Q: People always ask me why I'm so negative. I have to admit that I tend to be a "glass half empty" person, and also have noticed that people who look on the positive side seem to be happier. What can I do to change?
A: Practice can help you shift your initial response to situations to a more positive viewpoint.
First of all, think about why you really want to change. Is it to please others? If so, consider, at least briefly, whether the perspectives of others are fair in this case. Sometimes people use the "negative" label when uncomfortable realities are raised. On the other hand, I've seen people make good news seem like the sky is falling. Even in the former case, though, a more effective communication style will get you farther. That said, if the sole motivation for changing is to please others, your odds of success drop dramatically.
What are your inner motivations to change? You mention that positive people seem happier — are you unhappy? Or at least less happy than you'd like to be? If so, shifting your perspective could help. Take some time to look back. Have you always had a "glass half empty" viewpoint? If not, think about when and how it changed. Is it consistent across all aspects of your professional and personal life? If not, consider why you may show up differently in different settings.
Get some feedback from people you trust. It's easy to overreact to offhand comments, but understanding whether your style really is having a detrimental impact on yourself or others could be very useful.
Then figure out what your goal is. As you teach yourself to find a positive perspective, it's not realistic to think you'll instantly always see (and be able to express) a positive point of view. Also, you want to be sure to be authentic with the people you're around — there isn't anything worse than a phony Pollyanna.
In fact, much of your focus will be internal at first. Start by looking back at recent situations, say, a new business challenge that has emerged. Presumably, your reaction was to look at the negative impact. Right now, look at the situation again and make a list of all of the potential positives you can see. Find at least three. Do this over and over. Try it if you go to the grocery store and they're out of the item you wanted. Try it if you're delayed at the airport. There is always a positive spin you can find — make a game out of it.
This may feel very artificial at first. Even though you can state a positive, you may not have inner conviction that it's real. My experience is, though, that once you can articulate it, the believing will follow. You can then start expressing the positive view externally. One hint: you may want to give others a heads up about your new approach. That way you'll get support instead of risking incredulous reactions.
Thinking positive is a good habit to have, and even if your immediate reactions don't change, you'll be broadening your view of the world.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.