The Myth of Positive People
This was originally posted on LinkedIn 9/10/15
A few years ago I was out with friends and ended up running into someone I had briefly met once, but was also connected with through social media. After I said hello the first thing they said to me was "Hey, you're Mr. Positive!" My first thought was "I've been called worse." My reply was "I try to be."
What is the biggest difference between positive people than those who are not?
Is it circumstances? (Do positive people live easier lives?)
Is it experiences? (Do positive people have better experiences?)
Is it how we grew up? (Did positive people have a better home life?)
Is it money? (Do positive people make more money?)
Is it luck? (Are positive people luckier?)
The myth of positive people is that there must be "some reason" they are so positive. It must be their circumstances, experiences, their past, how they grew up, money, or luck. For crying out loud they must have been given some advantage for them to be so positive. The truth is, there is a single reason people are positive:
They choose to be! (I know, it's not very dramatic. Sorry!)
Yes, they make a choice! Regardless of how they grew up, what they've experienced, and their current circumstances, positive people choose to be positive. But, it's not just a choice to be positive; it's also a choice NOT to be negative. It's about living a higher quality of life and at some point people who tend to be more positive realized the quality of their life is higher when they are positive than when they are negative. Pretty simple, huh?
If being positive is a simple choice and leads to a higher quality of life, why are people negative? (I'm glad you asked!)
Here are some thoughts:
People Don't See Their Options For some people, life just happens and they don't see the choices they have. It's like asking a blind person to describe what is in front of them. It's impossible because they don't see anything. I remember when my daughter was five years old and having conversations with her where I was trying to get her to understand the concept of choices. We talked about a box of crayons and how each color is a choice that she needs to make depending on what she was coloring. I would say "OK, if you are coloring a banana and you have to choose from the colors red, yellow, and blue, which color is the "right" choice for a banana?" Or "When your teacher asks you to do something, your choices are to do it right, do it wrong, or not do it at all, what is your best option?" That led us into the concept of right and wrong and good and bad choices and consequences; because there are consequences to every choice we make and don't make. Some people don't see the choices they have and/or are they aren't aware of how things can be different.
People Don't Take Personal Responsibility Some people feel they are at the mercy of the world around them and use their perceived lack of control as a crutch. In the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the differences between being dependent, independent, and interdependent in what he refers to as a Maturity Continuum. The lowest level of maturity is dependence with Covey stating "dependence is the paradigm of you- you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn't come through; I blame you for the results." He continues "Dependent people need others to get what they want" versus having more of an independent attitude of "I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose" or reaching the most mature attitude: interdependence that is "we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities to create something great together." Some people don't accept responsibility for how they approach and respond to the world and for whatever reason they haven't "connected the dots" for how their actions impact their results.
Their Needs Are Being Met In a nutshell Abraham Maslow says we have different levels of needs that will demand our attention when not met; such as a need for safety & security, social & love, esteem & accomplishment, and self-actualization & knowing our purpose. For how crazy it might sound, being negative meets some people's needs. Now I would argue that negative people are fighting like hell to satisfy their need for safety and security, but here is how negativity could be giving them what they need. Perhaps speaking their mind makes them feel more in control. (security) Maybe complaining gets them attention from others or they run themselves down so those around them will shower them with compliments. (social & love) Negativity could be an effective relationship building tactic as it attracts others who feel the same way and builds common ground. (social) Maybe running other people down makes them feel better about themselves. (esteem & accomplishment). Perhaps asserting their power and control gives them a sense of purpose or meaning (self-actualization). Psychologists will tell you that we all developed strategies at a very young age to meet our needs. Some people attached themselves to positive tactics to meet their needs while others found negative ways to be effective.
The Negativity Bias In the Tracom Groups’ program titled Adaptive Mindset: Resiliency, they state that "we are hard-wired to focus on negative, unpleasant information compared to positive information." They continue to site the following research. "In one study, researchers showed participants positive, negative, and neutral stimuli and found that electrical activity in the cerebral cortex was strongest in response to negative stimuli. So we are wired to focused on the negative. The negativity bias is even evident in our language. For example, of the 558 emotion words in the U.S. English Dictionary, 62% of them are negative and only 38% of the are positive. And, of the most common words that people use, 70% of them are negative. This means that we have a more complex and varied way of conceptualizing negative feelings compared to positive ones.
Drama is Power As the Negativity Bias explains negative messages have a greater impact on us than positive messages and media, entertainment, and advertising industries know this. They know the best way to get ratings, attract attention, and influence us to do something is to be dramatic and create pain or unpleasant feelings. We get hammered with thousands and thousands of messages every single day trying to influence us one way or another and get us to take action. Every single year there is millions of dollars spent on research to better understand how we think, make decisions, behave, and how we're motivated. There are organizations who spend a great deal of time and money to better understand how to influence us in their direction and they know the best way to do so is to make you feel discomfort and insecurity. They want us to feel negative about ourselves, others, and the world around us. They need us to.
People who are not intentional with their choices instantly put themselves at a disadvantage; a disadvantage that can easily become a pattern and lifestyle with a few poor decisions. Life is challenging enough while trying to be positive! I know some people have this fantasy that life is supposed to be a certain way and good things should happen to good people and things need to be fair. I agree, that sounds awesome, but that is not reality. It is in your best interest and the best interest of everyone who depends on you to exercise your power of choice and be more intentional.
It's a choice to be made!
People who are positive simply make the decision to be positive because it contributes to a higher quality of life. It's not about puppy dogs and ice cream, holding hands singing kumbaya, or acting like everything is perfect. It's about understanding and being OK the realities of the world; that there is good and bad, but at the end of the day being positive is more productive than
All you have to do is make the choice!
Will you make it?