‘How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself ― so always think positively.’
Norman Vincent Peale
Most of us recognise that positive emotions boost the feeling of wellbeing. What’s less known is the role that positive emotions play in helping us think creatively. Researchers in the field of positive psychology, like Barbara Fredrickson, have shown that positive emotions actually promote the discovery of new actions and ideas, by broadening our scope of attention, thinking and action. They’ve discovered that people experiencing positive states demonstrate patterns of thought that are creative, flexible, open to information and more efficient. They have also shown that people experiencing such states show an increased preference for variety and accept a broader range of behavioural options.
The emotions of joy and contentment in particular are thought to have the effect of broadening the scope of our attention and thought processing. Negative emotions of fear and anger actually have the opposite effect of narrowing our thinking – so we focus on details not the broader picture, seeing only the trees not the wood, and potentially limiting our options.
So for situations where you want to resolve a problem, or find a new solution, it’s worth changing your state. Evoking positive emotions will boost your ability to think more creatively and flexibly around a problem, become more open to consider possibilities and actions that you may have been too fearful to consider before. So, next time you are stuck around a problem, try to bring to mind a time when you felt happy, confident and positive about the world around you. Maybe a great holiday you had, time you spent with friends, a fun activity you enjoyed, a conversation that made you feel good? Revisit this in your mind’s eye, recall what you saw, hear what you heard and feel what you felt. Stay with this until you start to reconnect with those feelings. Then look at your problem again, and notice what seems different. What options or solutions might be possible now? What else comes to mind now? What actions might you consider taking now?