The truth about Pollyanna – how she gets a bad rap.

You know about Pollyanna. The title character is named Pollyanna Whittier, a young orphan who goes to live with her wealthy but stern and cold spinster Aunt Polly, who does not want to take in Pollyanna, but feels it is her duty to her late sister. Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centres on what she calls “The Glad Game,” an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation.

It originated in an incident one Christmas when Pollyanna, who was hoping for a doll in the missionary barrel, found only a pair of crutches inside. Making the game up on the spot, Pollyanna’s father taught her to look at the good side of things—in this case, to be glad about the crutches because “we didn’t need to use them!”

Calling someone a Pollyanna for some has become a negative and derogatory description of someone who is overly optimist, or ‘Pollyanna-ish’

As a coach for executives and leaders I have heard many describe someone as a Pollyanna and not much use in their teams.

I think Pollyanna has been getting an unfair and bad rap.

When novelist by Eleanor H. Porter  in 1913 wrote Pollyanna she may or may not have known that there was (to be proved) much science behind her character Pollyanna and her ‘Glad Game’

Fast forward 100 years and neuro science is proving what Pollyanna  knew.

And that was that we are in control of what we think and how we think. We can use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better.

We know that our human brain has a few design flaws and one of them is that we have this Negativity bias. Our brains are continually scanning for bad news to protect us and the  brain sucks it in. Alternately,  positive experiences (unless they are million dollar moments)  need to be noticed, and consciously held in short term memory buffers for 10, 20, 30 seconds in a row to transfer to long term storage…But we rarely do that and they flow through and are lost while the negative gets stuck.

In other words, negative thoughts in our brains are like Velcro. Positive thoughts in our brain are like a sieve, they just flow through. Unless, we stop them.

For a moment, think about performance feedback scenarios. We might receive 9 pieces of outstanding feedback and accolade and 1 area which we need to improve. We focus on the one negative disproportionately. Sure, notice and learn from the negative piece and take action to learn and grow whatever skills you need to, and all those positives? Step into them. Feel them with all your senses. Allow your brain the time to code it.

If we don’t take care of these negatives, they will take care of us.

Take 16 minutes to view this video (below) of Dr. Rick Hanson.

In short, he offers 3 steps to start to change your brain, to change your mind, to change your brain for the better.

  • Look for good facts and let them become great experiences
  • Savour the good experience for 10 seconds or more
  • Sense the experience sinking in – let it be /feel it to 15 seconds. Install the positive state, grow it.

Why would you do this?

Well, you do have a choice. You can be on auto pilot and let the negatives stick to your brain like Velcro or you can focus on the positives – you tell me. Which feels better?

Neuro scientists tell us that not only do we feel better, we can think more clearly, be more focused, and it is good for our bodies….and many more reasons.

So, taking in the good helps YOU and taking in the good helps others as you impact on them in a more positive way.

If you are a leader, start to notice how you are choosing to be. What are you focusing on?

This is no woo woo stuff. It takes strength, and focus

Are you wasting your positive experiences?

This is not positive thinking, but realistic thinking. Be realistic about what and how  you are thinking. Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean you need to keep it.

This is a key leadership trait. Tough minded recognition that we have a negative bias and the focus and discipline to balance that bias . It takes effort and repetition. AND it feels so good!

Watch this video. Try the 3 steps out. Let me know how you go.

And if you want to dive in a little deeper here is another interview with him.

Gai Foskett is one of two Master Certified Coaches in New Zealand. Gai specialises in executive leadership coaching.
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