Monday, November 29, 2010


Have you read this book by Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson? It’s whole title is Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strengths of Positive Emotion, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive (2009, Crown). Whew! That’s a mouthful! A fiction writer would shorten that title and punch it up a bit, but this is not a work of fiction.

Fredrickson’s book describes a short list—ten only—of attributes you can access and control that can reshape your brain and change your thinking patterns. Transforming lives is quite a claim.

Nevertheless, there is the smell of truth to her work. Her academic training and mentors were pioneer researchers in the field of negative thinking and its effects on human behavior. She was curious about the other end of the spectrum. Why are some people upbeat and positive in the face of the same adversities that seem to dog the negative thinkers?

In her research she identified two key components that touched me. There are ten behaviors you can teach yourself to consciously implement daily, and if you maintain a 3:1 positivity ratio of positive thoughts to negative emotions, you can actually change how your brain functions. It is the tipping point.

Isn’t that amazing? You can change your brain patterns, thereby, altering your life! You can be in charge of your attitudes. You can go from being a victim to being in control. Wow!

So what are the ten, you ask? How hard will this be to do? Is it possible for people not in a study to implement the conditions required to re-wire the brain?

Judge for yourself. Every day aim to have at least three positive thoughts for every negative one. Does that mean for you that you should journal your emotions? Maybe. But just maybe you can post the ten and remind yourself that way to engage in positive thinking. The ten are commonplace, but since the human brain remembers seven things, plus or minus two, I came up with a mnemonic I’ll share at the end of the next paragraph.

Can you do this? Every day, consciously experience joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. Find ways to experience them, remember experiences with them, and counter negative thoughts that come into your head with three or more consciously chosen positive thoughts. If you don’t have your list with you, here is my mnemonic: a jig has lip.

Repeat the mnemonic a few times, then repeat the associated positivity features in that order a few times: awe, joy, interest, gratitude, hope, amusement, serenity, love, inspiration, pride. Check yourself throughout the day if you are trying to change your brain patterns.

I highly recommend this book even if you are already a positive personality as I am. Her explanations, examples, and elaborations help you to understand more fully what it means to be a positive thinking person. Put it on your list for some upcoming gift-giving occasion.

According to Fredrickson, 80% of us have more negative thoughts daily than positive ones. That can’t be good. What if we used these ten traits to “Pay It Forward” and tried to change the world for someone we know by giving him the book and talking about how to implement the changes? What if it worked?

Back to writing. What if you used the tenets in this book in your fiction writing? What if you create a character who consciously decides to change herself. Maybe her friends call her a negative Nelly, so she decides to take charge and become a different person. She follows Fredrickson’s guidelines and through the course of the book she does change. Is the change good or bad? It could be a comedy or tragedy, right?

I wish for you today and every day to experience awe, joy, interest, gratitude, hope, amusement, serenity, love, inspiration, and pride in your own life and to spread those traits among all you know.

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