Ok I have to admit it, I have Negativity Bias, or some may say I am a Realist. In my role at IDEAS, I am supposed to identify problems or issues before they occur which is to say, I look for all the things that can go wrong in a situation or project. Over the past year I have been working on a new approach, look for the positive outcomes first and identify items or tasks that are most meaningful to our clients, team members and for myself.
In July of 2012, through constructive feedback from an office mate, I realized my Negativity Bias or Realist mind set was not good for my body and soul or those I worked with. It was causing frequent tightening in my chest and stomach. Worries of the day were building in my mind and not going away. It was affecting my level of productivity and interactions with others.
It turns out I am not the only Realist in the world. Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, says, “the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.” Or as Roy Baumeister, another psychologist, puts it, “It’s evolutionary adaptive for bad to be stronger than good.”
For me a way to break the negativity biasness came during a project we were working on. During enculturation interviews for our client we found an employee who challenged her staff to do something meaningful during their shift. In post-shift meetings she asked the staff to share with the group something meaningful about their day. Sometimes the staff referenced things they did intentionally for guests or other co-workers, other times they shared things others had done that was meaningful to them.
While brainstorming a way to apply this act of meaningfulness into their culture we conceived The Meaningful Journal, a living online document, as a way to test and track the effectiveness of intentionally creating meaningful moments. There were two steps to the process; 1) beginning of each day write down a few things we could do that would be meaningful to others and items that were meaningful to ourselves. 2) end of the day review the list and see if we met the desired goals and discuss the outcomes.
Very quickly we discovered intentionally doing something meaningful created positive emotions. “Positive emotions broaden [our] scope of attention, cognition and action, and build physical, intellectual and social resources,” says Barbara Fredrickson, a leading happiness researcher at the University of North Carolina. Mario Losada, another researcher, studied some 60 business teams and found that the ratio of positive to negative comments in the highest performing teams was 5.6 to 1. In medium performing teams it was 1.9 to 1 and in low performing teams it was .36 to 1, meaning three negative comments for every positive one.
After a month we expanded the test to include creating meaningful moments for individuals in our personal lives. Again we found positive results with even more personal rewards. By the third month we discovered creating random acts of meaningfulness just became fun, such as paying the toll for the car behind us. It was fun just to see the toll both operators expression not to mention the puzzled but gleeful look of the other driver.
The Meaningful Journal was so inspirational to our test group it became a part of our daily lives and continued for a year. As we wrapped up the Journal two of the last posts were:
• By only journaling meaningful items and moments we have become more positive individuals. On a regular basis we now think about and understand what is meaningful to others and ourselves. It has also guided us to do things that are meaningful those around us and the world at large.
• I believe that just the idea of this document has helped us think about what is most important in our lives.
From this exercise we learned when feeling worried, frustrated or angry, the people around us are going to pick it up – not least because they’ll be wondering whether they’re the cause. By conducting random meaningfully actions each of us has the power to positively influence a situation, another person and our own well-being. So after reading this blog, go Do Something Meaningful!