Intent Blog

Why you Should Focus on the Positive

It is not easy to recognize that there is always a lot to be grateful for. This is understandable since human beings we have an innate tendency to focus on the negative. This tendency is has been verified by solid scientific evidence. A study conducted by Social Psychologist Allison Ledgerwood found that negative information sticks with us whereas we quickly forget positive information. We have a tendency to indulge in the negative and overlook the positive. If there is any work to be done, it is to try to focus on the positive.

Being open to bad news is a good thing. Acknowledging that something is wrong is the first step to fixing it. But, like anything, it is only good in moderation and the challenge for every human being alive is to find a balance between giving attention to what is broken going badly and giving attention to what is going well.

Getting this balance for the vast majority of people involves becoming more able to see the good side, to recognise what there is to be grateful for. To help with this task it is useful to have practices and exercises to cultivate more gratitude. One of the most effective tools is journaling. A particularly good journaling practice is what Etsko Schuitema likes to call a gratitude journal. For the gratitude journal what one must deliberately do is write down a page worth of stuff that you grateful from the days events and experiences. There are a couple of things a gratitude journal will show you.

If you look for the positive you will find it, without a doubt:

The only thing that limits the number of positive things that you remembered when reflecting on the day your own imagination and memory. When one actually sits down for a little while and starts to look for the good things, for the blessings contained in the day, one will quickly realize that they are essentially infinite. When you take each thing down to its finest detail, there is a limitless number of specific events and state of affairs for you to appreciate.

The universe is a vast but interconnected place. Events that happen on the sun, 149 600 000 km away, are intimately connected to my continued existence. There are innumerable events, large and small that are going well so far as I am concerned. Each of these things can, if thought about, warrant gratitude and appreciation as a blessing.

You see the whole picture:

The reason for doing this exercise is not to try and trick yourself into ignoring the negative. It is, as I said, important to be aware of the negative, of the things that could go wrong. The gratitude journal just helps to give you the other side that is always present in so far as you are alive. There are always problems and challenges and worries and threats. But similarly, there are always a greater number of gifts, joys, blessings, and opportunities. Seeing the negative comes naturally, seeing the positive must be done deliberately.

One of the main benefits of doing this a far greater resilience in the face of challenges. An exclusive focus on negative news overwhelms us and, unsurprisingly, puts us in a fragile state. By looking to the positive your capacity to stay up beat and happy even when under pressure will improve, simply by changing the register of your internal dialogue from resentment and negativity towards greater gratitude and positivity.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.