Last month, we talked about the negativity bias and the Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions. The Broaden and Build Theory refers to the broadening effect that positive emotions and experiences have on what we perceive about ourselves and our lives. When we are feeling better we not only notice more of what is happening in and around us but we tend to interpret that input more positively. However, because of the negativity bias–the baseline tendency to notice and give more weight to negative cues in our environment–we have to consciously induce positivity.
This is so significant because most of us tend to postpone positivity–perhaps just until we we get home from work or until the weekend comes, but sometimes for months until we’re on vacation or we’re through with a long-term project. The fact of the matter is that we need to introduce positivity constantly throughout our day, especially in the most stressful environments (e.g., at work, while you’re taking care of someone with high needs, while you’re in traffic, or even just taking care of the normal responsibilities of life).
We need to do this because the broadening effect of positive emotions and experiences shifts our belief in our ability to cope with the challenges we’re facing. Rather than feeling irritated, burdened, discouraged, fatigued, burnt out, or overwhelmed-all of those feelings we have when stress is getting the best of us-we feel more like “I’m on top of things”, “I’m managing” or “I’ve got this!”
It has been suggested that as individuals, we need to increase the ratio of positivity to negativity to 1:3. In our relationships, it should be 1:5 and at work it should be 1:11! If that seems pretty challenging it might help to know that Barbara Fredrickson, the architect of the Broaden and Build Theory whose work we site so often here, says that all we need to do is create micro-moments of positivity. This can include the simplest things that cause a shift in what we’re experiencing, such as having a pleasant exchange with a bank teller or cashier at the grocery store, stepping outside and breathing some fresh air, moving your body, playing with animals, making a list of things that you feel good about, listening to an energizing or moving song, reading a funny quote, etc..