‘How could things be different?’
When you hear that question, what thoughts occur to you? Most people offer ideas about what could be better and improved. Rarely do they talk about the things that if removed or no longer present would have made the situation worse.
One way to interpret this behavioral bias is that humans are optimists by nature. We are always looking to improve.
Another equally fair interpretation is that we are rarely satisfied with the status quo. Regardless of whether it is better than what existed in the past. We tend to take things which we already have for granted. That applies to people, special occasions and improvements in the quality of life.
Having recently celebrated Thanksgiving, I am encouraging myself to look at every day through a more positive lens.
How Can You Adopt the Positive Lens?
I am confident that your life has included lots of wonderful occasions, positive memories, good times and achievements worth celebrating. The work is to honor those memories and recall them more frequently, particularly when you are feeling low.
When reflecting on the past, I encourage you to give yourself credit for the good choices that you have made and positive actions you undertook. Lots of people keep a gratitude journal. In addition, I recommend keeping a ‘credit list.’
Now read that last paragraph again.
Think about your team and those you coach and mentor. Do you make a regular effort to give them credit for the good choices they have made? Have you encouraged them to come to your 1:1 meeting or coaching session with their credit list for the week? I suspect if we did more of this workplace morale would really improve.
The world we live in skews towards reminding us of our shortcomings.
Continuous improvement is celebrated. It is a useful tool to fuel progress in the personal and professional realms. The downside is that it encourages finding fault with our past choices and behaviors. And pointing out how we don’t measure up to some idealized person (whether as an employee, as a leader, as a parent, or a romantic partner).
This bias is unhelpful because it minimizes the successes of our past. In addition, my experience has been that mistakes in the past can be great teaching moments.
Seeking to improve, change, and grow is healthy.
However, continuous improvement ought to be balanced with remembering our goodness and telling our story (to ourselves and to others) with a positive spin.
It is healthy to pause and reflect on the progress we have made in our lives. Taking stock of our successes can inspire us to keep going, even when things are challenging.
To make a positive difference — which I’m certain we’d all like to do — we need to recall the gifts we possess. And then act from a place that draws on that positive outlook and emphasizes our strengths.
I am reminded of an oft-quoted line from Marianne Williamson’s book ‘A Return to Love.’
“…And as we let our own light shine
We unconsciously give others the permission to do the same.”