*This post contains affiliate links. If you click on these links, I may receive a commission at no cost to you. Full disclosure here.
Do you know the power that positivity has on not just your success, but your entire life?
I wouldn’t say I was a pessimist, but I definitely liked to focus on the realistic possibilities in every situation.
I wasn’t one to focus on the chance of awesome or positive outcomes, but the reality of the situation.
After all, if you don’t consider all possible outcomes - no matter how negative, how could you be prepared?
And so, when difficult situations came up, my mind sped through all the necessary thoughts, possibilities and outcomes in order to handle the situation in the best possible way.
But recently, I was faced with a very stressful situation, one that could invoke anger, fear and to be honest, a complete freakout.
My husband and I went away for the weekend and as we were packing up our things, we found bed bugs in our sleeping bags. When we brought this to the attention of the supervisor of the property, it was revealed that the bed bug problem in the cabin had been going on for some time and they didn’t feel it necessary to let us know.
Can you agree, this situation was worth freaking out about?!
But I’m about to let you in on the secret that allowed me - the realist - to respond to this situation in a positive way.
(Believe me, I shocked myself!)
I learned of this fairly simple idea from a small section in the book I recently devoured, The Happiness Advantage, and I cannot wait to share it with you and help you start to apply it right away in your life.
Are you ready for the secret to becoming more positive when facing difficult situations?
Richard Wiseman is one of the leading psychologists in the idea of “counter-factual thinking”. He defines this sort of thinking as, “our ability to imagine what might have happened, rather than what actually did happen” (Wiseman, 2003).
Why is this important?
Well, it helps us define each and every situation we face as either positive or negative, helpful or destructive, good or bad.
It orients our opinions and attitudes as we work through the stressful situations we face.
When we are faced with what appears to be an unlucky situation, our actual perception of reality is altered based on the counterfact we choose.
When focusing on our sheer bad luck and all of the ways that the problem could have been avoided, we find ourselves feeling negative and ruminating on our awful situation.
BUT, when instead, your focus is on how much better off you are than the other possibilities and how much worse the situation could have been, you will find yourself feeling more positive and optimistic.
Applying a Better Counterfact to Stressful Situations
When faced with the problem of our bed bug infested belongings, it would have been so easy to give into the anger, frustration and negativity because of the problem.
A very likely and possible counterfact could have been:
We should have been told of the possibility of bed bugs. We could have not stayed the night or cancelled our trip. We could have checked more carefully before bringing our stuff inside.
If this were our counterfact, the anger would bubble up at the supervisor, our stress levels would skyrocket because of the frustration and we’d be stuck in the negative thinking altogether.
Instead, I surprised myself with this much more positive counterfact:
We were so lucky that we saw the bed bugs before bringing all of our stuff home. We didn’t get too many bites and we happened to sleep the entire night without waking up. And we had some great friends who helped us process and laugh through the seemingly-traumatic experience!
I just kept reminded my husband of this as I tried to deal with the stressful event. We could have brought those things home had we not happened to see one with the last thing we were packing up!
Choosing this second counterfact allowed the feelings of extreme gratitude and luck to fill us in a time where anger and negativity could have taken over.
Don’t get me wrong, we were still anxious about how to tackle the problem and rid our belongings of those nasty little guys, but we weren’t overcome with the stress and negativity.
We remained calm and positive and could even laugh our way through some of the stress!
What Will You Choose?
To every situation we face, there are multiple possible counterfacts.
You can choose the possibility that leaves you feeling negative, stressed and overwhelmed or you can choose the possibility that leads to positivity.
I had just read about counterfacts before going on this trip. I had practiced just a few times with small situations before encountering this extremely stressful situation. And I was surprised by how automatically the more positive counterfact came during the time of stress.
But it didn’t just stop with the initial thinking of the counterfact.
I had to continue to choose this counterfact over and over again throughout the process of dealing with the situation.
With each new obstacle and each new piece of information, I had to choose the better counterfact in order to stay positive.
It wasn’t easy, especially because I was new at choosing the better counterfact.
But as time went on, it became more natural.
The Steps to Becoming More Positive (Even in Stressful Situations)
- Practice choosing a more positive counterfact in smaller situations
- Choose the better counterfact when faced with a stressful situation (even if you have to write both counterfacts out and force yourself to focus on the better one)
- Continue choosing that counterfact over and over again, even when it gets hard
Why Does This Even Matter?
Why does it matter which counterfact we choose and how that affects our responses and attitudes?
Have you ever encountered the person who is just always negative. No matter what happens, good or bad, the only thing they ever have to say is the negative.
Sure, these people may be smart, they may be hard-working and they may even find themselves in high up positions.
But are these people ever truly successful? How would we know?
Have you ever tried asking them if they view themselves as successful? I’m betting they will reply with some negative answer about where they want to be or something negative about where they are.
Maybe you’re one of these people, who struggles with negativity.
One thing I’ve learned from my own experience and my experience with loved ones who have this attitude is that when you’re always negative, you will never truly be successful and satisfied and you will never really be happy.
Negativity leads to an unending search for something better, something more.
In order to find true satisfaction and success, it is so important to train your brain to be positive.
Without positivity, how can you truly be happy and enjoy where you are?
Learning to focus on the better counterfact will lead to a life-long attitude of positivity. It will increase resilience and decrease your stress levels.
If you want to be successful, I’d encourage you to start focusing on which counterfact you are choosing. When you can learn to choose the better counterfact, you will increase your positivity and therefore your success.
Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work.New York: Broadway Books.
Wiseman, R. (2003, May/June). The Luck Factor. Retrieved from http://richardwiseman.com/resources/The_Luck_Factor.pdf