In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve looks at optimism and how to consciously practice positiveness.
Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes.
Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:20 Building optimism, consciously practicing positiveness. In an earlier podcast on the power of optimism, I drew your attention to the work of Alan Loy McGinnis in a book that he wrote titled “The Power of Optimism.” In that podcast, we reviewed 12 behaviors that McGinnis identified that we can consciously carry out in order to increase our optimism. In that earlier podcast, we looked in depth at two of them. One being that the optimists are never surprised by trouble and second, that optimists value partial solutions. In this podcast, I want to touch on three of the behaviors he identified that are connected in my mind, in consciously practicing skills of positiveness. So the three we’re gonna look at in this podcast are one, optimists interrupt their negative trains of thought, optimists are cheerful when they can’t be happy and optimists share the good news. When I worked through McGinnis’ text as I mentioned in the earlier podcast, the surprise to me was that one can consciously identify and practice the behaviors of optimism.
Steve: 01:23 I had initially thought that these were items that were fixed into our personality. So when I’m identifying that I’m being less than optimistic or when I purposely want to create a greater air of optimism and the people I’m around, I can consciously take on behaviors. So we’re going to look at consciously practicing three specific behaviors, but why make that investment? Well, the positive psychology research suggest that investing a bit more optimism and gratitude into our life can lead to shifts in our wellbeing and in the quality of life. Optimism is a powerful thing for us as parents and grandparents to be modeling for our children. Optimists interrupt negative trains of thought. That was a powerful statement when I read it. Notice, there’s a sense I think that we have that optimists don’t have negative thoughts, but McGinnis’ words here really rang out to me.
Steve: 02:11 They interrupt their negative thoughts. In other words, I’m realizing that this thought I’m having is negative and I actually stop myself and inside my head, I reframe that statemen into a positive one. So that statement hits me. I’ll never be able to do this. I’ll never be able to accomplish this. There’s no way I can get this finished. Those statements, I catch myself thinking them and reframe it into, I’m going to have to map out some extra time in order to complete this, or I’m going to need to break this down over several days to get it accomplished. As a parent, a starter place for modeling this for children is to work on changing our adult statements into do statements. So rather than saying, “don’t do this.” We want to use the phrase, “do this.” A simple connection, if you have a young child and you pull out that box of juicy juice and put the straw into it, and you hand it over to the child and your statement is “don’t squeeze it.”
Steve: 03:10 And most of us, I’ve experienced that just as we say, “don’t squeeze” the child, actually squeezes, the juice comes flying up out of the straw and we may even yell, “now I said, don’t squeeze it” and we get a second shot on the second squeeze. Actually what’s happening is, we’re not making the connection ourselves. That our use of the word squeeze actually caused the young child to do the squeezing behavior. You see the brain doesn’t have a don’t squeezing behavior stored. We have a squeeze behavior, we have a hold lightly behavior. And so the young child hearing the phrase don’t squeeze actually has to translate don’t squeeze into what it is we want, which is hold lightly. So as a starter, begin to consider that when you’re giving directions for something, you give the directions in a phrase that your child can immediately execute.
Steve: 03:55 The people who’ve worked in coaching sports with young students are frequently trained to use positiveness. Sending a player into the game with the last direction from the coach, “don’t drop the ball,” you actually are leaving the player saying over in their head, “don’t drop, don’t drop.” The brain may react to the to the drop of before that translation can occur. And in those situations, you don’t want the message to have to be translated. You want to deliver it in exactly the phrase that allow them to carry it out. So the coach is trained to send the player into the game with the direction, “hold the ball tightly.” So instead of saying something like, don’t forget your materials, you might say to your youngster, “picture where you’ll put your stuff to help you remember it,” or “put your things by the door now.”
