Something Positive You Can Do

Posted 12.04.2009

As I write this on Friday, I’m thinking back on the serious and crazy events of the last week or so. The first few that come to mind are President Obama’s speech on the troop increase in Afghanistan, the White House jobs summit, the White House party crashers and the whole Tiger Woods debacle. If all you focused on was this kind of stuff, a person could get sort of down.

Positivity Fortunately, I’m at the annual meeting of the International Coach Federation in Orlando this week and there are  a lot of other things to pay attention to. I just attended what was probably the best session of the conference for me which was a talk on the “Science of Coaching with Positivity” by Barbara Fredrickson who is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina. She’s also the author of Positivity which I just picked up at the conference book store. It looks like a great book based on a quick scan. You can read more about her work at

Fredrickson’s research shows that positive emotions are inherently impermanent. That presents a challenge for all of us since her research also shows that in order to show up at our best cognitively, socially, psychologically and physically, we need a ratio of at least three positive inputs for every one negative input. She offers an entire tool kit for building positivity in her book and offers some free tools online at

For now, here’s one thing she shared with us this morning that you can try with someone you care about (e.g. co-worker, teammate, child, life partner). Fredrickson’s research shows that gratitude is a game changer in transforming relationships. It turns out, though, that there is a right way and a wrong way to say thanks. Let’s start with the wrong way. Don’t thank someone for doing something and then immediately start talking about how it benefits you. Instead, when you thank someone put the focus on them and talk about how what they did for you is reflective of the larger qualities that you appreciate in them. The example that Fredrickson gave was a husband who thanked his wife for bringing a lemon square home for him from an office party. He didn’t talk about how much he loved lemon squares (even though he did); he talked about how her bringing home the lemon square was an example of how thoughtful she is.

So, in the midst of this crazy and stressful world we live in, I encourage you to look for some opportunities today to spread some positivity. Go find someone who’s done something you appreciate and offer them a high quality “thank you.”  They’ll feel better and so will you.