Daily problems and challenges become easier when approached with positivity. Skeptical? Curious? See for yourself!
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read time: about 1.25 minutes
experiment time: about 5 minutes
Early in my Positive Psychology study program, I had a hard time connecting positivity with all the benefits I read about. I confess that I wasn’t adept at even naming positive emotions, much less dissecting and discussing them.
Then I ran across a fascinating experiment in Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity. After trying it myself and with others, I experienced firsthand how positive emotions do broaden our thinking and enhance creativity.
Cultivating positive emotions , I’ve found, is a handy skill, especially when I’m faced with making a decision, creating something new (like a new blog post), or even communicating a difficult message to someone.
Consider the following quote by Barbara Fredrickson:
“The evidence shows that simply imagining a joyful memory or receiving a small kindness can make a difference in the ease with which people locate creative and optimal solutions to the problems they face on a daily basis.”
She conducted research on physicians, managers and contract negotiators. For each group, the strategic use of positivity led to better outcomes – better diagnoses, decisions, and business deals.
If you’re skeptical, or even curious, about how positivity works, I invite you to try her experiment for yourself. I’ve outlined it, with a few minor wording changes, below.
The experiment takes about five minutes to complete, and you’ll need paper and a pen or pencil. If possible, ask someone to read you the instructions to avoid going back and forth with your responses. If that’s not possible, give it a whirl on your own, but try not to rush yourself through it. Or find a “subject” of your own to try it on.
Step 1 Take at least a minute to simply study the back of your hand. Get to know it like never before. Describe to yourself everything you see. Describe the textures, colors, and condition of your skin. Describe your nails, your bones and veins. Describe the patterns of each knuckle. Give yourself at least a minute to study the back of your hand, then go to the next step.
Step 2 Grab your pen and paper. Assume you have a free half hour with no pressing demands on your time. Think about what you want to do with that time. Consider the feelings you get when you study your hand. What are those feelings? Make a list of what you’d like to do right now – write down everything these feelings make you want to do. When you’re finished with your list, go to the next step.
Step 3 Now try something different. Think of a time when you were joyful. Imagine and relive this joyful moment. It can be something that happened yesterday, or when you were a child. In this moment, everything’s going your way. Imagine your surroundings and sensations and the people you’re with. Savor and re-live this experience, the visual images and the feelings. Give yourself at least a minute to savor this experience, then go to the next step.
Step 4 Get a clean sheet of paper. Again, assume you’ve got a free half hour with no pressing demands. What does this new, joyful feeling make you want to do right now? Consider all the feelings you get when reliving this experience. Make a new list of everything this makes you want to do. Take whatever time you need to complete your list, and when you’re finished move on to the next step.
Step 5 Now compare your lists. Compare the number of entries on each list. Compare the content of each. Consider your thinking and emotions when preparing each list.
Discussion The goal of studying your hand was to put you into a neutral state. Perhaps you crossed over into a more negative state if you thought it a particularly odd or annoying task. Either state is fine.
The goal of re-living a joyful moment was to put you into a positive state. If you’re like the subjects from my own unscientific experiments, and those in Barbara Fredrickson’s scientific ones, your second list was much longer.
In addition, it may have been filled with more meaningful activities. Or written in more vivid detail, with richer descriptions and word choices. Perhaps you came up with an entirely different list of inspiring, energizing, creative ways to fill your time. One of my “subjects” reported that he visualized his first list in black and white and his second list in vivid colors.
What an enormous difference in perspective. All of my subjects, including me, would’ve made a completely different decision on how to spend that free half hour. Can you begin to see how a physician’s perspective might be broadened when making a diagnosis? I’d certainly prefer to see that doctor!
What are the differences in your two lists? I’d love to hear about your results and observations, so please feel free to share. You can either leave a reply or use the contact form on the My Story page to contact me confidentially.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post. I plan to share more about how positivity broadens our thinking, cultivates creativity, and helps us solve everyday problems more easily.
With gratitude for putting happiness first,
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Fredrickson, Barbara (2009). Positivity: Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. New York: Three Rivers Press.