Balancing Your Positivity Ratio

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Balancing Your PositivityRatio

Balancing your positivity ratioWhat is the point of positivity?Positivity is often over-sold and under-delivered. We have all had an experience of beingtold to “look at the positives” or “just don’t dwell on the negative” in a way that has left usfeeling worse, and may have even been counterproductive to our positivity. Buildingpositivity isn’t a quick fix to everything that goes wrong, and it definitely doesn’t stopnegative experiences from happening. Instead it’s a long-term approach to balancing outthe negatives we experience by giving the positive that do exist more attention, time andenergy. Building your positivity is not difficult or time-consuming, but does require changingsome well-worn habits and building new routines.Turning on your positivity switch:To get a sense of what positivity is, pause for a moment and turn on your positivity switch inorder to recognise what positives may exist around you, but are overlooked or hiddenunder other negatives. Ask yourself the following questions: What is right about my current circumstances?What makes me lucky to be here?What aspect of my current circumstances might I view as a gift to be treasured? Howdoes it benefit me or others?Take a moment to answer these questions:What is positivity?Positive emotions, like all emotions, arise from how we interpret events as they unfold.Positivity (1) includes the ability to experience a number of positive emotions; the ten mostcommonly experienced are listed below.Take a moment to think about what evokes each emotion for you and how you can buildyour experience of that emotion.2

EmotionPossible examples:JoyUnexpected rush of happiness ordelightBirth of a child, unexpected bonus, winninga prizeGratitudeOpens your heart and urges you togive backWhen someone goes out of their way tohelp, a mentor steers you in your career,being grateful for healthSerenityLet’s sit back and soak it inReading a book with a cat on your lap,walking along the beachInterestSense of possibility and mysteryLearning a skill, reading for interest,studyingHopeBelief things can changeHearing stories of success and triumphPrideA good feeling when you can takecredit for achievements of any sizeFinishing a home project, winning a race,publishing a paperAmusementWhen something unexpected makesyou laughCat videos, comedy shows, humorousgreeting cardsInspirationBeing uplifted to express what’s goodand do it yourself – it pulls us out ofour shellAweWhen you come across goodness on agrand scale and feel overwhelmed bygreatness and momentarily transfixedLoveAll of the above intermingledWitnessing a role model succeed, readingsomething that connects with yourmotivationsSeeing something magnificent in nature, ora human achievement. Seeing a wonder ofthe world, Neil Armstrong taking first stepson the moonSeeing someone we care for deeply,physical affectionActivity, memory, person or memento that evokes this for you

Negativity biasHave you ever noticed how much more impact negativity has on us? How the emotions ofanger, fear, and disgust can stick with us or form memories we won’t forget in hurry? This isbecause humans have evolved to recognise these emotions more quickly, as they wereoften associated with life harming events (2). Those that anticipated danger quickly andremembered the risk next time were more likely to survive, hence developed a tendency forhumans to overestimate threats and underestimate opportunities and resources.Although humans no longer face the same degree of life-or-death decisions each day, wehave retained the same responses to these negative emotions. Negative stimuli continue toproduce more neural activity in the brain than positive stimuli, leading negative events to bestored quickly in the brain, while positive emotions need to be held in awareness for adozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory to long-term storage. Anotherway to think of this is the brain being Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positiveones.Broaden and build your positive emotionsKnowing that we have a biological negativity bias, we can start taking simple steps to allowthe positives to build the same impact on our brain, experience and memory.The first step involves increasing the amount of time you notice and attend to the positiveemotions you experience. By doing so, you open yourself to noticing more positiveemotions and opportunities to experience them.Negative emotions close out new experiences and reduce our positive emotions. Mostpeople have experienced a downwards spiral of negativity, where the negative thoughts,emotions and experiences feed on themselves to make us feel worse.The broaden and build (1) approach uses the same dynamic but in reverse. Much like the sunopens a lotus flower and emerging darkness closes it, positive emotions open us up to moreoptions, open our visual field, and enhance creativity, making us better at seeing thepositives and integrating that information. Managers with greater positivity are moreaccurate and careful in decision making and more effective interpersonally. Negotiatorswho come in with a cooperative and friendly spirit stick a better deal.4

