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micro skills

When you focus on the positive things in your life it can boost your happiness.Jacob Wackerhausen

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at

Registration for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards have closed. Companies can pre-register for 2019 at

Bill Howatt will be speaking about mental health at The Globe's Solving Workplace Challenges summit on March 20 in Toronto. Click here to find out more or to register for the event.

What best describes your general outlook on life: positive or negative?

A person who is slanted toward the negative typically focuses on the things in their life they don't like, to the point that it impacts their mood, energy and general outlook. Some negative people complain to those who will listen, while others isolate themselves and focus on their negativity alone. One consequence for those who spend most of their time focused on negativity is they miss opportunities to enjoy more positive moments. Even negative people have positive moments, but not as many as they may like.

A positive person focuses on what's good in their life, finds joy in the simple things, and takes the general attitude that while there are lots of things they can't directly control, they can control what they choose to focus on. Positive people can inspire and influence others to reframe and to think about things differently. They can be infectious in a good way.

Most people enjoy the company of a positive person. Without being pushy, a positive person can challenge individuals to focus on what they can control. Most positive people know that life isn't perfect. There are ups and downs, but to enjoy the ups it's important to be aware of and acknowledge them. The general attitude of positive folks is that there's more good than bad in life, and you doesn't need to be perfect to enjoy it.

Interestingly, being positive or negative requires the same amount of energy, but with two different outcomes that impact your mental health: intention and choice. Whatever we focus on the most is our default state, which we can change from negative to positive through practice.

A growing field called positive psychology is looking at how people can learn to become more positive and happy, promoting positive mental health as well as physical health by creating a healthy immune system.


It's rare for any one person to be either 100 per cent negative or positive. One objective way to evaluate the percentage of time that you're positive or negative is to get your baseline. For the next 14 days, keep a positive/negative hourly log. After each hour, give yourself a score from 0 to 10. Consider this a mood meter: any time you mark a five or below is a negative hour; above five is positive. At the end of the two weeks, tally your scores and divide the total by the number of hours you've tracked, to obtain your average score. For example, if you have a seven out of 10, that says you're positive 70 per cent of the time.


Once you have your score you can decide whether you're happy with it or want to improve it. It's of value to be clear on the benefits of being positive versus negative. A person who is positive spends less time worried, stressed, and focused on what's wrong versus what's right. They're more likely to be grateful for all the good things they have in life and are more consistent and predictable with friends and family. An overly-negative person can appear to be self-absorbed in their concerns and miss opportunities to put other needs first that would help them feel better.


Following are some actions that can reinforce the decision and benefits for putting more focus on positive than negative.

· Positive pre-framing – When you come home from work, before you point out anything negative or correct anyone, focus on five things that are positive.

· Smile – Each day, look for an opportunity to smile at 10 people in a politically correct way and count how many smile back. Do this for two weeks and you may notice that more people are smiling back – and you may also find yourself smiling more.

· Encourage – Encourage others to do something positive for themselves, such as applying for a new role or asking out someone they like. Interestingly, being effective like this requires us to be positive, so that we can sell the why that we're suggesting that others take action.

· Challenge negative thinking – If something is bugging you and you feel negative, it can be helpful to challenge the issue by talking about it. For example, if you're not happy in a current work role, consider letting your manager know before you mentally turn off or start to look for another role. Make it clear that you want to find a resolution and don't want to be negative; you want their help to find the positive. Most leaders would appreciate your honesty, and if they really care about you they will want to help you find a positive path.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

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