If knowledge is power, wisdom is discernment. Wisdom tends to come after experiencing life’s inevitable hard knocks. People make mistakes and learn lessons through the experience. Over time, wisdom can be gained. With this thought in mind, I found it interesting that older people have been found to respond favorably to positive health messages that are motivating over negative messages that tend to be more fear-based (Notthoff & Carstensen, 2014; Strough et al., 2015; Sullivan & Lachman, 2016). I personally wonder if this doesn’t apply to everyone. Anecdotally, I have heard that Psychology Today contributors tend to find that their positive-based posts are read more than other items. (Trending topics like narcissism remain popular because we love reading things that help us understand and validate our painful encounters with other people.) Still, if positive messages are more motivating for people who have lived longer and have generally gained more knowledge and wisdom, wouldn’t it make sense to try to employ positive messaging with others in our lives?
Being positive is not always easy. In fact, it often might seem harder than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. For example, I was going to write a post about toxic stress and inflammation and try to implore people to adopt a number of lifestyle habits that could help. Then I thought of the positive-messaging research and how negative a post about the dangers of stress could sound. Similarly, I find myself (almost compulsively) sharing research tidbits with loved ones with the desire to “help” them. I know better; I get how this can backfire, yet the helpful information comes sometimes just comes streaming out of my mouth. I may not be as bad as Chicken Little when I’m giving these enlightened little speeches, but hopefully, you get the point. I am sharing a message steeped with consequential warnings and this is not exactly motivational and positive.
Additional difficulties people experience with being positive are how they talk to their selves and how they communicate with loved ones. Intimate family members are sitting ducks for blame and accusation when people are stressed and already internally chastising themselves. External fights with loved ones often mirror the inner fights one has with oneself. It's tricky. Add office politics, power struggles, political debates, and even sports trash talk and you can see how less-than-positive messages rise to the top like floating whipped cream on a hot chocolate.
To combat negativity and increase positive communication, I would like to pose a 30-day positive messaging challenge. For 30 days, commit to making a conscious attempt to speak positively to others, about others (watch that gossip and needless venting), and to yourself. (Don’t worry, positive self-talk will not turn you into a narcissist.) Since March is a few days away, maybe you can make it Motivational March. Or start the challenge at any time you feel ready. If you record how you did and document where you had challenges, all the better. For instance, I do plan to post an article on toxic stress during March, yet will now work hard to make it inspirational. During this 30-day challenge, you may discover that your job thrives on negative messages. Document that. Try to keep an open mind and use the challenge as an experiment that reveals the levels of positivity and negativity in your life—and how you seem to feel (mentally and physically) when one is more dominant. To expand the experiment, try enlisting family members and co-workers to do the same. See what you learn, and have fun with the process.
Note: Beating yourself up (or someone else) for going negative represents succumbing to further negativity. Try to avoid the double whammy of judgment and blame.
Wishing all of you well! I know you will do a great job!
Notthoff, N., & Carstensen, L. L. (2014). Positive messaging promotes walking in older adults. Psychological Aging, 29(2), 329–341. doi:10.1037/a0036748
Strough, J., de Bruin, W. B., & Peters, E. (2015). New perspectives for motivating better decisions in older adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00783
Sullivan, A. N., & Lachman, M. E. (2017). Behavior change with fitness technology in sedentary adults: A review of the evidence for increasing physical activity. Frontiers in Public Health, 4, 1–16. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2016.00289