How do I score on positivity?As we have established, all experiences and emotions are not created equal in the impactthey have on us, so it makes sense that just balancing positive to negative emotions may notbe enough for us to receive the benefit from positivity. Barbara Fredrickson’s research (1) inthis area proposes that a 3:1 ratio of experiencing positive emotions to negative emotionsstarts to tip the scale in terms of benefit, and starts to build a positive upwards spiral.Interestingly her research indicated that most people (80% of an American sample) fallbelow this ratio, with most people sitting around the 2:1 mark.As the questionnaire gets you to reflect on the last 24 hours it can be significant influencedby a bad day, so it is possible to score 1:1 or lower in the course of our daily lives. However,if you consistently score 1:1 or lower you may warrant more individualised support toincrease your ratio.Now, with this information in mind, take time to complete the positive ratio questionnaire inthe appendix or online at maths of it – what does the ratio mean for me?As previously stated, this approach does not seek to eliminate negatives from our lives, aseliminating all negatives isn’t actually helpful, and it’s virtually impossible; despite your bestefforts, they will continue to exist. Instead, we want to balance out the negatives withenough positives to trigger an upward spiral, which means seeking a 3:1 ratio of positives tonegatives. So how do we do this?Reducing any negatives has the greatest overall impact on tipping the ratio in your favour.So this is where we start in this workbook.Then we look at strategies to build your positive emotions in ways that allow you to get themaximum benefit from the activities and experiences you already have, along withconsciously building in activities that let your positivity grow.If you can minimise the impact of a few negatives while also building on the positives, youcan achieve the desired balance more readily.5

Decreasing negativityThis approach doesn’t eliminate negativity – it focuses on reducing negatives if you can, andincreasing positivity to improve your overall ratio.It is important to remember that appropriate negativity, such as grief, anger and fear, isimportant to keep us grounded. We don’t want to eliminate negativity, but reducingunhelpful and unhealthy negativity can provide big gains in developing the 3:1 positivityratio.Dispute negative thinkingWe can develop habits in how we think that we are not aware of. Identifying and challengingthese automatic negative thoughts can assist us to shed some unhelpful negativity.Activities:Thought challenging: This involves taking your initial automatic thoughts and reflecting onthem to see what inbuilt biases might be adding to your negativity. One model is the ABCDmethodActivating event – What happened? What is stressing me out?Belief – What is my negative self-talk? What interpretations am I making? What negativeassumptions am I clinging to?Consequence – What am I feeling as a result of these beliefs? How might that affect mybehaviour?Dispute – Is there important information I’m overlooking? Is there an alternative, more realisticway of looking at this? What would I say to a friend if they were in the same situation?6

Talking to that friend/colleague/mentor can also help you to see another point of view youdidn’t see initially.Break the grip of ruminationRumination is when we go over and over a problem but don’t actually achieve anyresolution; we often only increase our intensity and duration of negativity.Activities:Stop activity: The first challenge is to recognise we are ruminating. We can often convinceourselves that going over an event again and again will be helpful, or sometimes it justhappens automatically. But when we recognise it we need to consciously “stop” and dosomething different (like challenge the thinking or follow the worry tree).Worry tree: The worry tree assists us to determine what to do with our worry. Is thissomething we can start to solve or is it completely out of our control and therefore notworth our time and energy? By following each step of the worry tree, we can categoriseworries into those we can action and those we should let go.Let go of rumination through mindfulness activities: When we learn to be mindful we learnto take those thoughts and concerns that can hook us and cause rumination or negativeemotions, and let them wash over us non-judgementally. Example of mindfulness activitiesare provided in the appendix.7