Steve: 04:32 So you’ll remember them. Instead of “don’t be loud,” phrasing back, “keep your voice soft.” Or instead of “don’t be late,” “be home at seven and ready for practice.” When your child says, “I can’t do this.” Look to reframe the message for them, “you think this is going to take more practice and more time or more effort on your part.” As we learn to reframe our own thoughts, we coach ourselves towards positive action. Modeling that reframing for our youngsters can assist them in being empowered, to interrupt their negative thoughts and implement the statement that takes them to action. McGinnis’ next behavior to practice consciously is the reminder that optimists are cheerful when they can’t be happy. Pretty easy to be cheerful when things around you are upbeat and exciting. More challenging to have that cheerful disposition when one isn’t happy. I think this is one that many of our grandmothers taught us.
Steve: 05:27 Just because you’re having a bad day, it shouldn’t be impacting the people around you. This is the ultimate in quality customer service. Someone working in customer service has heard the same complaint or problem 10 times earlier today. They can’t be feeling happy, but as you approach and share it again as the next customer, they can cheerfully listen and respond to you. Where can you model this for your children? Might your child see you put on a smile for someone when you aren’t in a particularly happy mood. Imagine your child seeing that and perhaps even asking you why you did it or acting surprised. What is it you would say to your son or daughter? While this is seen often as a reaching out to the other person, it actually has a payoff back to the person extending the cheerfulness. People who intentionally cultivate a positive mood to match the outward emotion that they need to display at the time benefit by more genuinely experiencing the positive mood themselves.
Steve: 06:22 In other words, putting on a happy face won’t necessarily make you feel happier, but putting a little bit of effort into the happiness will. I think that this has been an important practice during the COVID quarantine times. There are plenty of things to create a sense of not happy during those times. How did you consciously focus on cheerfulness? Watching on TV, the neighbors singing together from their balconies or the young children playing their instruments for neighbors and celebrating the frontline workers together as a community. All of these were ways of people consciously practicing cheerfulness at times when they weren’t happy. And the last item from McGinnis that we can consciously implement is to share the good news. McGinnis had defined optimism as a bright and hopeful feeling about life in which one, expects things to turn out all right.
Steve: 07:11 Catch that. That’s really powerful for me. They’re gonna turn out all right. They aren’t perfect, but they’ll turn out all right. And he added, “optimism is a belief that there is more good than evil in life.” Again, notice it’s not that there’s no evil, there’s more good than evil. Sharing the good news is interesting because it impacts both the person sharing the news, as well as the person hearing the news. Sharing good news tends to make one feel good and being listened to by another as you share the good news, actually increases intimacy and closeness with that other person. While sharing positive news, it actually heightens the impact of the positive experience because as you get to share it with someone, you’re reliving it. You’re resavoring the experience. Virginia Wolf said it well, “pleasure has no relish unless we share it.”
Steve: 08:02 Consider where you might build in a conscious sharing the good news as a family. When during the day did those good feelings occur? Was it a smile from someone? Was it a politeness from someone? Was it a success you experienced? Sharing and listening to each other’s good news can build optimism for both parties. As you consider the three elements from McGinnis that we looked at in this podcast, decide how you can plan to practice them. And then also at the end of the day, or at the end of an experience, debrief where you could have practice it and perhaps miss the opportunity of both are powerful. So if you consider being cheerful, when you can’t be happy, what would you purposely plan in advance to do to communicate that or interrupt your negative trains of thought? Can you predict where you’re likely to have that negative train of thought and then plan what you’ll do when it happens and consciously carrying out those behaviors?
Steve: 08:56 The other opportunity then is that piece to look back, it kind of fits to me, “I could have.” I just made a negative statement and I suddenly pause for a second and I think I could have said this instead. That reflection back on what our alternatives were increases the likelihood that we’ll carry that new behavior out in the future. So take these three with you, look for the opportunities to practice them yourself and consider how you model them for your children and maybe at times, stop and consciously ask your child to carry out one of these behaviors. Interrupting negative trains of thought, being cheerful when you’re not happy and sharing the good news. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 09:31 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.