You might have heard claims that maintaining a more positive attitude can help you get more done every day, or improve your professional life. But are these claims really true?
Obviously, this is a hard question to answer. What “counts” as a positive attitude can be somewhat nebulous, and it’s hard to measure changes in productivity in response to such subtle, subjective improvements. But generally speaking, is there any truth to the apparent wisdom that positive attitudes make you more productive?
The Preliminary Evidence
Let’s start by looking at some of the hard evidence. In one study, led by positive psychology researcher Barbara Frederickson, five groups of participants were separated and exposed to video clips presenting different types of emotions.
Two groups viewed clips with positive emotions, two groups viewed clips with negative emotions, and one group served as a control. After watching the clips, participants were asked to imagine themselves in similar situations, then find solutions to a number of problems. Participants who imagined themselves in positive situations provided significantly more solutions.
One comprehensive study from Jessica Pryce-Jones and the iOpener Institute found that the happiest employees were at least twice as productive as their counterparts, were six times as energetic, and took only 10 percent of the sick leave of their least happy counterparts. Obviously, happiness may not correlate exactly with a “positive attitude,” but it certainly seems promising.
Why a Positive Attitude Aids Productivity
There are a few main reasons why a positive attitude could make someone more productive. For this exploration, let’s assume a “positive attitude” means someone tends to see the world optimistically, and think happier thoughts than a neutral or negative counterpart.
- Stress management. Some research suggests that our reaction to stress, rather than stress itself, is what produces the negative effects we associate with stress. In other words, if you see stress as a terrible, destructive force, you’re more likely to experience the negative effects of stress than if you see it as challenging and empowering. With a positive attitude, you see challenges as opportunities, rather than obstacles. You see competition as exciting, rather than inhibiting. Overall, stress hurts you less, and you’re more likely to succeed in the face of it.
- Positivity also makes you a better collaborator. With an open, positive mindset, you’re more willing to work with other people, and you’re much more tolerant of other people’s ideas. If your work relies on team interactions, this can be huge for your productivity.
- Job enjoyment. This is a relationship that could work both ways. If you stay positive, you’ll be more likely to genuinely enjoy your job, and if you genuinely enjoy your job, you’ll be more likely to feel positive. This results in a feedback loop that keeps you energetic and focused, even during your worst days. And research has shown that satisfied employees are more productive.
- Relationships and social support. People love to be around positive people. If you have a consistent, outward-facing positive attitude, people will gravitate toward you. You’ll have a much easier time managing your professional relationships, and you’ll have more social support from your peers. This can do wonders for your overall productivity.
- Physical health. Many studies have suggested that people with positive attitudes tend to be healthier than their counterparts. Why? That’s a little harder to explain, but the correlation seems clear. Optimists tend to be more resilient to various types of diseases, they have lower blood pressure, better weight control, and are less susceptible to heart disease. They also, unsurprisingly, have longer lifespans. If you keep a positive attitude, you should remain in good physical health—or at least better physical health than your peers. That means fewer sick days, more focus, and more productivity.
Improving Your Attitude
All that’s left, then, is to improve your attitude to be more positive overall. If you’re a natural pessimist, you may find this exceedingly difficult. Fortunately, there are several exercises that can help you, including:
- Mindfulness meditation forces us to be in the present moment, letting go of distracting thoughts and old emotions. It’s a great way to reduce your stress and negative reactions.
- Spend more time thinking about, talking about, and writing down the things you appreciate most in your life and in your job. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for your outlook.
- Self-talk improvement. Much of our positivity or negativity comes from our internal dialogue, or self-talk. Learn to recognize self-talk when it unfolds in your mind, and steer it toward more positive phrases when you can.
Nobody can go from being a neutral or negative thinker to a positive thinker overnight, but with practice and enough time, you can improve your outlook. With a more positive mindset, you’ll undoubtedly be more productive—and you’ll be happier and more satisfied with your life as well.