Become more mindfulMindfulness is a type of meditation that involves paying attention in a particular way – onpurpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. You mentally step back from thestream of your thoughts and sensations, and gain a wider perspective of your thinking.Activities:Explore guided mindful apps or websites: There is a lot of good quality free contentavailable online to start experimenting with mindfulness. You will notice a lot of variation inthe style of delivery and what you are being “mindful about”, e.g. noticing your breathing,being mindful while eating a piece of food, or noticing the colours around you. Try a fewdifferent styles to find one that works best for you. Example of mindfulness activities areprovided in the appendix.Attend a yoga or meditation class: Attending a class is a great way to learn the basics and tobuild practice into your weekly routine. Most yoga classes incorporate gentle exercises withmeditation practices to slow down your body and mind, and are another great place topractise this skill.Defuse negative landminesConsider the activities that trigger negative emotions for you. Sometimes we find ourselvescontinuing to walk straight into these landmines. When you have identified your ownlandmines and are in a neutral space – for example, if driving to work in peak hour traffic isa landmine for you – consider the following options:Avoid the situation (if non-essential): Look to take the bus to work, removing the need foryou to drive.Modify the situation: Change the time you drive if it avoids traffic, carpool, or takeaudiobooks for the journey.Attend to different aspects of the situation: Instead of focusing on the traffic or the timelisten to the radio or audiobooks – notice the changes on the way to work.Change the meaning of the situation: Instead of a stressful commute, think of it asprotected “me time” when you are out of touch by phone or email.Assess your media dietThe media focuses on negative news stories because that is what grabs the viewers’attention. However, this can develop a skewed perception of violence. People who watchless TV are more accurate judges of the degree of risk we might encounter each day.8

Find substitutes for gossip and sarcasmThese forms of amusement can be a double-edged sword: they come at a price for you andothers, and can bring everyone’s positivity ratio down. Consider commenting on a positivequality of someone, poke fun lightly, throw puns, not barbs.Dealing with negative peopleSometimes our negative landmines can come in the form of negative people. Sometimes weinvite negative people into our conversations. Have you ever stopped to talk to a personwho you know will see a problem from your point of view and will confirm how you feel?Sometimes we like having this confirmation that our assessment was right, but then whathappens when the other person keeps continuing with the negative past the point ofusefulness for you? Does it actually help in the long run to have someone confirm yournegativity? The strategies for defusing negative landmines also apply to defusing negativepeople.Modify the social situation: Can you limit your exposure to this person? Do you findyourself feeding their negativity? Choose joint activities that inspire you. Offer positivereframes to their glass-half-empty thinking.Attend to them differently: What are their positive qualities? What do you appreciateabout them?Change the meaning: Could this person or situation be a teacher in disguise? Reframe thesituation as a challenge to be more mindful and less judgemental, or more compassionate.Don’t overthink the positivesOverthinking those moments when you do have positive emotions is one of the quickestway to kill the positive and reduce its impact. The aim is to notice and experience thepositive without questioning it. Particular thoughts to avoid include: Thinking about when the positive experience will end.Thinking about whether you deserve this positive experience.Thinking about how much more might be expected of you now.Instead, just notice the positive elements, name the emotion if you can and notice what itfeels like. Think about how you would describe the event or emotion to a good friend whowould want to share your positive. Think about what you might do with this positive – forexample, add it to a gratitude journal or share it with a friend.9

