Tools for Cultivating Positivity

Tools for Cultivating Positivity

Tools for Cultivating Positivity

In partnership with our friends at Miami Cocktail Company

Niyc Pidgeon

The power of positivity has some potent benefits for our overall well-being. And happiness, as they say, is contagious. In this three-part series, we’ve teamed up with Miami Cocktail Company to explore what it means to have hope, what makes our lives meaningful, and how to find—and embrace—the joy within and around us.

Positive psychologist Niyc Pidgeon believes that being optimistic isn’t about being happy all the time. Instead, she says, positive psychology is about being able to weather the storm so that the good stuff outweighs the bad. And there are simple tools, which she shares below, for seeing the bright side and turning problems into opportunities. By adopting a growth mindset when facing life’s inevitable challenges, Pidgeon says we build resilience and grit, which makes it easier to find the silver lining in almost any situation. And when we’re thinking more positively, we’re able to take in information more easily, reach our goals faster, find more meaning and purpose in life, and build better relationships. So positive psychology isn’t just wearing rose-colored glasses all the time and ignoring reality. It’s learning how to shift your perspective by doing something—big or small—that not only makes life look a little sunnier but also makes you feel better every day.

A Q&A with
Niyc Pidgeon, MSc

How do you define what it means to be positive?

Positive psychology isn’t just about positive affirmations or positive thinking. Being positive means doing things in your daily life that can help you feel better more of the time. Now, I’m not saying all of the time; I’m saying more of the time. To be positive all the time is not the goal because we can run the risk of forcing ourselves to appear or to be something that we’re not feeling on the inside. If there’s a dissonance between how you feel on the inside and the way that you show up on the outside, it becomes energetically exhausting.

“Fifty percent of your happiness is genetic. Only 10 percent is based on your circumstances. And 40 percent is in your control.”

In positive psychology, we want to focus on the process rather than the goal. Part of the process is indulging in simple practices that can help make you feel better. That might mean taking a look at the challenges and finding the blessings in them. Rather than saying that things should be good all of the time or you should feel good all of the time, take a moment to say that you haven’t been feeling good. Things haven’t been great. We’ve experienced a lot of change this year. Things have been tough. We’ve really been tested, and it’s okay to have a bad day. But you can also choose to look for the hidden gems within these things.

Where does positive psychology fit in when things are objectively bad?

Positive psychology is like a protection against negative experiences. It’s an opportunity for us to see things in a different way. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychologist, did a foundational piece of research in the science some years ago. It was called the happiness pie. In that happiness pie, she found from her research that 50 percent of your happiness is genetic. Only 10 percent is based on your circumstances. And 40 percent is in your control. Most people might believe that it is mostly your circumstances that cause you to not feel good. But even in your circumstances, you have an opportunity to be able to choose a different way. Every day and every moment you get to choose. If you don’t feel good, what’s one positive action or step that you could take for yourself right now?

The positive step might be doing nothing. It might be giving yourself an hour of dedicated time for your own self-care and your own mental health—giving yourself a break rather than pushing and beating yourself up and speaking negatively to yourself all the time. The positive stuff doesn’t always have to mean do more or take more action. It can mean do less, go inward, do this work, read this book, be kind to yourself.

How can you use positive psychology to find purpose in your life?

Your purpose is what drives you forward and motivates you. It’s what you would do even if you weren’t getting paid for it. It’s that bigger mission and that bigger vision that allows you to be, do, create, and have everything that you desire in this world. To find your purpose is to live with more meaning.

“When people go through adversity and challenge, some quit, but others not only decide to survive—they go on to thrive and perform better than ever before.”

It might be that you do an exercise to look backward rather than forward. One of the tools of positive psychology is to do a life review or summary. Write down your life story as a starting point and look through your life story for the defining moment where you’ve either had a big insight or a perspective shift or a trajectory change. That might be something big, like having a baby, or it might be something small.

We often look at the problems rather than the opportunities. If we could shift a problem to be a positive or learning or growth-focused experience, how different would our lives be? So I always ask people to explore where they have had a defining moment or a pivotal point in their life or they’ve done or experienced something that was challenging or that they did well on that they could perhaps lean further into.

How do we turn these experiences into positive emotions?

One piece of it is identifying the defining moments. The other piece is then doing the inventory—a summary of all the good things. Defining moments might be good, they might be bad, or they might be neutral. But once you have your life summary, remind yourself of all of the things you’re grateful for: the achievements, accomplishments, things you’re proud of, things you want to celebrate. It’s a great list to make because we forget how awesome we are. Especially at the moment, when there’s an unstable foundation in the world, people are looking for stability and certainty and control and truth and someone to trust. When you find that within yourself first, you’re always going to be able to maintain a stable center no matter what’s going on in the world.

How does positive psychology help us build resilience?

When people go through adversity and challenge, some quit, but others not only decide to survive—they go on to thrive and perform better than ever before. It sounds basic, but the research comes down to hope. There are other factors, like social support, but hope is the guiding theme. What can help people get through hard times is looking at what is possible and having something to focus on.

Difficult times can help us in a couple of ways. We develop resources for change management. We know that anything else that happens—whatever daily disasters go on—doesn’t matter. It’s insignificant. We have a deeper understanding of what it means to experience terror or fear or hurt or upset. You’re going to be better equipped for future challenges, no matter what they look like. In psychology, it’s called a transfer of confidence. If you develop confidence in one area of life or with one experience or one practical situation, then you can go on to transfer that confidence into another area. You show up in your work life in a better way, or you’re more confident in your ability to experience, navigate, and overcome other challenges. You’re telling yourself, Don’t worry. You’ve got this next time—it’s going to be okay. Confidence keeps you going.

The Best Possible Self:
An Exercise for Hope and Optimism

  1. Sit for twenty minutes and imagine your life in the future when everything has gone as well as it possibly could. It could be a full picture of your life, or it could be a certain area of your life.

  2. Write about how it feels, what it looks like, who’s with you. What feels exciting about it? What are you wearing?

  3. Go into loads of detail. Putting yourself in that future place brings up feelings of hope and optimism. Those feelings are able to be sustained. You feel it then, and you continue to feel that level of hope and optimism by having something positive to focus on in the future.

What are some daily habits for cultivating a more positive attitude?

If you feel yourself getting into a negative way of thinking, go for a walk or play your favorite music and have a three-minute dance party. Try doing breathwork, like breath of fire from Kundalini, or meditating for three to five minutes.

There’s also something called stretching happiness. It’s savoring the moment, the good things. You’re being present, and you’re enjoying the moment.

“We often look at the problems rather than the opportunities. If we could shift a problem to be a positive or learning or growth-focused experience, how different would our lives be?”

You can also savor memories from the past by recalling times when you felt happy or joyful or loved. In terms of hope, you can also do this in the future. To stretch the happiness, you go into the past, present, and future, and your future one is something that you’re excited about. It could be that you’re going for a walk later in the day and you’re excited to get outside. It could be looking forward to being on the phone with someone. It’s intentionally looking at what is going to be good in the future. That might be writing a list of the things that bring you joy, like walking, being on the phone with friends, dancing around the house, or having a nice hot bath—make it micro. Then schedule these commitments for joy into your calendar on a daily and weekly basis.

Niyc Pidgeon, MSc, is a life coach focused on positive psychology and female entrepreneurship. Pidgeon is the author of Now Is Your Chance, a thirty-day guidebook for positive life change. She also hosts online courses on career and finance issues.

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