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positivity spiral 550 px

Kathy’s Bloom and Flourish Model

  1. Peaceful Base
  2. Physical Health
  3. Positivity Spiral
  4. Flow/Accomplishment/Meaning
  5. Positive Relationships
  6. Spiritual Connectedness
  7. Financial Stability

Creating and increasing positivity is something I talk about all the time because I believe it holds the key to a life worth living. Studies show that great leaders have positive attitudes and that we are more attractive when we are positive; people like being around positive individuals.

However, like most things that are worth having, you have to work for it. Happiness, joy, and positivity don’t just land in your lap. At least they don’t land in mine! Those positive feelings are things I create and keep alive with daily, intentional thoughts and actions.

Our human brains are hardwired to notice problems and potential danger. We are more likely to pay attention to negative events than positive ones. We also hold on to negative events longer and with more intensity. When we are creating positivity, we are retraining our brains. We are intentionally choosing what we notice, think, and remember.

Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment. It helps us focus on what we want. Mindfulness is great training for our brains. You can eat, walk, breathe, and meditate mindfully. If you are completely focused on what you are doing and experiencing, your mind doesn’t have a chance to chatter and spin.

Mindfulness gives your brain a mini-vacation and can leave you feeling refreshed. Instead of walking or running with headphones, listen to the sounds around you. Intentionally focus on the feel of your foot as it touches the ground. Feel the air coming in your nose and filling your lungs. Which muscles are you using? Embrace the feeling of moving strong muscles. You don’t have to exercise mindfully every time, but it’s a nice change of pace and good exercise for your brain. You learn to focus intentionally instead of being at the mercy of a gerbil brain running on its wheel.

Another good brain-training activity that has lots of great research behind it is meditation. A good start is a mindful meditation; focus on your breath and the feelings in your body as you meditate. There are mindful meditations online that you can download and use.

The type of meditation that gives the most positive results is a Loving Kindness Meditation. In a Loving Kindness Meditation, you are asking for love, health, abundance, and happiness for yourself and others. After a few weeks of doing a Loving Kindness Meditation daily for only 10 minutes, you can:

  • Increase your empathy and compassion for others.
  • Decrease inflammation in your body.
  • Become more resilient.
  • Increase your resistance to viruses.
  • Generate positive emotions.
  • Be more creative.
  • Broaden your awareness to see the big picture.

Wow! That’s a lot of great stuff from an investment of 10 minutes a day! You can find guidelines online for Loving Kindness Meditations. Sometimes people have a negative feeling about the word “meditation,” because they feel that it has connotations of Eastern Religions. For me, “meditation” is a time of spiritual connection to your higher power. There are Christian Loving Kindness Meditations if that resonates with you. In my mind, I am asking for grace and blessings for myself and others when I do a Loving Kindness Meditation.

The most important part of the Loving Kindness Meditation is the creation of feelings of love, empathy, and expansiveness. As you begin, think of people and situations that make you feel warm and fuzzy. Find your happy place! I think of the feeling that I get when my granddaughter gives me a sloppy baby kiss, and how I felt when my boys would put their arms up to me when they were very young. I think of how it feels to hug the people I love and hold them close.

Figure out what evokes warm feelings of love for you. Maybe it’s holding a pet or sitting at a beach with your toes in the water. It could be the feeling of sunshine on your body or the strong healthy feeling you get when running or walking. Nature brings many people the feeling of expansiveness and joy. Experiment until you find the mental picture that creates a feeling of joy for you.

Once you can do this prep for the Loving Kindness Meditation, you can create joy on demand! Woot! Whenever you are feeling low or upset, you can take a deep breath and go to your happy place and create positive emotions. That. Is. Huge!

Once you have strong positive feelings, say three or four phrases about yourself. The specific words are not important. Use ones that resonate with you, but they will be something like this:

  • May I be filled with loving kindness.
  • May I be well in body and mind.
  • May I be at ease and happy.

The most important part of the meditation is to create and hold onto a feeling of friendliness, compassion, joy, and expansiveness as you say the phrases.

Then say the same phrases while thinking of someone with whom you feel close.  Think, “May you be filled with loving kindness.” It’s important to hold onto the positive feeling while thinking the phrases each time. It’s not too hard to say the phrases with feeling when it’s toward someone that you are fond of.