Increasing positivityIncreasing positivity is more than just doing more of the things we enjoy; it is taking a fewmoments to notice and absorb the positivity from the positive experiences we already have,but also about finding the positives in the everyday that we often overlook.Find positive meaningIs the glass half empty or half full? Most circumstances we face are not 100% bad or 100%permanent, but that negativity bias we discussed earlier can lead us to believe they are.Seeking a “silver-lining” to any event is often subtle but still adds to the positivity ratio.Sometimes it can be challenging to find a silver lining in adverse events at these times it mayjust be to acknowledge that “this too shall pass”.Just as we asked you at the beginning of this workbook consider: What is right about my current circumstances?What makes me lucky to be here?What aspect of my current circumstances might I view as a gift to be treasured? Howdoes it benefit me or others?Activities:Affirmations: Write down the phrases or affirmations that help you to find some morepositivity. They might be phrases that make you smile, give you hope, or remind you of whatwe need to remember when times are tough. Put them in a place where you will see themduring the day, e.g. next to your computer or on your phone alarm.For example:“Life may hand you a cactus but you don’t have to sit on it. Being negative only makes adifficult journey more difficult”“This too shall pass”“What will I care when I am 70?”Savour goodnessIn addition to finding the good in the bad, you can also find further good in the good. Enjoythe good, savour it, remember it, and share the good with others who will celebrate withyou.Activities:Recall the positives: Remembering happy memories and past achievements elicits positivityby recreating the same neurochemistry in the brain as the original event. Put yourself backin the moment: What happened? Who was around? How did you feel at the time?10

Share the positives: Get in touch with the friend/colleague who likes to share in your goodnews. You may initially find this uncomfortable, as many of us have been taught that“bragging” is a bad quality. But we all have a friend or family member who is happy tocelebrate the positives, no matter how small. Get into the habit of sharing the positives. Forexample, instead of getting home and sharing all of the negatives from the day, challengeeach other to share the positives before you go to sleep.Count your blessingsRecast aspects of your daily life that before seemed hidden from view or altogethermundane as veritable gifts to be cherished.Activities:A gratitude journal, where you write down in a notebook at least three positives from theday and make a habit to do this every day. If you find it difficult to find three positives alsoconsider: What went well? What am I grateful for? What went better than expected?If you are creative you can also create a gratitude poster where you collect pictures andother reminders of things you are grateful for, or create a gratitude box of items andmementos. You can also create a positive feedback folder in your email inbox, where youcan save the “Thank you”s and “well done”s.Kindness countsActing kindly and noticing your acts of kindness to others can improve your positivity ratio.Research indicates a stronger effect if you perform several large acts of kindness on a singleday, rather than spreading them across the week.Activities:Random acts of kindness: Being kind to others has multiple effects on positivity. We feelgood when we give, expecting nothing in return, but we also add to someone else’spositivity. Having a kindness day, where you go a little out of your way to be kind, has abooster effect on your positivity.Say “Thank you”: Taking the time to thank people has an effect on others, while alsoincreasing our own positivity. It may be acknowledging them for something they usually do,or thanking them for a special effort they have made.Follow your passionsGive yourself permission to play. There is a reason that children laugh more than adults –they are not trying to be serious, and do what feels good. Find the activities that give youflow – this is where you become fully absorbed in an activity, and the challenges faced arematched with increasing skill development. You’re fully engaged. This could be found withwork or with hobbies.11

