In their paper, "How Do Simple Positive Activities Increase Well-Being?" Sonja Lyubomirsky and Kristin Layous have scientifically proven what grandmothers have told their grandkids forever. “If you are kind to others (taking positive action), you will actually feel better (positive emotion).” Positive action creates more positive actions, and also increases positive thoughts, positive emotion and positive energy.
“Happiness not only feels good, it is good. Happier people have more stable marriages, stronger immune systems, higher incomes, and more creative ideas than their less happy peers.
Furthermore, cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental studies have demonstrated that happiness (i.e., long-term positive affect or well-being) is not merely a correlate or consequence of success but a cause of it.
The efficacy of numerous positive activities for improving well-being has now been tested empirically. Experimenters have prompted people to write letters expressing gratitude, to count their blessings, to perform kind acts, to cultivate their strengths, to visualize their ideal future selves and other positive activities to improve happiness & increase well-being.”
The other day I headed out to fish salmon just 25 minutes away from our Breakaway Retreat Centre on Thetis Island BC. (Let me know if you want to have your next executive, leadership or sales meeting here.)
Getting ready to leave, as I was packing up the mountain of lures, hoochies, flashers, line, rods, net, coffee (you must have coffee), and all the other things that fisherman must have in the boat… I was starting to get excited. I chuckled and asked myself what was I getting excited (happy) about? Clearly I was not excited about all the money I had just spent to buy all of this fishing junk.
Why was I excited? It hit me! No fisherman gets up at 5 a.m. on the one day they could be sleeping in to expect-to-not-catch-a-fish. What creates this huge early morning burst of positive energy? The Future-Positive Expectation that today the fish will not only take the bait, but the ones that do will be huge.
Why do we fish?
(To catch nothing?)
Why do we golf?
(To shoot a higher score?)
Why do we jump on sales calls?
(To lose the sale?)
Why do we invest in stocks?
(So they might decrease?)
Future-Positive Expectations are intuitively built-in throughout our lives. FPEs not only guide our current mindset (thinking in the moment), but they also deliver happiness throughout the process as we personally & culturally move towards accomplishing our outcomes.
But, (here comes the big question) has spending too much time in the defensive zone reduced your ability to generate Future-Positive Expectations?
Mark Twain’s words describe this conundrum really well: “If a cat steps on a hot stove, that cat will not step on a hot stove again… the problem is that the cat will not step on a cold stove either!” How many times in our lives have we personally been burned, only to warn ourselves, “I’m not doing that again.”
What do negative external circumstances (hot stoves) often reduce in our lives? Our ability to generate more future-positive-expectations. The language of cold stoves sounds a lot like:
“I will never get into a relationship like that again.”
“I am sick of losing; I’ll just stop trying.”
“That didn’t work in the past… so why would we try it again?”
Or to reprise Mark Twain: “The problem is that the cat won’t step on a cold stove either.”
Why is this so significant? If your life is like my life, most of our next success comes from stepping on the cold stove, and to take that step, we must somehow generate a Future-Positive Expectation… after being burnt.
As our Thinking Tendencies Model articulates, if we interpret external circumstances (hot stoves) as Future-Negative THREATS, then our worry delivers negative energy. But if we choose to interpret external circumstances (hot stoves) as Future Positive CHALLENGES, then our Future-Positive Expectations deliver positive energy.
copyright Ryan Walter 2016, all rights reserved
The study quoted at the beginning of my article proves the direct connection between what I call Future Positive action and increased well-being. What about the power of FPE, Future-Positive Expectations, and FNE, Future-Negative Expectations? How do they impact our energy, our action and ultimately our happiness?
FPEs not only deliver many of the results that we focus on, but they also deliver positivity (throughout our thinking and our emotion) in the moment. That energy accelerates (moment by moment) as we march towards accomplishing our expectation.
Clearly, Future-Positive Expectations often turn into positive action, so let’s make that jump now. Future Positive Expectations kick-start Future Positive energy, emotion, and ultimately, action. The question is, how do we increase these Future-Positive Expectations in our businesses, families, and throughout our lives?
Future Performance Expectations
If you have experienced our foundational leadership/team development session, Leading the SHIFT, you may have enjoyed the following story of my early days in the NHL:
I played my first NHL game on Philadelphia ice during the fall of 1978. In those days the Flyers were known as the “Broad Street Bullies.” Their edge over other NHL teams was intimidation.
During that first game, the Flyers initiated a bench-clearing brawl. In case you have never experienced this, both teams leave their respective benches, find a partner, and dance. Only it’s not quite dancing; it’s more like fighting.
I was playing for the Washington Capitals at that time and we were not a very tough team. We survived the bench-clearing brawl and lost the game. One month later our team went back into Philadelphia for a re-match.