Next, move on to someone who you feel neutral about, someone you don’t really care for, and finally everyone in the world. Use the same three to four phrases each time, and focus on maintaining the feeling of compassion and acceptance.

It’s hard in the beginning to hold on to feelings of warmth and joy when you think of someone with whom you are angry or upset, but you can do it! It gets easier over time. You are training your brain and taking control of your emotions. In essence, you are gaining the ability to be positive whenever you choose.

If you have a hard time getting into a place of loving kindness, it might help to create a Positivity Portfolio, which is a collection of physical or digital pictures that make you smile. For example, I can look at a picture of my granddaughter and immediately feel love, compassion, and kindness toward her. After a while, I don’t need to see the picture; I can see it in my head and create the feeling.

A collection of pictures that you can flip through when you are feeling low or angry can be a huge help in bringing up positive emotions that seem elusive. I have an album on my phone of pictures that make me smile. I look at them when I need a dose of positivity.

The next tool to create more positivity in your life is a gratitude journal. Each evening, write down three things for which you are grateful. As you write down the thing or event, recreate the feeling that it brought to you. Name the emotion if you can.

My mom kept a gratitude journal for years, and it’s a great legacy. She lived with me and my family for 10 years. My youngest son Andrew would go straight down to her room every morning when he woke up. I could hear the swish-swish of his diaper as he passed my bedroom door.

Mom read each morning, and when Andrew arrived she would read aloud to him. It took at least a year, but they read Moby Dick together! I find that amazing. I have tried to read Moby Dick several times and haven’t managed to get through it. They also read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn together. After they read a scene about Huck sneaking into a smokehouse to steal some ham, they decided to sneak upstairs and steal some ham out of the refrigerator.

Of course, it sounded like a herd of elephants shushing each other as they came up the stairs. I stayed out of their way while they “stole” some ham and giggled their way downstairs. That evening, one of Mom’s gratitude journal entries was “Stealing ham with Andrew.” I read it when I went through her gratitude journal after she died. Her journal was full of wonderful memories that helped her stay positive when she was alive and brought me joy when she was gone.

After you write three things in your gratitude journal, take a moment to remember a few of the positive interactions that you had with others during the day. It doesn’t have to be an interaction with people that you know; it could be a pleasant conversation with a cashier as you checked out at the grocery store. We want to remember any micro-moment of positive interaction. Think of a few interactions and the emotions that you experienced. It will just take a minute or two, but it will increase your positivity and capacity to connect with others in a positive way, according to research by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson.

My mom was one of the most positive people that I have ever met. She was ahead of her time with writing in her gratitude journal each evening. She also began her mornings in a positive way. She read classics with Andrew when he was little, but she also read uplifting books in the morning. She would get up early and fix some tea. Then she would read something that put her in a positive frame of mind. It could be scripture or a devotional. One of her favorite books that she read over and over was Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. She was always telling me what “Sarah Ban” said. Mom even wrote Ms. Breathnach a letter telling her how much joy the book had given her, and Ms. Breathnach replied with a letter. I have copies of both.

All of the things that we’ve talked about help us overcome our natural negativity bias and create a Positivity Spiral. We do a Loving Kindness Meditation that increases our feelings of empathy and compassion for others – which increases our positive interactions with others – which increases the number of positive things we notice and are grateful for – which makes it easier to do the Loving Kindness Meditation. Each action supports the next until we have created an upward spiral of self-generating positive emotions. Woot!

Here is a summary of things to do to create your own self-sustaining Positivity Spiral:

  1. Practice mindfulness. Start with paying attention to one deep breath when stopped at traffic lights.
  2. Do the Loving Kindness Meditation for 10 minutes at least five times a week, and you will begin to feel lighter and more resilient. Big results come after eight weeks of consistent practice.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal. Write down three things each evening for which you are grateful.
  4. Take a minute each evening to reflect on the micro-moments of positive interaction that you had with other people that day.
  5. Feed your brain and heart uplifting messages. Create a morning ritual of reading something that makes you feel positive.

My last suggestion is to do one thing you enjoy each day! Even if you only spend five to ten minutes doing it, it will be worthwhile. Read a trashy novel, knit, draw, flip through a magazine, or write – whatever makes you happy! We all deserve an intentional moment of enjoyment. It’s one more thing that makes life worth living.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.