about the world and your experiences in it, in a positive manner of course, will greatly improve your mood and health.
    3. Play.  Intentionally carve out time in your week to do what you love.  Give yourself permission to enjoy some time off so that you can experience contentment and joy.

    Practice makes perfect.

    Changing your perspective from negative to positive will not happen overnight (clearly, I’m not going anywhere near a snake soon!).  It takes time.  Be mindful of the power of positivity and take steps daily to a achieve a more positive mindset.  Work can often create a negative tornado of emotions that prevents us from taking action and realizing success.  Practice positivity, and someday soon you might just be the subject of an article or book on a wildly successful CEO.  

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