Saturday, 22 August 2009

What's the big deal about having a positive mental attitude especially as a parent?

One of the things that I am fascinated by as a coach is positivity, what it means and how it can affect our lives. Earlier this year I wrote about my first experience of Positive Psychology which was very inspiring; and of course in my line of work there are many coaches that espouse the Laws of Attraction as a way to live one's life. Much more recently I caught most of an interview on Women's Hour that involved the self-defined pessimist Ariel Leve and the Director of the Happiness Project, Dr Robert Holden. I was finally inspired to put pen to paper by a wise woman, Lisa Pearson, who has studied and adapted John De Martini's work in her coaching practice. Finally as if right on cue, another enlightened coach, Beth Follini, signposted me to Barbara Fredrickson's research on the subject and an article written about it. So below follow my current thoughts on the topic with a part specifically relating to parenting.

Initially I had some real concerns about unrelenting optimism, not least that it would be exhausting to maintain, as well as being a “turn off” for those around people who practise it. This seemed to be borne out by Ariel Leve's experience of parenting by her father. She found him exhausting because he was always so positive about everything in his life. Perhaps that is why she has taken up the stand that she has in life as a self-assessed defensive pessimist. From her perspective nothing can disappoint her because she has already gone through the worst case scenarios in her head. Interestingly she and Robert Holden did reach some agreement in that he stated excessive optimism was unhealthy because it probably meant the individual practising that was not being completely honest with their lot.

What is fascinating is that a great deal of Fredrickson's research supports the belief that I instinctively believed to be right but could not prove and that is about finding a balance between the negative and the positive emotions. What can happen is that our focus is on the negative because positive thoughts are so much more fleeting. This is where training the mind can come to our aid - such as the use of affirmations, meditations, future self visualisations and my personal favourite, setting intentions; or a combination of them all. Fredrickson's research indicates with an increased diet of positive thinking, we are likely to feel much more like we are living life on purpose more aware of the social support and see the opportunities for co-activity. This has certainly been my experience and many years back I would have put myself in the Leve camp!

You may be wondering well how do I do that? Positive emotions grow out of the ordinary transactions of life—being with others and following your interests. They are not related to affluence. In other words, as long as our basic needs are met, it is accessible to everyone.
Here's the really great part, Fredrickson worked with a mathematician and they proved that three positive events to one negative event was the tipping point for going from average to high performance. It is even more effective if we manage a five to one ratio where possible. However, one step at a time!

For me this has had major ramifications with regard to parenting and my lesson in all this is that I need to adapt my style to enable my girls to follow their interests more fully. I say that because with two toddlers, I do find myself saying no much more than yes and at times being disproportionately cross with the girls. I have vowed to become more aware of the level of negativity going from me to them and to aim to get it in proportion to the positivity they receive from me. Helpfully Fredrickson has developed a website called PositivityRatio.Com to help us do this. So why not check it out yourself and see what happens when you observe and make note of your positive to negative ratio in relation to your children or other parts of your life. If it starts to change, what impact is that having on your life as a whole.

I would love to hear your comments on this article so do jot them down on the blog or drop me an email to

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