Related topics

Main Street: Aug. 8, 2018

August 8, 2018

Let’s face it: Most of us, from time to time, become discouraged. Sometimes, it is an issue at work, in the family or in our community.

Ironically, at other times, it is not because we have too little but too much. We own cars, boats, houses, air conditioners, phones and televisions, and sometimes they break. Or we are so busy living the good life, and we just get plain worn out.

Some of the best employees, who are the most productive and most creative people, because of their extraordinary commitment might suffer from disappointment or things just not moving fast enough.

From time to time, it seems Chicken Little is right and “The sky is falling.” While a total myth without evidence, many of us still irrationally (and we know it) fall into that trap of thinking difficult or bad things “come in threes,” not realizing that when we start looking for a pattern, we will likely find it.

On the other hand, being a Pollyanna, where everything is seen as a blessing when it is not, is the opposite extreme.

Psychologists tell us many attributes of human behavior are trait-like and others are state-like. For sure, some people are just naturally born with a more optimistic nature than others. That is a trait. But optimism also can be a state and learned and improved with effort.

Although I’m a retired professor, I keep an active interest in three cutting edge but highly related areas: positive psychology, emotional intelligence and appreciative/respective inquiry. These are not just the latest “flavor of the month” management fads but based on impressive scientific research coming out of the top universities worldwide.

Each of them have suggestions on how to improve our lives.

Let me suggest four things that can help us improve our mood and outlook during those occasionally off days we all have.

• Develop a grateful attitude. While we have Thanksgiving Day annually to show a sense of gratitude, some positive psychology experts recommend, and they themselves engage in, writing down five to 10 things they are grateful for daily.

Others, during their morning walk, will make it a gratefulness walk. So much of what leads to encouragement, though, is not “stuff” but rather relationships, your job and your health.

• Learn and apply more about emotional intelligence. Dr. Ed Piatt has written often about it. What EI tends to do for you is make you more aware of your emotions and those of others. You can learn the basics by doing a Google search.

Learning and practicing EI turns the attention off exclusively you and focuses it on others and improving your relationships. It takes hard work, though.

I would highly recommend the book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. The book comes with a passcode where you can take a confidential online survey and then it coaches you through strategies you can employ at no additional costs.

It will be the best $15 you ever spent on a book. If you have teenage children, it would be a wonderful gift for them and greatly improve their chances for a better life. It does not whitewash your feelings, but by recognizing them, gives you control. It leads to an encouraged state of mind.

• Develop appreciative-reflective inquiry. While this practice is about 25 years old, it is not widely known. Fundamentally, it uses asking questions that build others up, learns about what interests them and focuses on possibilities rather than what’s wrong.

Have you ever had a boss or co-worker approach you with questions that were more similar to an inquisition? Appreciative inquiry is just the opposite. You look forward to seeing them because they will ask questions such as, “How are you doing, and what you are working on?”

These are not just perfunctory but show genuine interest. They might ask you about some outstanding accomplishment and whether you would be willing to share it with others. But it avoids the Pollyannaish tactic of sweeping problems under the rug.

Even if performance results are not good, the AI philosophy would more likely focus on where we go from here rather than assigning blame. Since you cannot control other people, try using AI with others this week. Both you and they will benefit.

• Rather than a random act of kindness, do a planned acted of kindness. As you start focusing more on others, it soon becomes apparent there are needs everywhere, and most people can use some encouragement. Ever been in line at the grocery store with a cart brimming over and somebody with two or three items tells you to go ahead?

Feels good, doesn’t it? If you start actively looking for things to do, they are there. It’s hard to remain discouraged for very long when you are doing things for others.

Sometimes it does feel as though the sky is falling, and we all get discouraged. But this, too, will pass. Because when we become proactive and think and act for others, the gloom very often turns to joy.