Last week, we explored why you can still get hooked when you avoid emotions at work.
When you keep a smile plastered on your face no matter what gets thrown at you, the internal pressure builds and builds until, eventually, that pressure has to find a way out, just like lava overflowing from a volcano.
However, focusing on the positive in such situations isn’t all bad.
Instead of automatically plastering a smile on your face, I encourage you to go deeper and look for the positive emotional attractor (PEA). The PEAS are the positive feelings and visions that can inspire and motivate you to move towards your aspirations. When you tap into those PEAs, you are more likely to be pulled towards what you want to achieve and avoid having to push so hard.
The evidence shows that positive emotions help free us up so we can get into a state where we are more open to new ideas, other people and emotions.
When people are injected with PEAs, their outlook expands. It’s easier to see the big picture. On the other hand, our peripheral vision shrinks when we’re injected with negativity. There is no big picture, no dots to connect because, in that negative state, we’re focused on survival rather than thriving.
A word of caution, though! Avoid becoming a super-charged Pollyanna!
Ignoring negative emotions is like an ostrich burying its head in the sand to avoid danger. While the ostrich might feel safer, it’s not fooling the lion creeping up behind. Ignoring the negative won’t make the lion disappear, it just blinds us to the reality we’re about to be eaten.
Effective leadership requires finding a balance between positive and negative emotional attractors (NEAs), but it’s not a straight 1:1 ratio.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Professor Barbara Fredrickson developed the “positivity ratio.” She suggested experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative emotions leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve our potential.
Although there has been some criticism of the exact ratio, the rule of thumb, backed by sound evidence, is that a greater positivity ratio leads to better health, thinking, and social experience.
Professor Richard Boyatzis from Case Western Reserve University has undertaken extensive research with leaders about PEAs, NEAs, chronic stress and what enables our renewal. In the book “Helping People Change,” he and his co-authors explain that when stress and NEAs are unavoidable, we can turn to activities that renew us to pull back towards PEAs.
However, both the variety and dosage of renewal activities is important.
The next time you think of spending even more time at the gym or extending your morning walk to manage your stress, remember they found that you would be better off breaking a one-hour renewal activity into four separate, 15-minute activities throughout the day.
Instead of extending the time spent pounding the treadmill or pavement, you could make the choice to spend fifteen minutes talking to upbeat friends, fifteen minutes of yoga or meditation, fifteen minutes playing with your kids or pets or fifteen minutes laughing with other people or any combination of activities that help refill your cup.
Their research recognised the importance of exercise but also highlighted that you need more than exercise to experience renewal. Renewal activities need to be frequent; they don’t need to be lengthy, and a greater variety of activities is better.
Remember, it’s not about eliminating negative emotions but learning to manage them effectively while focusing on the positive.