Why Positive Formulations are Good for our Mindset

Katharina Graf, M.Sc student clinical psychology

"Whether you think you can do it or you can't, you'll be right either way." - Henry Ford
Positive Formulations

"I've only done half of the project" vs "I've already done half of the project"

Which sentence seems more positive to you?

The emotional valence of sentences we use in our daily life is more important than you may think.

In fact, largely positive emotion vocabularies are associated with high well-being and better physical health, whereas negative emotion vocabularies are linked with low well-being, psychological distress and poor physical health (Vine et al., 2020). Depressed individuals use more negative words in relation to themselves (Pietromonaco & Markus, 1985) and attribute negative events to factors that are internal, stable and global. This means they belief their helplessness to be their own fault (internal), that their state will last for a long time (stable) and that this will affect many different situations (global) (Eaves & Rush, 1984). Therefore, it is a worthwhile idea to eliminate redundant words with negative connotations from our vocabulary.

Beyond that, previous research findings suggest that positive phrasing is easier to understand than negative. For example, as opposed to expressing what did not happen at work, expressing what happened, is more straightforward and assertive (Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2021). This is supported by the notion that people recognize negative words more slowly than positive words (Kuperman et al., 2014). Including a “not” in a sentence can therefore make the meaning difficult to understand (Association for Psychological Science, 2009). For example, our brain will understand the sentence “I want to buy shoes tomorrow” much easier than “I do not want to buy shoes today, but tomorrow” (Hamann & Mao, 2002).

Generally, through the association with other emotional stimuli such as visual images, words acquire emotional meaning. This way, language can transfer different kinds of emotion. Past research proposes that together with the left amygdala, other brain regions associated with reward are activated by emotionally positive verbal stimuli. Thus, incorporating many affectively positive words into our vocabulary is rewarding (Hamann & Mao, 2002). This is in line with the discovery that positive axioms such as “It always seems impossible until it is done” by Nelson Mandela or “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, appeared to have stress-reducing effects and enhanced self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, these positively valenced sayings are deemed inspirational and motivational (Muthusamy, 2019).

Positive mindset and self-affirmation

A positive mindset results in higher satisfaction and well-being (Baluku et al., 2018). Research demonstrated that it increases entrepreneurial success regarding income, satisfaction, meaning in life and commitment to career. Positive mindsets include self-efficacy, confidence, hope, resilience, and optimism (Baluku et al., 2018). Individuals with a positive mindset are found to experience positive emotions more frequently (Ortiz Alvarado et al., 2019). In turn, positive emotions and positive self-affirmations such as “I can do this” and “I am good enough”, foster a positive mindset (Wanget al., 2020). This again underlines the idea that positive phrases are beneficial for our mindset, performance and well-being.

Toxic Positivity

Positivity can be highly beneficial. However, it depends on the context and timing. Research findings suggest that negative thoughts are important and should be acknowledged as well (Kringelbach& Berridge, 2010). Toxic positivity occurs when negative emotions are seen as inherently bad (DO, W. Y. C., 2020). This notion encourages supressing difficult emotions. Conversely however, suppression leads to increased pressure and higher intensity of negative emotions to a later point in time. A more adaptive coping strategy is to accept our emotions as they are. Emotions should not be evaluated as either good or bad. Instead, we can see them as informative. Emotions can inform us about or environment and about what we need (DO, W. Y. C., 2020).

Concluding, when context and timing are adequate, it is helpful to express ourselves positively as this increases our general well-being. Positive sentences are more comprehendible and are associated with reward. A positive mindset can be fostered through positive affirmations and results in better performance. When context and timing are inadequate however, forced positivity can encourage maladaptive emotion suppression. Instead, non-judgemental acceptance of emotions as they are, is deemed healthier.

Positivity is essential for WOPPINESS and characterizes our team. We are aware of our language and phrase our sentences positively. This forms our communication and contributes to our daily performance. As entrepreneurs, we value a positive and optimistic mindset and satisfactory progress. We accomplish this in creating an open space for both positive and negative emotions. It is important for us to encourage and remind each other that emotions are informative and not to be judged. We support both approaches: to look for the silver-lining and to acknowledge and accept negative thoughts. For our team, the combination of the two creates balance, a healthy workspace and builds the foundation for "the way we work".

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