We are what what we say. Wait, is that how the saying goes?
Not quite, but there’s truth in it. If you want to be a more positive person, you have to start by talking like one. Here’s why, according to neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg and communications expert Mark Robert Waldman:
“By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain.”
In other words, thinking (and speaking) in positive language will effect positive change — in behavior, ideology, and outlook.
The question is, how do you get that positivity going, especially if you tend toward the cynical?
By switching from consequence thinking to value and opportunity thinking. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It starts granularly, with basic tweaks to our everyday language. Here’s an example of a everyday sentence changed to be more opportunity-focused:
Consequence-focused: The barista screwed up my order. And I waited in line for 20 minutes! What a waste of a morning.
Value/opportunity-focused: The barista gave me a drink I didn’t order, but I haven’t tried it before. It might be something I like. I also got to chat with someone new while I was waiting.
Or, in a business context:
Consequence-focused: That report was a nightmare to get done. I worked an extra 10 hours last week just to get it ready for the meeting this morning.
Value/opportunity-focused: I nailed the report that’s going out this morning. It took a lot of time, but I think it will pay off — a lot of investors will see it, which means I have the chance to get more funding.
To clarify, I’m not suggesting we we should (or even can) walk around with a permanent glow. That’s just not realistic — and I’ve written about the downsides to toxic positivity (i.e. the dismissal of our reality).
The goal is to focus on actual value and opportunity, not fabricate it. There will be times when things are just not going well — and it’s important to acknowledge that. But it’s also important to take the perceived negative and see how it can be changed to frame something positive.
As with so many changes to our habits and routines, the key here is consistency. Change won’t happen in a single day, so stick with it. I noticed improvement in my outlook after about a month — and if you’re really committed to building a more positive mindset, it could happen even faster for you.