The Positivity Advantage

Throughout generations, human beings have been wired to be aware of negative circumstances and consequences in their environment, in order to survive. Although we no longer watch out for saber-toothed tigers, an evolutionary imprint called “negativity bias” still lingers within us. Said bias causes negative events to have a greater effect on the human psyche, than neutral or positive things. In fact, research has found that it takes about three (but ideally six) positive comments, experiences, or expressions to compensate for the damaging effects of one negative.

While the negativity bias may protect us in situations related to survival, it may cause distress in everyday encounters. I personally experienced such distress when I moved to a new country to start a two-year graduate program. Although I appreciated the dynamic and challenging nature of the program, it was also very tiresome and insecure. The constant pressure for performance was intense, and unlike anything I had experienced before. Over time, negative thoughts caused by the pressure at work started to consume my motivation and mental energy.

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To cope with the stress, I started keeping a gratitude journal, in an attempt to habituate mental positivity. Initially, I used the app 5 Minute Journal. Every morning I would log three things that would make the day great. In the evening, I would scan the last 24 hours for things that had made the day great. The app also allowed me to upload a photo to commemorate each day, which was a nifty little feature!

It didn’t take long before I noticed the difference. Most noticeably, I started to recognize and appreciate the “little things” in life. In the beginning, I was simply looking for things to write about. With time, however, I started noticing all the great things in my environment naturally. And suddenly, I had a lot more than three things to write about!

Although I no longer keep the 5 Minute Journal, the ability to appreciate my surroundings has stayed with me. In a way, I feel like the exercise helped me build a positive, mental foundation. And if I ever have a bad day, I get energy from scrolling through and remembering the entries in the app.

In freedom we soar

About six months after the experience described above, I was reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage“. Among many great exercises to increase happiness, the book also confirms how it is possible to train your brain, to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.

However, what is even more exciting, is that the gratitude exercise I performed has been found to have staying power. Shawn Achor continues to describe how a study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for only a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month and six-month follow-ups. Even after stopping the exercise, they remained significantly happier and showed higher levels of optimism.

Although this finding sadly made my experience less unique than I had flattered myself thinking, it hopefully inspires you to try the gratitude exercise yourself. I mean, if one week is really all its takes to create a more positive outlook on life, for the love of god, people, get that gratitude journal going! 😀

Sleep Your way to the Top

Warning: The title of this post is wildly misleading…!

let's sleep!

I couldn’t help but laugh when Arianna Huffington mentioned how everyone who wants to become successful needs to sleep their way to the top on the Ellen DeGenerous Show. I have recently started listening to Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global podcast, and it quickly became obvious to me that she is a bit of a sleep aficionado!

In general, I do not have any problems sleeping (except on Sundays, of course, where I like to sleep in in AND treat myself to a long nap…). However, having listened to the Thrive Global podcast, I realized that I need to add some steps to my – barely existing – evening routine, to improve the quality of my sleep. Thus, enter my new Evening Bliss routine, based on Arianna Huffington’s advice:

  1. No more phone activity 30-60 min. before sleep. Ideally it should be charged outside the bedroom, so you don’t get tempted to use it before you sleep, ehrm…
  2. Scented candle and calming music in the bathroom
  3. Wash off the day with a warm and aromatic shower or bath. I remove my make up in the shower, to make it last longer.
  4. Put on dedicated sleep wear (i.e. not lounge or sports wear, as I used to)
  5. Read a physical book (not on Kindle etc.)

I occasionally also do a gratitude exercise before I fall asleep, which is found to work as joy trigger, proven to reduce stress and improve sleep quality.

I took small steps to get into this routine. First, I put out a small notepad on my nightstand for the gratitude exercise. Then, I separate my sleeping wear from my lounge wear. It turned out I basically did not have any dedicated sleepwear, which I saw as an excellent excuse to shop a bit! While I was out shopping, I also got myself a scented candle and a calming shower gel. And then I was good to go.

This new routine of mine is so comfortable and was so natural to get into this summer. However, I must admit that I worry whether I will be able to maintain it when going back to work. Thus, my aim going forward is to do my routine 3 times a week. Anything above 3 is just a bonus.

Hope this inspires you to evaluate and, if necessary, improve your evening routine as well!

Your Future is in the Present

Hello, and welcome back. I hope you have had a wonderful summer! My summer has been great and sunny, and involved a lot of inspiration and thinking about the future of the #Busbeesblog. Now, I am fully recharged and ready to get back into my daily routines (i.e. involuntarily stop eating excessive amounts of chocolate and fast food every day).

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is one of my favourite books, and the quote above has been imprinted on my mind since I read it. This quote motivates me to pursue and engage in good intentions, every day. I have personally witnessed how my thoughts eventually materialize into actions, and how – over time – these actions become habits. According to Will Durant, “you are what you repeatedly do“. By extension, you become what you repeatedly do. In that sense, our minds have significant power in taking us to our future. That is, the future we visualize and pursue for ourselves.

When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

My aim for this fall is to work on implementing new good habits, to achieve my formally (aka scribbled down on a napkin..) formulated goals, in the hopes that preparation meeting opportunity will lead to great achievements. For instance, I have thought about how to optimize my Hour of Powers, which books to read, and established a personal budget. I have also been working on a new evening routine, which you can read more about tomorrow.

Have you thought about your goals for the fall semester? And how to achieve them? If not, check out Mind Tools for inspiration on how to set and reach SMART goals. Happy reading!