We engineers are taught to look for problems and flaws at every turn. We search for the root causes of every issue and, the better we get at isolating problems, the better we are at our jobs. After all isn’t it our job to minimize risk, discover bottlenecks, and “code review” each other’s work?
This relentless pursuit of perfection by correcting every flaw can lead many of us to be, well, pretty negative people. This was definitely true for me! I was always very cynical and very negative – always looking for what was wrong with a project, a situation, or a person right off the bat. And while being the kind of engineer who kind find and correct a problem right away is a huge win for your job, being the kind of person who can see the best in anything is a huge win for living a positive, happy life.
This ability to take a situation and skew your own perspective to see not just the negatives, but the positives too, is called reframing. A favorite of “pick-up artists”, this fairly simple idea can turn your professional and personal life completely around. Essentially, reframing requires you to actively pursue positivity in a given situation, be aware of your reactions, and decide what it’s going to mean to you.
For example, if you’re called into your manager’s office for feedback on a recent project, you have a decision to make. Are you going to listen for the negative feedback and accept a list of failures, or are you going to hear opportunities to improve and your boss’ belief in your ability to make them happen?
Statements like that last one can be controversial, especially among cynics, who may seem it as overly sentimental and naïve. But what’s the harm in looking for the positive? In fact, not only does it feel better to find the positive, but it actually improves the way you interact with the world around you and, in turn, what you get out of the world around you. People who are perceived as optimistic actually fare better in almost every area of their lives, from their career to their love life.
The Importance of Being Positive
According to the MayoClinic, the health benefits of positive thinking span everything from reduced risk of heart disease to greater resistance to the common cold. Studies also point to higher levels of positivity linking to increased life span. Maintaining a positive outlook tends to help people fight depression and stress, which in turn, leads to engaging in more healthy lifestyles (think: more exercise, better diet, and lower rates of smoking and drinking.)
Positivity breeds positivity, which is why reframing can be such an effective tool. If you’re more positive in your work life, you’ll naturally become more positive in your social and personal life too. Self-talk is a key piece of the reframing puzzle; though optimism may not come naturally to you, regular check-ins can help it become a habit.
Reframing situations can be difficult at first, since it involves being constantly proactive about reading a situation and deciding how to engage (over time it will come more naturally!), but it almost always turns out to be worth the effort.
Psychologist MichaelFresehasresearchedtheeffectsofactivepositivity in all aspects of life, and reached this conclusion about its effects at in the professional world: “His studies of employees suggest that people who engage in a high degree of active behavior at work are more successful on the job—they gain more empowerment, meaning they have greater control over their work and their work is more complex; they gain even more personal initiative; and they find new jobs more easily if they become unemployed.”
Reframing, and questions to ask yourself
There are several strategies you can employ to self-talking, and get the conversation with yourself started. Ask yourself simple questions along the way, check in to see how you’re perceiving something – then consider how you want to reframe it.
1. Look at the situation from the reverse.
You’ll be amazed how big a difference this one makes when you really try. Look at an interaction from the other person’s perspective, and you can gain a world of insight into their motivations, actions, and words.
Disagreements become much more resolvable when you look at the situation through the other person’s eyes. This isn’t to say you have to completely change your opinion; it just means taking what you know about this person and listening to what they are really saying. This is all about empathy. When you really know where they’re coming from, it becomes so much easier to meet them halfway.
This concept is also important for managing impressions and perceptions of you, and the way you connect and relate to others in your environment. Understanding how others see you is a powerful tool for building relationships, and can also help you bring someone over to your side in a tough situation. This sort of perspective is particularly helpful in arguments, debates, or disagreements – including ones with your significant other.
In an argument, whether it’s something big or small, reframing your situation can be endlessly helpful in resolving the situation and bringing you back to a good place. In the moment, remember what you already know about this person – are they someone who needs to vent from time to time, or are they someone who only speaks up when it’s really important to them? What’s going on in their life that could be influencing their feelings? Knowing these things, but also being empathetic to them, can help bring you to a more complete, lasting resolution.
2. Fast forward into the future.
If you asked me to recount any of the arguments over technical details I’ve had over the last year, I couldn’t.
Keep that in mind when deciding whether to put your foot down over that one little thing on your big project. Try to imagine yourself a week, a month, a year in the future – how much do you care about winning this one argument?
On the flip side, if you asked me to think about the positive relationships and interactions that I’ve had over the past year, I’d have a list that really means something. Though it’s easy to get worked up in the heat of the moment, try to imagine yourself thinking back on this assignment in a few months. Are you more likely to remember a tense debate over one line of code, or finding a long-term ally on your team through a compromise?
Think about it like this: when you’re driving and another car does something unexpected, reckless, or just plain annoying, it’s totally up to you what happens next. You can let the frustration overtake you and work you into a frenzy or worse, retaliate and create an even bigger situation. Or you can choose to just let it go by
3. Think about how this will benefit you.
So you didn’t get into that program, you didn’t get the promotion, you just walked out of a terrible review. How do you feel?
I used to take mistakes at work and missed opportunities really hard, which is a totally natural reaction when you don’t achieve something you really care about. But just because you didn’t end up with the outcome you’d hoped for doesn’t mean you can’t still make the most of it.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a cliché for a reason. You can either let a situation defeat you or you can let it make you better. Try to imagine a particularly tough client as a great lesson in professionalism and creative thinking. Take in a harsh review and consider it a challenge to work harder than ever before.
It can completely ruin your day to find out a project didn’t work, but your power lies in how you react to failure. Do you want this one project to be the thing that brings you down? Or do you want to show up the next day, with a new idea, ready to lead your team again?
It’s all in how you decide to react. Choose to learn something; find opportunities in the rubble. Not only do you put yourself back on the road towards success, but you also prove to yourself that you can keep going no matter what – and that’s a pretty positive feeling.
One of my favorite quotes is this:
“You can change the world just by changing how you see the world.”
This is reframing in a nutshell. The power to be in a positive situation is all within you!
Just because a situation isn’t going the way you hoped it would doesn’t mean it has to be completely negative. It’s completely within your power to turn a negative into a positive. The most successful people are ones who don’t allow negativity to bring them down. It’s not that they never encounter it, because we all do. It’s just that they decide to not let it bring them down, and to choose instead to be inspired by it.