The One Question that has Increased Positivity and Changed My Life

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to envision future outcomes and identify risks to produce optimal solutions. I’ve used this to my advantage as a software creator, but it also colors my day to day interactions. When an opportunity arises, I think of what can go wrong before I think of what can go right. Most ideas are subjected to a barrage of tests to see if they can make the cut. While arriving at the optimal solution for a programming task is beneficial, applying the same framework to vacation planning or Saturday afternoon with the family is draining. It is no coincidence that I’m sometimes referred to as “The Fun Sponge” at home.

Risk mitigation is a good thing, but if it is everything, it is limiting. It has led to a mindset where I mostly focus on what’s wrong. My conscious existence is either solving problems (negative) or remaining idle (neutral). The sum is a negative experience in every way.

Do something about it

After getting called out on this recently I responded with action. I started reading Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson. It’s not an easy topic for me to learn. I’ve been very skeptical of positive thinking, assuming it new age magical thinking *; A placebo at best. I’m still skeptical about some of the claims but I’m half-way through it and a few ideas have resonated with me. One in particular has had a dramatic affect on my daily existence:

What’s right about my current circumstances?

This one question has two powerful components:

  • It asks you to be present.
  • It asks you to apply a filter of positivity.

I’ve found this to be the antidote to negative critical thinking. Instead of mindlessly applying default negative and neutral learned behaviors, I’m mindfully identifying positive aspects of the present moment. When I do this, anxiety fades.  More light enters. I start smiling. I feel grateful. When you string moments like this together, you end up having a good day. Line up a couple of good days and you’ve had yourself a good week. This is powerful stuff! Don’t believe me? Try it. It won’t cost you a thing and could change everything.

* I feel obligated to reiterate that these qualities have historically been foreign to me. If while reading this you feel the urge to dismiss it as hippy touchy-feely bullshit, know that I’m usually right there with you. There are deeper psychological roots to all of this that I’m not really qualified to discuss, but my armchair self diagnosis is that I envision future outcomes to reduce risk and head off potential attacks so I can avoid them or be prepared to deflect them should they actually occur.

Mr Nice Guy is Going to Kill You

overworked employee

It seems noble to solve a problem outside of your sphere of responsibility. If you’re solving this problem because there is no permanent responsible party, you may have just inherited a new task. Management won’t solve a problem that doesn’t cross their radar. If you keep handling the task, it never will. Identify the problem(s) and express the need for additional resources or a more creative solution.


Don’t silently solve additional problems while your own work stacks up. You could become overwhelmed and eventually burn out.

Tracking Time

clockI value efficiency and strive to improve productivity. In the past I’ve used the passive tracking service RescueTime, but I’ve found that I don’t review my stats very often. I started tracking with Toggl a few weeks ago. I’ve found that right from the start, being forced to give the task a label and project makes you aware of the type of work you’re about to do. If it’s not in line with your values, principles and goals, you tend to rethink the task. This is huge! In the past I’d go through email in the morning and fall into the busy trap, working on things as I come across them instead of processing everything that takes over two minutes. Getting the right mindset before you begin work instead of just working ensures you are meeting goals and helps to pinpoint inefficiencies. It’s really a very short cycle of Beginning with the End in Mind. Very effective way to make sure you’re working on the right thing!