Boost Creativity and Productivity by Changing How You Think


Negative feedback is common, and science shows that negative events can have much more dramatic effects over the long term than positive ones.

Think of the Persian aphorism that one spoonful of tar will ruin a barrel of honey, but one spoonful of honey in a barrel of tar will have no effect.

It can seem like human nature to focus on the negatives and get stuck in analysis paralysis. But for me, thinking positively and taking real, concrete steps toward improvement is much more effective.

I’m a facts guy, so I looked up statistics in motivational, educational and sports psychology to learn whether modern science backed up my ideas.

  • The average American hears negative reinforcement at home about 148,000 times before the age of 19, according to Dr. Shad Helmstetter’s 1986 book “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself.” Helmstetter also wrote about science that showed 75 percent of illnesses are self-induced.
  • A study of optimism vs. pessimism, published in 2000 by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, used a personality survey and then follow-up health surveys 30 years later to show that the risk of mortality goes up by 19 percent in patients who were more pessimistic by a certain degree (as measured by a standard personality test).
  • A 2000 study by Barbara L. Fredrickson and a team of researchers found that positive emotions cause broader and more diverse thought and increased performance for a broader array of subjects, and that the effects continued long-term. Negative emotions spark specific, life-preserving actions but diminish creativity.
  • Another study led by Fridrickson compared a control group with a group that was randomly assigned hour-long sessions of positive meditation. She found that the meditation helped people build personal skills in the areas of cognition, psychology, social interaction and even physical health. “People with these resources are more likely to effectively meet life’s challenges and take advantage of its opportunities, becoming successful, healthy, and happy in the months and years to come,” the study authors wrote.
  • At a 2011 conference in Portugal on Sport and Exercise Psychology, researchers reported a study that showed a statistically significant increase in cognitive test scores of students who were given positive feedback, as compared to students who got negative feedback. Researchers at the same conference reported that negative feedback caused complacency and “a significant increase in avoidance behavior.”
  • A review of studies from the American Psychological Society in 1998 “found no evidence that information about failure and information about success have differential effects, on average, on performance.” While this shows that all-out positivity doesn’t work every time and for every personality, it doesn’t tell the whole story. We should evaluate both positives and negatives, but put our focus on making improvements in the areas we can control.
  • Studies in 2012 by Blair Crewther and a research team at the Imperial College of London found that testosterone levels increased and performance levels improved in athletes after they were shown motivational videos or clips of themselves playing well before games. Athletes that got negative feedback or watched a sad video had worse performances. Both the physical and performance-related effects lasted for weeks after the initial study.

Throughout my life, I have used positivity and humor to help push me through things and I’ve found that it’s really helped me not get stuck in a rut. I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately, especially after recent sessions in our office with elite athletic researcher and motivational trainer Dr. Craig Manning, a human performance scientist.

Manning, who has been coming to our company for the last couple of years, has helped us learn more about the human mind and take personal responsibility for our own performance. His sessions provide a reset for our staff so that they can really understand that they are in charge of their own behaviors and accountable for their own destiny and performance.

Rather than simply asking us to daydream happy thoughts (not what I mean by positive thinking), Manning has helped us take proactive steps such as keeping personal journals of our feelings and thoughts so that we can have better self-awareness and accountability.

According to Dr. Manning, who cited Helmstetter’s book, science has shown that it takes 2.91 positive comments to counteract every negative comment in training situations. In my life experience, that’s also true for how we think about ourselves.

Imagine you were a salesperson staring at a leads list. You could ruminate about all the reasons people might say no or worry about whether now is the best time to call your prospects. That would keep you stuck in the negative. Instead, you could just do some introductory research about each lead and then jump on the phones. It’s clear that you’ll have more success by calling than sitting and worrying, even if you get told no 100 times but closed a deal just once.

When we think and act positively, we create an environment that offers more opportunity and productivity for ourselves and those around us.

I am a strong believer in spreading positivity and light wherever I go, and I encourage you to do the same. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more productive, not to mention just more fun to be around.