Learn to Thrive at Work and in Life

As a doctor and dietitian it drives me crazy when people search for easy (and typically useless) solutions to complex problems. “Take this dubious potion and lose twenty pounds in a week” – you know what I’m talking about. People waste their money and time on these schemes, and often end up worse off than when they started.That said, as a coach I get really excited when I discover a simple and relatively effortless tool that quickly and profoundly improves a person’s life.

I’m nuts about positive psychology, and the other day while flying to L.A. I finally had time to read a chunk of Dr. Martin Seligman’s latest book, Flourish . I practically had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from shouting with delight (again and again) at the wonderful facts and ideas I discovered in its pages.

In a section on Applied Positive Psychology, Seligman quotes Barbara Fredrickson, winner of the first Templeton Prize for research in positive psychology, as she describes the impact of the “Losada ratio”. The Losada ratio measures positive feedback compared to negative feedback, and when Fredrickson and her group transcribed every word said in business meetings for sixty companies, they found that “there is a sharp dividing line…companies with better than a 2.9 : 1 ratio for positive to negative statements are flourishing. Below that ratio, companies are not doing well economically.”

Marriage researcher John Gottman apparently found the same relationship listening to married couples’ conversations over entire weekends. Fredrickson shares Gottman’s key discovery: “A 2.9 : 1 means you are headed for a divorce. You need a 5:1 ratio to predict a strong and loving marriage – five positive statements for every critical statement you make of your spouse.”

I find this stunning. Could success in love really be as simple as saying just a few more nice things to your spouse over the course of a typical day? What an amazing, empowering concept.

If you think there’s room for improvement in your home, here are some suggestions for boosting your own Losada love ratio:

1) If you think something good about your honey, say it out loud

Think they look hot or just plain adorable in that outfit? Tell them. Love their eyes, even if you’ve been looking into them for twenty years? Let them know. (Gentlemen, I speak on behalf of my gender when I tell you that no woman ever gets tired of hearing that she looks beautiful. Ever.)

2) Recognize and comment on things you’ve been taking for granted

Even if you’re with the kindest, most generous person ever, it’s natural to get so used to their positive traits over time that you no longer even notice or feel grateful. Make a list of the wonderful things about your mate that you take for granted, and then make a point of complimenting them when you notice one of the behaviors or qualities on your list.

3) Give credit for “goodwill”, no matter what they say or do

In Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ book The Language of Love and Respect , he talks about the importance of reminding yourself that your spouse fundamentally has good intentions towards you, no matter how he or she may be acting in the moment.

“Goodwilled people do not mean any harm,” he writes. “Your spouse may be neglectful, forgetful, or make a careless, even thoughtless remark…but despite all these failings, deep down you both care for each other. Beneath the turmoil on the surface of what is going on, your goodwill remains intact.”

(note: obviously there are rare situations in which a person’s significant other may have a personality disorder and be truly malicious in their intentions or actions; Eggerichs’ advice pertains to the vast majority of “normal” couples)

Remind yourself of your mate’s fundamental goodwill during moments of conflict or hurt feelings, and acknowledge their foundation of love and good intentions out loud. Can you imagine how that could change those challenging moments?

4) Say thank you

Such an easy way to quickly ramp up your Losada ratio. Add an endearment and a kiss (“Thank you so much, sweetheart…muaaa!”) for extra impact.

5) Before making a negative comment, ask yourself if it’s necessary

Carefully worded constructive criticism can be valuable and even improve your relationship, but measure out negative feedback carefully. What’s the motivation behind your words? Are you grumpy? Tired? Feeling resentful? Angry for another reason that you’re too cowardly to talk about? Be careful about taking it out on your loved one. Also, be mindful of any tendencies to habitually criticize your honey, especially in front of others. I can’t stand it when people cut down their spouse in public – some have mastered it to the point where it’s their shtick, like a stand-up comedy act. Yuck! That’s just asking for trouble. Not worth it, even if it does get a few laughs.

To reinforce the idea that there is room for criticism in a healthy relationship, Fredrickson recommends you “don’t go overboard with positivity. Life is a ship with sails and rudder. Above 13:1, without a negative rudder, the positive sails flap aimlessly, and you lose your credibility.”

What are your favorite ways of building up your honey and letting them know how much you appreciate and admire them? Where do you think you could improve? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

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