How Positive Thinking Builds Your Skill Set

To continue on with the previous post, I wanted to share some additional thoughts about maintaining a positive, and some of the benefits.

The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefit that positive emotions provide is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life.

Here’s a real–world example: A child who runs around outside, swinging on branches and playing with friends, develops the ability to move athletically (physical skills), the ability to play with others  and communicate with a team (social skills), and the ability to explore and examine the world around them (creative skills). In this way, the positive emotions of play and joy prompt the child to build skills that are useful and valuable in everyday life.

These skills last much longer than the emotions that initiated them. Years later, that foundation of athletic movement might develop into a scholarship as a college athlete or the communication skills may blossom into a job offer as a business manager. The happiness that promoted the exploration and creation of new skills has long since ended, but the skills themselves carry on for many years to come. I can think of many stories from my own life that have a foundation of what I learned, and things that I did as a kid growing up. 

Barbara Fredrickson refers to this as the “broaden and build” theory because positive emotions broaden your sense of possibilities and open your mind, which in turn allows you to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of your life.

As we discussed earlier in the prior post, negative emotions do the opposite. Why? Because building skills for future use is irrelevant when there is an immediate threat or danger (like the criminal with a gun pointing it at you).

All of this research and findings leads us to an important question: if positive thinking is so useful for developing valuable skills and appreciating the Big Picture of life, how do you actually get yourself to be positive, or at least think positively?

How to Increase Positive Thinking in Your Life

What can you do to increase positive emotions and take advantage of the “broaden and build” theory in your own life?

Honestly, anything that sparks feelings of joy, contentment, and love will do the trick. You will know what things work best for you. Maybe it’s doing a quick workout. Maybe it’s playing the piano. Maybe it’s spending time with a certain person. It may be  scrapbooking. It could be going outside and doing some gardening. Whatever it may be that brings a feeling of joy and contentment, then your energies can be more focused on doing that activity.

Even as I am writing this post, I am reminded of what a difficult year this has been in business, in personal life, in trying to help others, and just finding enough time and strength to make it through another day. I have to laugh, though, because I am the student as well as the coach at this particular moment, because I need to heed my own advice!

Sorry to digress for a moment, but it is pretty funny and ironic that I’m giving advice, and at the same time – learning from my own experiences!

Here are three ideas for you to consider…

1. Meditation — Recent research by Fredrickson and her colleagues has revealed that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions than those who do not. As expected, people who meditated also built valuable long–term skills. For example, three months after the experiment was over, the people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms. (Note: If you’re looking for an easy way to start meditation, there is a 10–minute guided meditation that I learned about. Just close your eyes, breathe, and follow along).

2. Writing — An article published in the Journal of Research in Personality, examined a group of 90 undergraduate students who were split into two groups. The first group wrote about an intensely positive experience each day for three consecutive days. The second group wrote about a control topic.

Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses. This is pretty cool: Better health after just three days of writing about positive things! (Note: I used to be very inconsistent and erratic with my writing, but now I try to publish a new article every week when I’m not writing a book. This type of focus has helped me to have some fun and research, then write down the things that I learn).

3. Play — schedule time to play into your life. We schedule meetings, conference calls, weekly events, webinars, travel, and other responsibilities into our daily calendars … why not schedule time to play and take some of the edge off?

Be honest and ask yourself when was the last time you blocked out an hour on your calendar just to explore and experiment? When was the last time you intentionally carved out time to have a little fun? You can’t tell me that being happy is less important than your Wednesday meeting, and yet, we act like it is because we never give it a time and space to live on our calendars. It’s usually not an obligation that has a time frame to it. I really get tired of schedules, and deadlines, and the need to respond to someone else’s text, phone call, or email that requires “immediate attention.” If it’s not life -threatening, or going to create disaster if not attended to right away, then let it wait.

Give yourself permission to smile and enjoy the benefits of positive emotion. Schedule time for play and adventure so that you can experience contentment and joy, and explore and build new skills.

Note: for more ideas on the importance of play, read this article on how one man cured his anxiety.

I’ll share more information coming up in the next post about the positive benefits of maintaining a positive attitude!

(This post is from my latest book Healthy Habits of Highly Productive Employees. If you want to check out the book, you can visit my site:

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