Not all emotions are created equal
In my work as a corporate trainer, I often talk to leaders about the balance between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ interactions. Research suggests that for a team to perform well and for the members of the team to feel good about being a part of that team, they need a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions.
That means, for every negative interaction (something perceived as ‘bad’ by the members of the team) they need five positive interactions to redress the balance.
The same is true in everyday life.
Our brains have one main function: to ensure our survival.
To do this, they have to monitor and detect potential threats so we can react accordingly.
With this purpose in mind, you can see why positive experiences can be ignored. They hold little survival value so what is the point in cluttering up our thinking with them?
The safest we’ve ever been
The negativity bias and survival instinct serve us well in threat situations but the trouble we have these days is that we’ve never been safer or more comfortable (as a collective – this is not necessarily true for all individuals).
If you are reading this, the likelihood is you own a smartphone or a computer, you have a home, you have access to fresh food and water, you have a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear. Those things alone give you massive advantages over our ancestors.
Taking the good for granted
The things we take for granted take up very little space in our thoughts, words and memories so, over time, they disappear completely. It’s like they never happened.
True, we remember the really good stuff. But we forget the little moments, the small wins, the moments where things worked in our favour, where someone listened or smiled, where luck was on our side.
Just one bad moment has the capacity to stomp in and squash all the good that came before.
Fatten up the good
Fattening up the good means you let the good things in your life occupy more space in your thoughts and more space in your words – so you think about them more, make more effort to remember them and talk about them more too.
When the good things in your life carry more weight, they do a better job of counterbalancing all the stuff your brain naturally picks up and focusses on.
How to Fatten the Good Today
- Before bed tonight, think back over your day and write down 5 things you’re happy about or grateful for.
- If you struggle to do this, think back and identify things you’re worried about losing then review your list and identify why those things are important to you – that will form your gratitude list.
- When talking to someone about work / home / kids / any other topic, deliberately choose to share something you feel good about. For example, tell them about something you’re proud of or pleased about. Express your happiness or pride freely.
Notice how you feel when you do these activities.
Writing a gratitude list can feel strange at first but, over time, can generate massive results because you gradually shape your habits so you’re better able to notice the positive moments while you’re experiencing them – which allows you to deepen your experience of them so they weigh more heavily in your mind and memories.
Sharing positive thoughts is difficult for many people. We don’t like bragging and we’re accustomed to bonding with others through shared complaints and dissatisfactions but if you have someone in your life who would also like to feel stronger and more positive, you could make this a shared habit.
Ongoing Habits to Fatten the Good
- Keep a gratitude diary – make it a daily practice to record the things you’re happy about or grateful for.
- Eat at the table and include conversation prompts that encourage everyone at the table to talk about things they’re happy about or grateful for. In our house, everyone gets a chance to tell the others at the table about the “best thing that happened today”. Even though we all have bad days it’s very rare that we can’t find something to share.
- Pay attention to the little things you’d normally overlook – a smile from someone you love, a small gesture like a cup of tea made for you, the feel of your favourite clothes, pain-free exercise etc. Even though these things aren’t significant, learning to notice them and give them more weight helps you feel stronger in the face of the things that don’t go your way because you have a better view of the balance in your life.
Comments and Questions
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Image: kristina paukshtite via pexels