Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Positivity starts with you

Pollyanna was one of my godmother’s favorite movies. It seemed a bit like a fable, this girl who looked for the good in everything. I hadn’t spent enough time with people to be think it was an unreachable fiction. But the world depicted was so divorced from my own life as to be basically as unlikely as ET.

Years later though, I remember hearing someone call another colleague a Pollyanna. I was surprised by their derision. Pollyanna wasn’t hurting anyone with her behavior. She was just trying to do her best playing the cards she was dealt. But, then I found myself interacting with the forced cheeriness of “I’m happy” colleagues. They wouldn’t speak negativity because they didn’t want to take sides, say. Or they would only talk about the successes, say. There were also the people whose idea of forecasting the future and budgeting was basically storytelling and conjuring. These were the people who call problems  “opportunities.” These folks use positivity as a coping mechanism and a shield. They often project, and even push, their attitude onto others. They don’t dig deeper into negativity. But like so many facades, the ugliness underneath remains. Potemkin villages don’t flourish; they just shine in the moment of inspection.

Why do people do this? Seeing the negative, voicing the reasons for such issues, and then finding solutions are all really hard to do. It’s hard to be willing to speak truth to power; it’s even harder to speak your own truths. You might be fooled by others (I know I often am), but the people many are most fooled by are themselves. So, people honest with problems is hard. Now, honesty is not negativity, though they can be kissing cousins. Honesty is about sharing good and bad.

Negativity is dwelling in the bad. They can sound like the same language. The difference with negativity is that it persists, permutating and propagating itself. Negativity has a velocity that can feel explosive. And, negativity loves power vacuums. So, the so-called Pollyannas often avoid negativity, in the way someone might avoid a potentially addictive drug.  Negativity feels good, at once a release of energy and people validating your fear.

But like a reformed sinner, I know the cost to your soul of negativity in the work place. The toxicity can erode your well-being. It fuels you, while at the same taking energy away from you. Negativity can eventually colonize your mind, and like a virus, just feed itself.

So, how do you not fall prey to the pull of negativity but also not be a Pollyanna? I don’t know if I have a universal answer. But, for me, it’s a bit about vigilance. You are the only one who can remind yourself to not be negative. You are also the person who has to remind yourself to be realistic. You might tell me that you can do your best at being positive, but you are mired in a toxic workplace. 

And, I’ll tell you the fight is real. I’ve been there. But, the best thing I did, and I had the means to do so, was to leave. I also made the very conscious choice not to continue to let my mental processes go back to that place. Old mental habits feel better than your most comfortable shoes. They’re well-worn paths are where your mind, if not trained, will take you. You have to push your mind to other, more positive paths. And, putting up a façade of positivity won’t keep you off those dark paths. Your mind will take you there when you’re in your quiet moments or when the stress short circuits you.

Try this. On a given day, measure your reactions. How many of them were realistic, but positive? How many were hopeful? How many were about growth and improvement? How many of them were defeatist or negative? Be honest with yourself on these answers. After you tally your responses, try to make one more positive reaction tomorrow. Give yourself a couple weeks of being a bit more positive. Then assess how you feel. If this move toward positivity feels good, what does it hurt? Who knows—you might be glad of the change.

Pollyanna wasn’t a fool. Being positive is just as easy as not. If you aren’t pushing people into false positivity or shaming people for their level of negativity, your positivity can make doing work easier. And, I do believe there is plenty of good in every work day if you look for it. As Pollyanna said, there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” You are the one who can find sources of gladness in your work life.

Is positivity part of your work process? Tag me so I can add your thoughts to this month’s summary post @artlust on twitter, @_art_lust_ on IG, & @brilliantideastudiollc on FB. 

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