The Power of Positive

Which is it … “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty”?  Do you say “Yes” more than “No”?  Talk of “opportunities” as opposed to “challenges”?  If so, then you may be exercising a very important leadership trait … optimism.  (Or as I like to call it, the “power of positive.”)

Research has shown that optimism plays a key role in effective leadership.   

How often are we faced with this scenario?

You are a dedicated employee of Company X.  You arrive at the office on Monday morning to a company-wide meeting.  The President stands in front of you and your colleagues and says, “We are doomed.”  He goes on to talk about the soft market and the down economy and the company’s technological inferiority, etc., etc., etc. 

How do you feel?  My guess is that you are probably not saying, “Hold on … I can’t wait to get to my desk and conquer the world!!!!”   My guess is that you are saying, “Hold on … I can’t wait to get to my desk and work on my resume!!!”

Leaders – what type of environment are you creating?  One that spells pessimistic doom and gloom?  One that unrealistically looks at everything through rose-colored glasses?  Or – one that communicates hope, positivity, and “will do” attitudes?  Realistic optimism is key. Let’s see the world as half-full – for every challenge is an opportunity.

Adele Lynn, in The EQ Difference, writes that overcoming obstacles and maintaining optimism is essential to emotional intelligence.  The leadership voice of influence is one of optimism.  Stephen R. Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that we all should “see every problem as an opportunity to exercise creative energy.”  Wouldn’t you rather be on a team that is focused on looking at problems differently … being creative … experiencing success – together?

Good news!  Optimism can be developed.

1.  Use positive words.

Listen to yourself.  Do you use negative words?  No – not – never – nothing – none … or derivatives thereof?

Several years ago I had the honor of working with Dr. Vincent Covello, Director of the Center for Risk Communication.  We were working with government personnel on the nuances associated with high-concern/low-trust communication.  Dr. Covello always emphasized his Negative Dominance (1N=3P) rule – for every one negative spoken, one must counter with three positives.  In times of stress, our minds are so attuned to finding the negative.  Without an overabundance of positives, we dwell on the “worst-case scenario” and totally ignore the positive.

So – challenge your vocabulary.  Corral your self-talk.  Say “can” instead of “can’t”.  Say “will” instead of “won’t”.  Say “I choose to …” instead of “I have to …”.  Reframe your thoughts and reframe your self-talk.  Think positive.  Face it … optimism is a mindset.

2.  Suspend judgment.

Anthony Tjan, a Harvard Business Review blogger, wrote July 2011 piece titled “Learning Optimism with the 24×3 Rule”.  Tjan suggests that we practice a “willing suspension of disbelief” upon the introduction of a new idea, a new person, or a new “anything”.

When you hear an idea for the first time or you meet someone new, suspend your judgment for 24 seconds.  Don’t even think anything negative – for 24 seconds.  Then work to increase that “willing suspension of disbelief” or judgment to 24 minutes.  Once you have trained yourself to withhold judgment for 24 minutes – work to make it 24 hours.

That break-in time permits your rational brain to take over and allows you to give careful consideration to the idea or the person.  The break-in time provides you with the space to think positively (remember your self talk above) about how the idea might work or how the person you are meeting might add value to the project or team or relationship.

This can be done.  It just takes practice.  It takes awareness.  It takes mid-course correction.  For yes, we are humans … and we will make slips.  However, each slip-reversal brings us much closer to our optimistic ideal.

3.  Act as if …

“Act as if you can’t …” and guess what – you can’t.  However, “act as if you can …”, then the world opens up.  Act as if you are happy … you will smile.  Act as if you have confidence … you will stand straighter.  Act as if you can … and you will.  Adele Lynn describes the “Act As If …” technique in The EQ Difference.  Once again – we are testing our mindset.

sol pedal logoMy exercise passion is spinning – an hour-long cycling activity on a stationary bike in a dark room with great music and great friends.   As I first began doing this in the fall of 2010, I would think, “Oh, I can’t do this today” or “Oh, I can’t continue through this song.” One morning – about two months in – a fellow spinner said to me, “You can do anything for 30 seconds.”  And you know what – she was (and still is) right.  So I act as if I am a sprinter or a hill-climber or a jumper.  I act as if I can ride that bike like a true competitive cyclist … and I do … for 30 seconds – and then another 30 seconds beyond that – and another 30 seconds beyond that.  Soon – the hour has flown by … and my optimism over that accomplishment boosts my day.

Lynn writes, “If you find yourself in a pattern of thinking that is destructive, the most significant way to change that pattern is to begin acting differently, even before you believe or feel like acting different.  Thought will then follow your behavior.”

The best news yet … optimism is a life extender. 

If none of this piece has resonated with you to this point … think of this.  Research has shown that those with an optimistic outlook tend to outlive pessimists.  Optimists are more adaptable, more resilient, have less stress, and better morale.  In short … optimists live longer.

So – to all you leaders … reflect on the words of Helen Keller (author, activist, lecturer, and the first deaf/blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree).

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

 Read More About It

  • Covey, Stephen R.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.  New York, NY:  Fireside.  1989.
  • Lynn, Adele.  The EQ Difference:  A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work.  New York, NY:  AMACOM.  2005.
  • McGinnis, Alan Loy.  The Power of Optimism.  New York, NY.  Harper Collins.  1990.

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One Comment on “The Power of Positive”

  1. […] June 2012 article, “The Power of Positive”, speaks to the importance of positivity and optimism.  With so much negativity surrounding us, […]


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