Activities:Make time for your interests and passions: If you enjoy an activity make time for it. It doesn’thave to contribute to your career or purpose in life to add to your positivity. We can enjoy asense of accomplishment and mastery when we look back at something we havecompleted, whether it is cooking a meal for friends, finishing a run, or knitting. If we enjoy it,it’s worth it.Discover new interests: Try new things, become curious, or do something outside of yourcomfort zone, e.g. laughing yoga.Dream about your futureConjure up the best possibilities for yourself: Visualise future success in detail. This can beuseful in building motivation and clarity for long-term projects.Visualise yourself achieving your goal: This is a strategy used by many professional athleteswho visualise themselves completing the actions required to win. Creating a mentalblueprint before a high-pressure event can pave the way for us to execute the taskscompetently and confidently. A non-sport example of this technique is the Foggy WindowExercise (3) (a link for the audio version is available in the appendix):Sit in a quiet room and close your eyes. Think of your goal or what it is you wish to accomplish.It does not matter that the details of the vision are not fully formed. It is important that such agoal or vision is one that does not involve harm to another or bad intent. While this techniquecould help you accomplish such a goal, it will ultimately result in pain and suffering to yourselfand make you unhappy.Relax your body completely. Once relaxed, focus on your breathing and try to empty your mindcompletely of all thoughts. When thoughts arise, guide your attention back to your breath.Continue to breathe in and out, completely emptying your mind.Now think of your goal or wish and see yourself as having accomplished it. Sit with the vision asyou slowly breathe in and out.Feel the positive emotions associated with accomplishing your goal or having achieved yourwish. Experience how good it feels to have taken a thought and turned it into reality. Sit withthe positive feelings as you see yourself having accomplished your goal.Once you have seen yourself having accomplished the goal and sat with the positive feelings,now begin to add details to the vision. Exactly how do you look? Where are you? How arepeople responding to you? Add as much detail to the vision as possible.Repeat one to two times daily or more for 10-30 minutes. Each time begin with the vision ofyourself having accomplished your goal. Sit with the feelings. Each time as you look at thevision add more details. It will start fuzzy but the more times you do the exercise the more thevision will become clearer and clearer.12

With each time you do the exercise you will find you are editing the vision as your unconsciousmind begins having clarity of the your strengthsPeople who have the opportunity every day to do what they do best, by acting on theirstrengths, are far more likely to flourish. One way to learn more about your own strengths isby participating in the online VIA Character Strengths questionnaire. Sometimes we haveopportunities to work to our strengths through our work, but sometimes it is other settings,such as being a family member or volunteering, that lets us engage in our strengths.Activities:Discover your character strengths: Fill out the online VIA Character Strengths questionnaireto get a personalised report and suggestions to build on your strengths( coaching or mentoring: If you have difficulty recognising or acknowledging yourstrengths, seeking feedback from others and engaging in mentoring or coaching can help,by having another person guide you through this process.Connect with othersSocial relationships containing warmth and trust are considered a necessary condition forflourishing, we were designed to be social creatures. So connect with others, every day, nomatter what. Even if you are not a naturally outgoing person, act like you are until you startto feel more comfortable, or find social situations that let you be included. It’s important toremember it’s not the number of social relationships that make the biggest impact is therelationships were we feel included. Connecting with others who have similar interests is agood way to foster positive social relationships.Activities:Schedule in regular catch-ups: It’s easy to intend to catch up with people but not get aroundto it. So make it a priority to schedule times to catch up with the people that count.Reconnect: If you have lost contact with someone, then make the effort to reconnect. Thereare a lot of reasons why friendships can drop off. Don’t let that negativity bias convince youit’s not worth it. Reconnect by any means that feel comfortable for you, whether it be text,email or Facebook – anywhere is a good place to start.Connect with like-minded people: Connecting with others who have similar interests is agood way to foster positive social relationships.13

Connect with natureNatural environments may be just as important as social relationships. People who spent 20minutes or more outside when the weather was nice showed positive effects on mood. Niceweather has no effect if you don’t go outside to enjoy it.Activities:Go outside on your breaks, and seek out green spaces: Even small breaks away from ourdesks are good for us, but when we connect this with movement and the outdoors, thebenefits increase. If you can find green spaces on your sojourns outside you will get afurther booster to your positivity.Try a walking meeting: Who says meetings need to be in stuffy offices? Walking meetingswork best for meetings of 2-3 people, when you walk at a casual pace – so you can still talk.Experiment with a walking meeting, to compare how you feel after compared to a standardmeeting.Exercise outside: Exercising has numerous benefits on our positivity through the release offeel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, but exercising outside, even onan overcast day, has shown to have even greater effects on our positivity.Open your mindBy practising mindfulness and other forms of meditation, we can learn to broaden and openour mind to further positivity. People who participated in a mindfulness training sessionshowed immediate and sustained brain activity (at four months) related to known positivityareas in the brain. Being mindful involves accepting goodness however it arrives, bypractising acceptance and not analysis.Activities:Explore guided mindful apps or websites: Visit for guidedmeditation related to opening your mind, or experiment with other mindfulness andmeditation practices.Open you heartThis involves a particular type of meditation that aims to evoke positive emotions, especiallyin the context of your relationships. It involves evoking warm, tender and compassionatefeelings you receive from others, and then moves to directing these feelings to everwidening circles of others.Activities:Open your heart meditation: Try this specific type of meditation using the script below (3) orfollowing the links provided:14

