Stop past events dictating your future

Feet in chains

Taking a positive view…

This week many of the world’s most important leaders gather for the G8 summit in the beautiful setting of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, or the north of the island of Ireland depending on your political point of view.

I’m not about to make a political point here, far from it. But the very word Enniskillen conjures up in so many minds terrible memories of darker days in the history of this corner of the world.

Who, back then, would ever have dared think that The Troubles would be pretty much over? Let alone that Enniskillen could be in the global news for potentially positive reasons?

I see this as a good example of a mindset not allowing past events to dictate the future. In this blog I’ll share some observations that might stop past events in your life dictating your future.

In an earlier blog, I spoke of the potential power of ‘taking a positive view’. More recently, I discussed how, as intelligent human beings, we do not have to be slaves to the thoughts of our biggest critics, ourselves, and our ‘inner dialogue’.

But have you ever noticed how this usually hugely negative inner dialogue, or self-talk as it is sometimes known, is often triggered by past events, and seems to have direct access to our mouths?

No sooner have we had a negative and unhelpful thought, a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy of doom’, than our mouths open and something unhelpful pops out loud. Heck, now that negativity is in the public domain too where it has a chance to drag down those around us as well.

In his book Authentic Happiness, leading light of the positive psychology movement Martin Seligman puts forward that, in ‘bad’ situations, less positive people express their comments in permanent and universal terms, for example ‘Communication has totally broken down’ or ‘The whole world is against me’. But what’s the real-world evidence for these catastrophic interpretations? Totally broken down? The whole world? What all seven billion of them? That would count as a tough gig!

Positive people, Seligman suggests, see the exact same ‘bad’ situations in temporary and specific terms. For example, ‘You haven’t talked to me yet today’ or ‘I’ve only had two negative comments from people’.

And yet with the speed and flexibility of a world-class gymnast, in a ‘good’ situation those of us who are less-than-positive can do a 180-degree turn. Such people see ‘good’ situations in temporary and specific terms. For example ‘My rival for the role I was awarded must have been very tired on the day of the interview’ or ‘I can do it, but only if certain things go my way.’

Meanwhile, positive people would tend to see the same ‘good’ situation in permanent and universal terms. For example ‘I was clearly the best candidate for the role I was awarded’ or ‘I can do it, I’m good at working all the angles.’

In ‘bad’ situations

Less positive people see events in permanent and universal terms:* ‘Communication has totally broken down’* ‘The whole world is against me’ Positive people see events in temporary and specific terms:* ‘You haven’t talked to me yet today’* ‘I’ve only had two negative comments from people’


In ‘good’ situations

Less positive people see events in temporary and specific terms:* ‘My rival for the role must have been very tired on the day of the interview’* ‘I can do it, but only if certain things go my way.’ Positive people see events in permanent and universal terms:* ‘I was clearly the best candidate for the role I was awarded’* ‘I can do it, I’m good at working all the angles.’

 

In a course we run on applying positive psychology in the workplace, we explore how this plays out in the lives of individual delegates. The wry smiles on participants’ faces speak volumes. We go on to discover together discover how each of us can most effectively take a positive view. (We offer Taking a Positive View as an in-house workshop for companies and as a public workshop open to individuals).

The basic advice for taking a positive view is straightforward (even if embedding it in your daily interactions with yourself and others takes practice). If you hear yourself having self-limiting thoughts, just notice you’re doing it and try to stop it, preferably before your mouth opens. As I’ve said many times, thank the negative thought for sharing – and tell it to ‘push off.’ If these thoughts do come out loud, then try to correct them. Phrases like ‘I’ve no idea where that came from, I’ve no evidence to back that statement up’ are useful self-mocking ‘get out of jail free’ cards.

Of course if something positive comes out of your mouth, again notice it – these things do have a habit of becoming true – and gather real-world evidence to prove yourself right. ‘Bank’ that positivity, and nurture and grow your investment.

And if you can’t notice that you’re saying these things, positive or otherwise, those around you will certainly spot them, and they’ll either be encouraged and motivated by your positive mindset, or dragged down by your less positive beliefs. You might like to seek feedback from people whose opinions you trust and who are well placed to take a balanced view.

And what if you hear those around you making sweeping negative remarks?

Well, you’ve got a choice. You could join their ‘moaning mini’ club and descend with them into a downward spiral of upset. Or you could politely challenge their thinking and help them get to a more positive interpretation, or at least a more balanced view.

And when you do manage to catch others around you making positive, uplifting comments, encourage them, add to their positivity and help them soar ever higher.

Between you, you might just change the world; your world, their world, even the whole world. Like the people connected with Enniskillen did. Let’s hope their legacy continues to be a positive one, a shining beacon for what is possible.