Would it surprise you that research has shown we commonly use negative words, our minds spend more time focused on negative incidences, importantly negative incidences and environments have a stronger impact (than positive ones) and many individuals have a ‘problem’ focused mindset enhancing negativity they experience (Heath & Heath, 2010). It appears our minds are wired for negative, or potential dangerous situations. At the same time positive psychology asserts, for better health and wellbeing, a ratio of 3 positive to 1 negative is required (Fredickson, 2013).
Perhaps, this emphasis on negativity is another example of our biological tendency to watch out for potential threats and ‘ideally’ take appropriate action. Yet many of us suffer stress and poor health as a result of not managing what we perceive as threats. Consequently learning to handle negative events is important for our health. Is this just a matter of learning ‘stress management’? I don’t think so, learning to understand other perspectives, reframe our perceptions, enhancing communication and conflict management will also help. Further by training our brains, effectively rewiring them, to observe and select positive aspects of life, negativity will need to be dealt with less often. In turn enhancing our health, wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Today’s suggestions are on how we can increase our leaning toward the 3 to 1 ratio.
First I ask you to create two lists of 20-30 words each. One list is of positive words, for example peace, kind, appreciation, the other of negative words, such as war, trouble and punishment. Next spend a few minutes reading and considering each list in turn. Did you feel a difference? Words always have an impact in this way; you are able to be more aware of the impact when you focus on them grouped this way. Consider which impact you prefer, would prefer to promote. Then create a matching word list; perhaps add to it each day. Post it somewhere you see it regularly, this will allow you to build your positive word vocabulary and impact. Intentionally countering the tendency for more negative than positive words.
Other powerful activities include practicing expressing gratitude for what you appreciate, giving compliments and looking for strengths (what is done well). This assists developing a focus on positive incidences, activities and environments. Keep a journal or record of things you appreciate and compliments you receive. Doing these activities will train your brain to look for and use positive qualities and activities. Further by keeping a record you will also enable you to remind your self of these positive things, if a low moment is encountered.
You may have noticed I have emphasised what ‘we’ can do, rather than what to do ‘with our students’. This is simply because by practicing these skills not only do we role model them, they will also become automatic, thus easy for us to practice and, importantly, will enhance genuine authenticity in our practice if we choice to integrate them into to our classroom activities. Doing so will enhance the value of the practices and go a long way to promoting a 3 to 1 ratio with its rippling effects.
Baumeister, Roy F.; Bratslavsky, Ellen; Finkenauer, Catrin; Vohs, Kathleen D. ‘ (2001) Bad is stronger than good.’ In Review of General Psychology, Vol 5(4), , 323-370.
Fredickson B. L. (2013) Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios Retrieved from
Heath C & Heath D (2010) Switch: How to change things when change is hard. New York: Random House
Urban H (2004) Positive Words, Powerful Results: Simple ways to honor, affirm and celebrate life. Fireside Books: New York.