Relax your body completelyOnce relaxed, focus on your breathing and try to empty your mind completely of all thoughts.When thoughts arise, guide your attention back to your breath.Continue to breathe in and out, completely emptying your mind.Now think of the person in your life who has given you unconditional love, or conversely,who in your life have you given unconditional love.Sit with that feeling of warmth and contentment that unconditional love brings, while youslowly breathe in and out. Feel the power of unconditional love and how you feelaccepted and cared for even with all your flaws and imperfections.Think of someone you care for and with intent, extend unconditional love to them.Understand that the gift you are giving her is the same gift that someone gave to you andwill make others feel cared for and protected.As you are giving that same unconditional love to one you care for, think again how youfeel when you have been given unconditional love and acceptance.Again reflect on how it feels to be cared for, protected, and loved regardless of your flawsand imperfections and think of a person to whom you know but have neutral feelings.Now with intention extend the same unconditional love to them. As you are embracingthem with love, wish them a prosperous life with limited suffering. Hold them in yourmind and see their future. See their happiness. Let yourself be bathed in that warmfeeling.Now think of someone with whom you have had a difficult relationship or have negativefeelings. Understand that oftentimes one’s actions are a manifestation of one's pain. Seethem as yourself, a flawed, imperfect being who at times struggles and makes mistakes.Think of the person in your own life who gave you unconditional love. Reflect on how thatlove and acceptance impacted you. With intention give that same feeling of unconditionallove to that person who is difficult or for whom you have negative feelings.See everyone you meet as a flawed imperfect being just like you who have mademistakes, taken wrong turns, and at times have hurt others. Yet, who are struggling anddeserve love. With intention give them unconditional love. In your mind bathe them withlove, warmth and acceptance. It does not matter their itivityratio.com15

Develop positivity portfoliosConsider developing a larger portfolio for each of the common positive emotions. This mayfeel a bit childish, but when it comes to positivity it’s important to reflect that children knowwhat we have forgotten as adults. Each portfolio might contain photos, letters, quotes orobjects that carry deep personal meaning for you. Store these mementoes in a box orfolder.Activities:Create a positivity space at your desk: If possible bring a few photos and mementoes thatelicit positive emotions and keep them near your desk so you can notice them often.Create a virtual portfolio: Use technology to develop an online portfolio of pictures, eventsor memories that create positive emotions for you. Apps like Pinterest act as a virtual scrapbook, or 1 Second Everyday lets you collect one-second videos each day to develop anothertype of portfolio. You can share these online or keep them private.References for further reading1. Fredrickson, B (2009). Positivity: ground-breaking research reveals how to embrace thehidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive2. Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring happiness: the new brain science of contentment, calmand confidence3. Doty, J. (2016). Into the magic shop: a neurosurgeon’s true story of the life changingmagic of compassion mindfulnessMindfulness links with guided // resourcesCelebrate what’s right with the world Dewitt Jones, National Geographic16

My positivity ratioInstructionsHow have you felt in the past day? Look back over the past day (i.e. from this time yesterdayup to right now). Using the 0-4 scale below, indicate the greatest degree to which you'veexperienced each of the following feelings.0 Not at all1 A little bit2 Moderately3 Quite a bit4 Extr

be enough for us to receive the benefit from positivity. Barbara Fredrickson’s research (1) in this area proposes that a 3:1 ratio of experiencing positive emotions to negative emotions starts to tip the scale in terms o