Secrets to Success: The Power of Positivity

Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
~ Winston Churchill

In the first post in my Secrets to Success series, I suggested improving your odds of achieving goals by tying them to your core values. In the second, I talked about overcoming a major roadblock to reaching our goals: temporal myopia. In this post, I’ll share one more idea. It’s the simplest, the shortest, but could be the best.

It’s called the power of positivity.

If I took the brain out of your head and put it on the sharp edge of a razor blade, it would look like a pea rolling down a four-lane highway.

Maybe not directly, but that’s the way a lot of us might as well be talking to the people we care about or work for us, and it’s the way we all regularly talk to ourselves.

If you’re like me – in a hurry and overwhelmed – you might do what I’ve found myself doing to the people I supervise at work: calling them on the carpet, criticizing them for doing a bad job, pointing out their mistakes, and ultimately implying their position is at risk. We all sometimes resort to the same type of tactics with our kids, our friends, and other important people in our lives, especially ourselves. But whether you’re attempting to alter the actions of others or yourself, this isn’t the way to do it.

My girlfriend is a nurse. She was telling me recently about a lecture she attended about the importance of staying positive with patients. Turns out that a lot of people in the healthcare industry use negative reinforcement to help us change unhealthy behavior: Mr. Smith, your cholesterol is off the charts. Ms. Jones, if you don’t start exercising, you’ll be dead in six months. Mr. Brown, you’re about two cigarettes away from a heart attack.

Don’t go negative

The problem with this brand of negativity? It has an unintended consequence: Rather than changing behavior, it simply causes patients to stay away from the doctor’s office. Guilt – whether directed at yourself or other people – is more likely to reinforce negative behavior than fix it. That’s because negative behavior is often used to compensate for a lousy self-image.

In this LA Times article, researcher Deborah MacInnis describes a study she conducted at USC.

She put three groups of subjects alone in a room with a very large piece of chocolate cake. They were told they could eat as much or as little as they wished. The first group was told to focus on the pride they would feel if they resisted the cake. The second group was told to imagine the shame they would feel if they ate it, and the control wasn’t told anything.

Result? The subjects who anticipated pride at resisting the cake ate way less than those who focused on shame. They also ate less than the control group.

Why does this happen? Here are her words:

“Guilt, it turns out, carries a triple whammy: It concentrates thoughts on the temptation rather than on self-control; it makes you generally feel bad, weakening resistance; and it heightens the expected pleasure from being bad, which makes the temptation more tempting.”

So if you have a problem with food, rather than calling yourself a fat slob, maybe you picture the slimmer you. If you smoke, don’t beat yourself up over your lack of self-control, picture the pride you’ll feel when you stop. Before you tell your husband how lazy he is, tell him what a great provider he is or how good he looks. If you’re dealing with employees, tell them how well they do some things before you tell them where they need improvement.

Carrots are healthier than sticks

So if you want to help people accomplish their goals – or want to accomplish yours – forget the stick, and stick to the carrot. Create a mental picture of a perfect self, remind yourself how close you are, then follow the remaining steps to get there.

In short, don’t underestimate the power of positivity, especially when it comes to yourself. One of my favorite expressions: If you talked to other people like you talk to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends at all.

As you go through your day today, do two things. First, remind yourself of your best qualities. Then say something nice to somebody else. It won’t cost you a dime. And it’s going to make the world a better place. Especially your world.

Like this advice? Pass it on!

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
5 Reasons You Should Retire Sooner, Not Later
5 Reasons You Should Retire Sooner, Not Later

Waiting until age 70 to retire isn’t for everyone. Could you be waiting too long?

7 Ways to Save Even More at Dollar Stores
7 Ways to Save Even More at Dollar Stores

Yes, it’s possible to pay less than a buck for items from a dollar store. Here’s how.

14 Things We Buy and Then Almost Never Use
14 Things We Buy and Then Almost Never Use

Save your money. These items seem alluring but they often end up as coat racks and dust magnets.

The 10 Best Outdoor Home Upgrades for Your Money
The 10 Best Outdoor Home Upgrades for Your Money

There’s still time this summer to make improvements to the exterior of your home. These offer the best payback.

7 Things I Never Buy at Costco
7 Things I Never Buy at Costco

A bulk buy isn’t always the best buy. Here’s where I shop for these items instead of a warehouse club.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk
Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk

A new study finds that wearing a cloth mask can backfire if you don’t clean it properly.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.