I was struck this past week by the positive images and stories being told by the family and friends of the late US Senator Edward M. Kennedy. His life knew more than its share of tragedy, ambiguity, and even disgrace. But his life also had lots of good stuff to counterbalance all the drama, most of which was generated by Kennedy’s ability to frame the positive both for himself and for others. Person after person spoke about the ways he was able to do that. Fortunately, we can all do that. Framing the positive is not a Kennedy trait, it’s a human trait. Read on to discover its importance for you.
Go with me, if you will, on a trip around my house. Here are some of things that are inside frames:
- A portrait of my parents.
- A picture of me, age 19, with mentor Glen “Tex” Evans and two friends on the Appalachia Service Project.
- A picture of my wife, Megan, and me, with big smiles, walking on a dock on the Greek Island of Hydra.
- A statement of my core values.
- Lots of pictures of my immediate family, usually on special occasions such as my son Evan’s wedding or my daughter Bryn’s white-coat ceremony.
- Lots of pictures of my extended family, from more occasions such as graduations or a cruise we took in 2006 to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
- Lots of paintings by my wife, including one of Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains from our first vacation, back in the summer of 1975 and plenty of gorgeous watercolors.
- A picture of our son and daughter-in-law in the record fish frame (whoever catches the biggest fish off our dock gets in the frame).
- A 2006 painting by my daughter-in-law Michelle of the word LOVE inside a heart.
- Several pictures of the three Russian children adopted by my wife’s best friend in 2007 (an adventure in which Megan participated).
- A stained glass image of a rainbow and a peace dove, similar to the windows made by a friend’s father for our church in Chicago.
- Two gigantic splatter paintings, Jackson Pollock style, made by my family in the front yard on one fine summer day. Boy, were we a mess!
- A wall of marathon bib numbers, including two from the Boston marathon that are framed inside a large Boston-marathon poster.
And that doesn’t begin to touch what we have in storage and what comes up in frames on my Google Photos Screensaver. Thousands of pictures of family and friends, children and elders, trips and treks, flowers and animals, holidays and everydays, colleagues and collaborators, races and rides. There’s no end to the memories these frames bring to mind. It has, in fact, been wonderful just to walk through each room of the house and to actually watch my Screensaver, for a change, to inventory the stuff in frames.
I would encourage you to do the same. What do you have in frames? What memories do they bring to mind? Chances are that it’s all good stuff. Most of us don’t seek to put our worst moments in frames. Although I have, on occasion, sought to document a failed experiment or a before state, I have never put those photos in a frame (although I do get a curious pleasure out of looking at one of my fat pictures, from before I became a coach in 1998, whenever it pops up in my Screensaver).
We frame the positive because it makes us feel good, but research indicates that it does far more than that. By focusing on and framing the positive, we generate the energy and the vision to take more effective actions. We impact our physiology, psychology, and sociology in quantifiable and determinative ways. To mention only a few of the more intriguing findings:
- Images can trigger the same physical and neurological effects as events. That’s power of so-called “mirror neurons”. Thoughts are things. Words create worlds. Framing the positive is a good way to generate the positive. Images precede action. Positive images precede positive action.
- Placebos can work as well as or even, on occasion, better than medications. When people believe that something is going to help them, it does. That’s one reason for the popularity and effectiveness of alternative therapies. “Wonder drugs” really are wonders as long as they hold rock-star status in our minds. They unleash the body’s natural, self-healing powers. Positive images strengthen the body’s immune system.
- We see the same effect in groups. It’s known as the Pygmalion effect, named after a Cypriot sculptor in ancient Greek mythology who falls in love with a female statue he has carved out of ivory. Teachers, for example, are told that certain students possess exceptionally high potential while others do not. As a result, they fall in love with the high-potential students who end up doing incredibly well. There’s only one problem: the students were chosen at random and did not possess exceptionally high potential. They ended up that way because of the positive image held by the teacher. Positive images evoke positive feedback.
- Framing the positive shifts us from helplessness to helpfulness. It “pulls us away from self-oriented preoccupation, enlarges our focus on the potential good in the world, increases feelings of solidarity with others, and propels us to act in more altruistic and prosocial ways” (David Cooperrider). That’s why, to quote Barbara Fredrickson, it’s “good to feel good”. Positive images stimulate positive energy.
- Framing the positive also unleashes creativity. The more we focus on the negative, the less options we see. The more we focus on the positive, the more open and willing we become to see what other good things might be lurking around the corner. Positive images have a cumulative effect. The more images we put in the frame, the more images surface and come to our attention. Positive images engage positive thinking.
- Focusing on the positive is a great way to guide our internal dialogue. When we look for the negative, we talk ourselves into seeing the worst in ourselves and in other people. When we look for the positive, we talk ourselves into seeing the best in ourselves and in other people. Instead of complaining, we finds ourselves celebrating. Positive images create positive dynamics.
This is really only the tip of the iceberg. It goes far beyond old notions of “the power of positive thinking”. For one thing, the research here is not about some magic correlation (think yourself rich). For another thing, the research does not deny the reality of tough stuff (rosy-tinted glasses). It is a hard-headed, data-driven look at what happens both inside and outside of us when we actively frame the positive.
And it’s all good. As long as we don’t dupe ourselves into taking ill-advised or unnecessary risks on the basis of our positive images (see the run-up to the current global recession), there’s really no downside to taking a more positive frame on life.
But then you probably knew that, didn’t you? If you were to stop the proverbial person on the street and ask, “Is it better to have a positive or negative attitude?” they would (I predict) virtually all say positive. So why doesn’t that translate into legions of positive people?
We fail to frame the positive. It passes by unnoticed. Instead of figuratively (or literally) clicking that picture, we get sidetracked by the negative. And those images take over our world. We become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
So don’t let that happen to you! Appreciate the best in life. Notice the good things that are going on, for you and for others, even when times are tough. They are always there to find • a smile, a caring touch, a flash of insight, a final push • it’s up to us to savor them.
Coaching Inquiries: What positive images are on your walls at home or work? What would assist you to find and frame more positive images? How can you move beyond noticing the positive to savoring the positive? What things can you appreciate and celebrate about life?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
After reading Seligman’s story about his epiphany with his five-year-old daughter, leading to the positive psychology movement, in last week’s Provision, I really had to laugh at the Pickles’ cartoon on the same day. Here’s the link: http://comics.com/pickles/2009-08-23.
I know that living life is an ongoing process of learning and accepting myself and how to love others and live in this world with others. I am proud to say the first 50 years of my life, I let others get the best of me. Now, I have the confidence to stand up and put a voice to what does or doesn’t work for me. Your coaching and Provisions have been such an instrument to help me embrace change. Change is good! Thanks.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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