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.