How To Stay Positive

Martin Seligman became President of the American Psychological Association in 1996. He made a bit of an impact straight away by telling his fellow psychologists that through their focus on illness they were missing an important point.

He suggested that if they focused on what was right with people and learn how to help people to stay that way, many psychological issues would either never occur or would disappear – prevention being better than cure.

It’s amazing how many professions get this wrong – if you’re 7 years old and a great creative writer, but cannot tell the time, your teacher may focus on the fact that you cannot tell the time, as if it is likely you will grow into an adult who cannot tell the time.

Almost all managers focus on the poor performers and not the star performers. They assume the high performers have little more to give. But surely it will be more rewarding to focus on those who are talented right out the box, rather than trying to drag those who are below average up to the average?

Some industries do get it right – top flight sports teams get it right. They do not focus on trying to raise the game of those who are below average. They let them go and they focus on the best – helping them to raise their game. This is leadership.

Jo Owen touches on this area in the recently published 2nd edition to his book How To Lead.

He interviewed 700 leaders and came up with the rather obvious conclusion that successful leaders are more positive that the rest. Now to me, “positive” is a state of mind that drives “positive” actions. This is not to be confused with wild optimism.

Owen suggests 7 areas where you can assess how positive you are –

1. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses.

You cannot succeed by dealing with your weaknesses. Successful leaders focus on their own strengths and find others who have as strengths the leader’s weaknesses. Symbiotic or what? We are all animals after all.

2. Manage your feelings.

Emotional intelligence. If you are upset or angry – accept the emotion but then choose how to react to it. Do not be angry or upset. Feel the emotion, do not be the emotion. Chose how to be. Be engaged. Be positive.

3. Visualise

Visualise success. Focus on the goal and how to get there.  Can you articulate in simple words where you’re going? Clarity of purpose. And ambition. But don’t be scared…it is better to aim for 100 and hit 80 than aim for 40 because that’s what you normally get, and then actually hit 40. Only you will know if your goal is really challenging, and if it is, and you miss by a bit, that’s OK. The real problem is those who aim for 40, or, even worse, those who do not aim at all.

4. Do something worthwhile – which may or may not be in work.

If you are not doing something worthwhile, where you feel real purpose, you will struggle to remain positive. Leadership is not for everyone, and that’s OK. But maybe you are a leader – just not where you are right now.

5. Move to action

Do not conduct a post-mortem on the past. It’s gone. Do not have a victim mentality – don’t blame others for your past misfortunes.

6. Wear the mask of leadership

No matter how you feel and sometime you will feel like a bag of nails…no one wants to know, not really. Sorry about that. When they ask you how you are, they want you to say “great”.

7. Take control

Even with your back against the wall you will have something you can do; something within your sphere of control; a lever you can pull. Do not worry about the things you cannot control. Stay focused on what you can do. And do it.

This is all obvious stuff.

If you find yourself getting any of this wrong today, pull yourself up.


Well think of the alternative – ignore your strengths and try to eliminate your weaknesses; be at the mercy of your emotions;  have no idea what success looks like; spend the prime of your life on stuff you don’t find worthwhile; dwell on the past; moan; focus on what you cannot do and don’t do it.


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4 Responses to How To Stay Positive

  1. Eilidh Milnes November 29, 2010 at 6:42 am #

    The line that really resonates with me in your above article Mark is, “Now to me, “positive” is a state of mind that drives “positive” actions. This is not to be confused with wild optimism.”
    Many years ago a client Sharon Sanderson, introduced me to an audience as “Captain Positive” – a title that I adopted and have used ever since. For me a key part however, is positive DOING not simply positive thinking.
    Another good post Dr Nugent, thanks for sharing.

  2. Jimmy E Dadrewalla November 29, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    Excellent write up, helped charge me up in -8 degrees



  3. Keith Plumb November 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I agree with the other two comments. It always annoyed me at school when teachers concentrated on my weaknesses and not my strengths.

    One of the tricks I learned at university is to get together with others to rev up you strengths. This helped me to get a first.


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