How to Design a Plan for Positivity

After studying joy for years now, I’ve learned that negativity is a corruptive, but common, force. 

I define negativity as energy. By definition, energy has to flow somewhere. So whenever we feed ourselves negativity, that energy flows into our relationships, our work, our daily interactions, our parenting, etc. 

When we allow negativity in, we allow it to flow out of us.

One could feel hopeless that negativity runs rampant in our society. Just turn on the news and you’ll have negativity. Open social media and you’ll get negativity. Negativity can be difficult to avoid today.

The overabundance of negativity today proves that we need a plan for positivity.

Unlike negativity, positivity is not automatic. We have to steer ourselves toward positivity. 

We need a plan for positivity. Otherwise, we’ll default to negativity.

With an emotional intelligence tool I share in this article, I’ll reveal how you can create a plan for positivity that helps take care of you in the midst of rampant negativity. Use this tool and you can create unshakable hope, even when your difficult circumstances try to rob it from you. 

Before I reveal the tool, lets first discuss how people try to combat their negativity today, and why it’s unsustainable.

Why One-Size-Fits-All Happiness Habits Don’t Work

Have you ever tried meditating, only to give up two days later? What about journaling?

If you’ve ever dipped your toes in the world of positive psychology, you’ve probably tried several prescriptions for happiness in the form of one-off habits.

People today tell you the secret to more happiness is just practicing gratitude, meditating, exercising, smiling, etc. While these one-off habits work, they are easily abandoned. 

Here’s why one-size-fits-all happiness habits don’t work for the normal individual:

Because you have different stressors and causes for your negativity, you need custom solutions for positivity. 

In essence, your plan for positivity has to target your specific stressors. 

Here’s what people are used to doing: they have a string of happiness habits like practicing gratitude, meditating, saying affirmations, etc. They typically do these at one time of day. 

But then throughout the rest of the day, they gather negativity. When they do their happiness habits again the next day, it doesn’t make sense why they are doing these activities because it’s not tied to their negative stressors. 

People don’t see the connection between their negative stressors and their positive habits. Without this connection, there’s no strong why attached to their habits, which allows them to be abandoned when times get tough. 

The problem with one-size-fits-all happiness habits is they don’t make sense why we’re doing them unless they’re somehow attached to our negative stressors.

That’s why the emotional intelligence tool of a Positivity Cycle works well for creating a plan for positivity. It helps you construct a positivity plan that specifically targets your negative stressors. Here’s how:

The Negativity Cycle™

In another article, I talk about the Negativity Cycle, which is another emotional intelligence tool I created to help identify the patterns of negativity we repeat in our lives.

It goes like this:

  • First, you encounter a stressor.
  • Then, that stressor is interpreted by your brain as a thought.
  • That negative thought produces a negative emotion.
  • Because you don’t want to feel the negative emotion, you engage in a pleasure or protection. This is the behavior you do to feel better after brushing up against pain.

The problem with this cycle is that when you handle your emotions by escaping them with a pleasure, you’re not doing anything to confront the stressor. In fact, you actually reinforce the stressor and make it stronger. 

The more this cycle repeats, the more it compounds our negativity and hopelessness.

An example of a Negativity Cycle might be this:

  • Stressor: You have a lot of work to do.
  • Thought: “This work is too much.”
  • Emotion: Fear.
  • Pleasure: Procrastination (“I’m not going to do this now”).
  • Reinforced Stressor: You have much more work to do. 

The cycle is reinforced and repeated.

When designing a custom plan for positivity, I have people write out their Negativity Cycles first. With awareness of their specific stressors and how they typically respond to their stressors, they can then construct their Positivity Cycles to target them.

After doing their Negativity Cycles, they can create their plan for positivity with their Positivity Cycles.

The Positivity Cycle™

The Positivity Cycle is an emotional intelligence tool to help you be intentional about taking care of yourself and experiencing greater positive affect.

Here’s how it works:

  • First, you define a self-care action.
  • That self-care action gives you a thought.
  • Then, this positive thought produces a positive emotion.
  • Finally, you label the reward of your self-care action, which reinforces the self-care.

Lets break down each part.

1. Self-Care

Self-care is the act of paying attention to and taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. It helps reduce the pain of stressors. 

The problem with self-care today is people do self-care actions as their pleasures in Negativity Cycles. This means, whenever they feel shame, they take an evening bubble bath.

When self-care is a pleasure, it does nothing to help people feel their emotions, which then compounds their negativity.

True self-care is being intentional about meeting your needs, not meeting your wants. 

When you meet your needs, you’re taking care of your future and present self.

When you shift to thinking about self-care as a way to meet your needs, it changes what self-care looks like. It doesn’t become about shopping, evening bubble baths, massages, etc (even though it could look like this).

Here’s what self-care could look like:

  • If your stressor is spending too much money, your self-care would be setting a budget.
  • If your stressor is having too much work, your self-care would be creating a list of priorities.
  • If your stressor is a strained marriage, your self-care would be spending intentional time with your spouse.

These self-care actions are not one-size-fits-all happiness habits like meditation or practicing gratitude. They are positive habits that target your specific stressors. 

The more you battle your specific stressors with true self-care like this, the more you’ll learn to be present with your pain instead of avoiding it with a pleasure. The more you do this, the more you’ll grow, and the more you grow, the more hope and joy you have. 

2. Thought

Once you do a self-care action, it’ll produce a thought. This might be:

  • “I can do this.”
  • “That wasn’t so bad.”
  • “I’m proud of myself.”

It’s important to highlight what thoughts you want to think after doing your self-care action. With these thoughts highlighted, you’ll be able to call them up on demand.

3. Emotion

Next, label what emotion this thought will make you feel. It could be joy, hopeful, optimistic, confident, etc. 

Labeling the emotion, again, helps you be intentional about how you want to feel after your self-care activity.

People typically tend to think they are at the mercy of their emotions, like they can’t control how they feel. But we can control how we feel. It starts by labeling what thought we want to think and how we want to feel.

4. Reward

Finally, you determine the reward for doing your self-care action. 

This is not how you will reward yourself. For instance, if you want to reward yourself with ice cream after doing your self-care action, this is not where you would put that. 

This is what the reward of doing this activity is. For example:

  • If your self-care is going on a run, the reward is you are taking care of your body.
  • If your self-care is looking at the budget, the reward is you are creating awareness over your money. 
  • If your self-care is going on a date, the reward is creating intimacy with your spouse.

Again, once you label what the reward is, your brain will be primed to keep that reward in focus. It’ll help you be grateful once you do your self-care activity.

This gratitude reinforces your self-care action and compounds your hope and joy. It shows you that you do have control over your stressors and you can change. 

Your circumstances might not change, but how you approach them with your thinking will change. And this is how joy works.

Sticking to Positive Habits

Once you label everything inside a Positivity Cycle, the next step of my process is creating Rules to help you stick to those habits. 

What I find is, action doesn’t happen unless these Positivity Cycles are translated into Rules. Once the Rules are defined, you’ll be able to live out your Positivity Cycles. 

In another article, I’ll lay out how Rules work. But for now, here’s what I want you to walk away with:

Without a plan for positivity, you will default to negativity.

You need to be intentional about how you experience positivity. The Positivity Cycle will help you create that intentionality. 

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