The Power of Positive Thinking: How Did Pollyanna Know?

Facts,” as former President Ronald Reagan once noted, “are stupid things.” And as John Adams more accurately noted, “Facts are stubborn things” as well.

So when your normal mode of operation squares off with the facts of evidence-based research, it’s time to stop being stupid or stubborn, and think about changes to your way of behaving.

Some folks are struggling with the research that Dan Pink surfaced in Drive demonstrating that the way we attempt to generally motivate employees is outdated, mostly obsolete, and not effective; companies are still running compensation and performance management systems that simply don’t work well. Some people, when faced with facts, ignore them.

So for all of the cynics out there, here’s a set of facts for you. Positive thinking produces more positive results. Negative thinking diminishes results.

As Daniel Goleman noted in 1987, research demonstrates that Pollyanna was right – positive thinking can pay a host of dividends including better health, higher test scores, and more favorable luck. According to the work, “Pessimism not only has the opposite effect but also seems to be at play in such psychological disorders as extreme shyness and depression.”

Now University of Southern California neuroscience professor Antonio Damasio has published “Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain”  which adds further evidence that what we think informs what we do and who we are. Damasio can be found here speaking with KQED’s Michael Krasny earlier this week.

The gist of the research, including Damasio’s observation, is that the most effective approach to work and life is to be positive. Damaio’s thought on whether creating images of a positive future influcence positive outcomes? “Yes, yes, and yes. .  How we conceive of the future makes all the difference.”

Not oblivious; optimistic. Think of it as seeing the glass half full, not half empty. That mental approach – which some may label “attitude” – is really behavior. Behavior that is generally “moving forward” – on the toes – and will generate a certain set of outcomes as opposed to the “back on the heels”, hunker down behaviors which prove to be less effective.

So Pollyanna was on to something. Focus on the positive. Better things happen.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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