In my home country Barbados, we have just celebrated our independence day. On that occasion our Prime Minister referenced the fact that as a country, we needed to embrace a stronger focus on celebrating our achievements as a nation, while also honouring those individuals who have done remarkable things.
Unfortunately, that has not always been our perspective. We have more often been a people who believe that those things which are imported are better than those which are home grown. We have also tended to believe that we need to look outside of our land to find solutions and innovations to our problems or challenges. I have always thought that it came from us not having the right mindset.
I already know that it is human nature to focus on what we do not have and what we are not good at doing. Most people have a running list that they keep in their heads about all they ways that they are not perfect, or not good enough or not like someone else that they admire. We almost always know the reasons why something will not work.
During my training sessions, I have an exercise that I ask people to do. I ask them to tell me what they think would lead to greater success for them; focusing on improving in their areas of strength or focusing on improving in their weak areas. Ninety percent of the responses I get back are for people saying that it would be better if they focused on their weaknesses. Their justification is always the same. They have a fear that if they do not do something about their weaknesses then there is a chance that the weakness will have a negative impact on them in the future. They always assume that the strengths will just take care of themselves. This helps them to justify why they focus so much on their weaknesses rather than their strengths.
I have also found that when I ask people in strategic planning sessions to identify their organization’s strengths and weaknesses, they can usually come up with a few strengths. Maybe enough to fill one page. However, when they are listing the weaknesses, there are pages and pages of things that they can identify. Now you might think that this means that the organizations are really, really bad. Often that is not the case. When I ask them to start talking about what they have accomplished or what their team has accomplished then we start to see more things being revealed that fall into the positive side of the table.
I also know that even for myself, as an individual, in spite of what I know and have learnt over the years, I have to work at pulling my mind back to the positive side of the street. I even have a phrase that perfectly explains why I notice what is missing or what is wrong. I always say that ‘I perceive by exception’. The sad thing is that I am not making that up. That really is what I do. I can walk into a space and notice immediately when something is out of place or not where it used to be. I don’t instinctively see what’s right. I instinctively see what’s wrong.
There is a reason why we all do this. It’s because for most of us, it works. Not all the time, but often enough that we feel justified to keep doing it. For me, this ability to notice what is out of place, once helped me to spot that someone had broken into my home as soon as I opened the door. There was something on the floor and my brain could not come up with any logical explanation for why it was there. Before I walked through the door, I knew something was wrong.
This habit also helps me on my job. When I am proof reading something I can immediately spot when spacing is off, or when fonts are different. They just look out of place and wrong to me. So it has served me well. However, as with all abilities, if it is used too much, it becomes a problem. If I do this all the time, it means that I am never telling my team members when they do something right. I am only pointing out problems that they have or things that they do wrong. That can be demoralizing.
The other unfortunate thing that can happen is when we turn that critical eye on ourselves. Then there is no escape. If you keep your focus only on what you do wrong or what you are not good at, you can become demotivated and doubtful of your ability to achieve what you want in your life. This is worse because when that negative voice is inside your head, nothing can drown it out.
I am fortunate however that years ago I made a decision that I wanted to be happy. I did recognize that it was not likely that I would be in a positive mood every minute of every day. However, my goal is that, on average, when I add up all the days and moments of positivity and negativity there should be a net positive position. In other words, more positive moments than negative ones, overall. This helps reinforce my decision to choose the positive option whenever there is one.
So I have spent a lifetime trying to get more balance into my way of thinking and looking at things. I even remember a quote from Tim Allen’s show Home Improvement. He once said to his wife, if you have two choices in how you interpret something and one of them makes you happy and the other makes you sad or mad, why wouldn’t you just choose the one that makes you happy? Did you ever think about that?
For me, it starts with reminding myself to focus on more than the negative. I have to remind myself when giving feedback, don’t start with the problem. Or, even if I slip up and start there, then that cannot be all that I mention.
I have to train myself to consistently see the positive side of things. It’s relatively easy for me to look on the bright side, where other people are concerned. It is a constant struggle however to keep that perspective when thinking about myself. So every day I choose to counteract the negative thoughts that come up, whether they are in my own head or they are coming from someone else in my environment.
My weapons of mass optimism can include listening to music I love, listening to comedy routines that make me laugh or identifying silly moments in my life that make me laugh. There really is no better person to laugh at than yourself.
So I am choosing to have a positive mindset. I am choosing to focus on my strengths and what I am capable of. I really do believe that the world is full of kind, caring people. Every where I go I only meet nice people. The participants in my classes are always willing and eager to learn and to grow. This is my choice and I find that the more I expect positive, the more I find what I expect.
To reinforce all of this for me, I stopped listening to the news. Just 10 minutes of unfiltered news broadcasts, on any channel, can ruin your whole day. So I get my news in small increments and I always have to remind myself that there are just as many or more instances of goodness in the world. There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. “You have to decide if you live in a friendly or hostile universe.” So I choose friendly, because the alternative does not lead to happiness for me.
Therefore, in my country I expect there to be an increasing number of people who are choosing to take a positive outlook and to believe that we can do what we need to do, in order to grow as a nation. We can do it, because we have a track record based on our past accomplishments. We can do it, because we can take a positive outlook that lets us focus on what is possible. We can choose to be positive. You can too.
Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance. She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. For more of her writing visit https://marjoriewharton.live