What do you think dominated our thinking before that game? Were we focused on winning and being our very best? Were our minds full of positive thoughts? Did we have a Future-Positive Expectation towards the process of how we were going to win this game?
Are you kidding? We were 100% focused on the brawl that happened in game one (Past-Negative thinking), and that energy generated our collective Future-Negative Expectation (we may brawl again) towards game two.
Past-Negative and Future-Negative thinking (the Defensive Zone) busies our minds and debilitates our opportunity to implement further Future-Positive Expectations.
The double whammy of personal high-performance is delivered when we focus our FPEs on process rather than just outcomes. My NHL career taught me that Future-Positive Expectations hold increased power when they are aimed towards very specific processes!
When we generate Future-Positive Expectations towards the processes that give us the desired outcome, we are in the sweet spot of personal high performance. Sports (and science) has proven that it is much more efficient and effective to focus your Future-Positive Expectations on the processes that give you the best opportunity for success.
For example, many players have conversations with their teammates or their coaches about wanting to score more goals, an outcome focus. But changing the conversation, using Future-Positive Expectation language, towards how to generate more shots on net each game would actually activate that specific process and increase the chances of reaching your desired outcome over the long term.
When I was 17 years old I scored 35 goals in 72 games. Two seasons later, during my draft year, I scored 52 goals in only 62 games. Did you spot the change in outcome focus in those previous two sentences? (Let me pause here for a moment. I have observed over the years that fans like to talk about outcomes. Successful players focus on process). The key question to start asking is what process changed that allowed me to score more goals in fewer games?
Over the two summers between those seasons I shot thousands of pucks at a ¾ inch piece of plywood with 5 holes cut into it, in my parents’ back-yard. “Bang;” “Bang.” At first it was a lot of noise. Later it became, “Swoosh,” through the hole. I generated my desired outcome (scoring more goals) by activating a process (going from conscious thought to the unconscious action of shooting pucks) initiated by a very specific Future-Positive Expectation.
Future-Positive Expectations generate the action that not only gets us closer to the performance goal that we desire, but also delivers much more happiness and well-being in the present moment.
Over the years I have observed that people’s expectations (what they are thinking) are most often revealed through language.
“His relationships never work out.”
“I don’t think she will turn into much.”
“That kid is going places.”
This is more than the general concept of some people being more optimistic or pessimistic towards the people they interact with. Let’s get more specific. Our voice, our language, our conversations have huge Future-Positive or Future-Negative power. The expectations that we have for the people around us can both confine or expand their growth, and to a certain point, define our leadership!
Both as an NHL and a Junior Hockey player, my coaches’ Future-Positive Expectations of my off-ice character and on-ice performance had a huge impact on my self-image and my career.
If you want to increase personal performance and well-being, decrease your focus in the Defensive Zone and increase the Future-Positive Expectations that you ruminate on.
Key question: What do you want?
Key focus: Think about that!
In every part of your life, shift your focus from Past-Negative disappointments and Future-Negative fears toward your Future-Positive Expectations. How do we increase Future-Positive Expectations throughout our lives? A key way is by asking better questions!
Let’s assume that we have all experienced relationships that have gone wrong. When this happens, we are faced with two choices. We can dwell on all the things that went wrong and focus on what disappointed us about the other person (Past-Negative thinking) or, we can ask better questions:
What part of this failed process could I take responsibility for?
When I encounter situations like this in the future, what will I choose to do differently?
What are the top 5 things that I want in my future relationships?
Better questions move us toward my two favourite words, words that I want to define my life: “Next Time.” Questions that focus us on “Next Time” generate growth instead of hate, future action instead of bitterness, and Future-Positive Expectations instead of Future-Negative energy. “Next Time” questions, in general, ignite our FPEs.
The best questions apply our double whammy approach (discussed in Future-Performance Expectations, above). Start with an outcome question, then refine that expectation with a process question, and, finally, end by refining the Future-Positive Expectation with better questions. Here are some examples:
What personal growth do you want to achieve to finish off this year?
What process will deliver this growth?
What specific Future Positive Expectation (mindset, focus, and thinking) will help activate both?
A huge part of personal and cultural leadership begins with the concept of awareness. If we are not personally aware of the questions we are intuitively and continuously asking ourselves, then we will struggle to increase our Future-Positive Expectations, and this blind spot will always show up in our performance.
Marilee Goldberg articulated a powerful truth when she said, “While language structures reality, questions help structure language.”
A quick review:
Has “cold stove” thinking reduced your ability to generate FPEs?
FPEs (Future-Positive Expectations) activate all positive, forward-moving action.
Applying your FPEs towards specific processes reduces fan energy (outcome language focus) and increases player energy (process language focus).
Better questions generate better Future-Positive Expectations.
Future-Positive Expectations not only help you create the life you want… they deliver happiness while doing it!
Play hard… expect to WIN!
See also: What Motivates Your Team