Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Power of Positivity

I recently finished reading the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor and I was really blown away by some of the studies and principles shared in this book. At its simplest, the message of this book is that happiness fuels success, and not the other way around. While that might not sound like a ground-breaking or life-changing statement at the outset, when you get in examine the implications of this, it actually is rather revolutionary. This statement is scientifically supported by mountains of evidence from the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience. While I highly recommend you read the entire book, I wanted to share on one principle that I thought applied to the realm of dance and performance.

One of the chapters I found most fascinating was the chapter called Falling Up. In short, this chapter discusses how, when faced with obstacles or failure, succumbing to helplessness keeps us down on the mat, while positive thinking, lifts us up. I'm sure we've all heard that one before, phrased in various ways. Think positive. Look on the bright side. The glass is half full. And so, on. But let's break it down even further. I want to share the same example that the author shared:

Imagine a scenario where you walk into a bank. You are one of 50 people in the bank. A team of bank robbers comes into the building. You are one of two people who gets shot. You are shot in the arm. The question is: Are you lucky or unlucky?

Some people might say that they are unlucky because they got shot while 48 other people did not. Some might say you are lucky because you didn't suffer a more serious injury, or perhaps even die. Regardless of which answer you came to, the point is that you invented a counterfact. You invented either a counterfact where you did not get shot or you invented a counterfact where you were more severely injured. As the author explains a "counterfact is an alternate scenario our brains create to help us evaluate and make sense of what really happened....Here is the crucial part: Both of the counterfacts are completely hypothetical. Because it's invented, we actually have the power in any given situation to consciously select a counterfact that makes us feel fortunate rather than helpless. And choosing a positive counterfact, besides simply making us feel better, sets ourselves up for the whole host of benefits to motivation and performance we now know accompanies a positive mindset."

Just let that sink in for a second. How powerful is that! Each and every day, each activity we engage in, each encounter we have, we have the power to decide if it's positive or negative, regardless of what actually happened. We are literally building and designing our own reality.

So how does this apply to dance? Anyone who's been a dancer or performer for any length of time has experienced ups and downs. Sometimes we get negative reviews, have a bad performance, don't land the gig we wanted, and so on. We can take those occurrences and let the negative mindset win over. We can tell ourselves, we aren't good enough, experienced enough, talented enough, or pretty enough. Or we can rewrite our message and our reality. Turn it around and be thankful for the performance opportunity, the learning experience, or that we are one step closer to our end goal.

Changing our internal dialogue is what the author calls "explanatory style". The author explains that, "Decades of subsequent study have since shown that explanatory style - how we choose to explain the nature of past events - has a crucial impact on our happiness and future success. People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary, while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see these events as more global and permanent. Their beliefs then directly affect their actions; the ones who believe the latter statement sink into helplessness and stop trying, while the ones who believe the former are spurred on to higher performance."

In other words, if you believe that your bad performance in which you slipped and fell was a learning experience and has put you one step closer to being a professional dancer, then you literally are one step closer to being a professional dancer. I know this can sound like pollyanna-ish euphemisms, But the effect of having a positive explanatory style has been measured in numerous studies and business results. In a study at MetLife, salespeople with optimistic explanatory style sold 88% more insurance then those with pessimistic explanatory style!

As mentioned, I highly recommend reading this book cover to cover, because the author has so many more interesting scientifically-based facts and tips that you can incorporate into your life and mindset. You have the power to shape your future and your success, and it starts with your thoughts. Change your internal monologue to open new doors of opportunity and happiness.