If you’ve ever wondered if there’s truly any validity to the power of positivity, let me just put this out there: there is. The very way in which we choose to think and verbally respond to our personal and work lives significantly effects not only our happiness (which seems obvious), but also our productivity and our life’s accomplishments.
In listening to a conference this past weekend, I was reminded of a noteworthy phenomenon in biology that has been widely applied to organizational psychology: the heliotropic effect.
According to this heliotropic phenomenon, living organisms have a tendency to lean towards positive energy and light and away from darkness. As the sun moves from sunrise to sunset, for example, you can observe flowers and other plants moving toward the direction of the sun, as you see in this cool video:
It’s no wonder, then, that humans, like most other living organisms, are innately built to search for not only physical light, but also just the very concept of light. Even our language is inundated with “light” metaphors that frame the way we think about concepts like hope, optimism, and overcoming “darkness” or challenges. Just think of it: we frequently mutter phrases like “there’s light at the end of the tunnel” or “you’re the light of my life” or “my mind was illuminated” or “what a bright idea!” or “he’s a shining example” or, even, when we’re about to die, “go towards the light.”
In religion (and most faiths seek for positivity and hope in some capacity), we note that Jesus is known as the “Light of the World”; God the Father, on the first day of creation said, “let there be light”; Jews light the menorah each December; in Buddhism, beings seek “enlightenment”; and so forth.
Seeking for light and positive energy is undoubtedly built into our very nature as human beings. Interestingly, research has proven that the more we seek for and give out “light” (and I use this term a tad loosely as a metaphor for things of a positive nature—things like compliments, praise, giving, service, humility, and so forth), the more likely we are to accomplish great things.
Put in biology terms, when we’re positive, we employ the heliotropic effect. That is, when we make a concerted effort to produce positive energy, good things and good people are drawn to us, like the sunflower pulling toward the sun. When we’re positive, the negative things in life seem less drawn towards us and we’re able to do more and to be better.
As professionals, as parents, and as individuals in general, research tells us that our ability to promote good and positive thinking produces an effect where more good and successful things happen. You’ve likely noticed that positive, happy people tend to have more friends, better jobs, and generally smoother lives. That’s not to say that positive people don’t have personal life challenges—we all do—but positive people create an energy that pulls in other positive things (like friends and good jobs).
According to Growth Coaching International in 2012, Kim Cameron, Professor and Researcher of Management at the University of Michigan, noted that people who are positive perform better, bring out better performance in those around them, get people to act on their ideas more, and even attract similar productive people to work with them. In other words, positive people get more done and they get others around them to help them accomplish their goals.
Think of it! Just being more positive can actually make you accomplish more in life and at work.
Good leaders, good business owners, and, I might add, good parents and societal contributors, take note of this phenomenon by employing positive communication—one of the most high-profile ways to distribute positivity—to those around them.
Researchers Cross and Parker (authors of The Hidden Power of Social Networks) suggested that there are five ways we can promote positive energy: through compelling goals, by allowing for meaningful contributions, by creating a sense of engagement, by establishing a perception of progress, and though believing in success. I’ll take my own liberty on expanding on how we can use communication in each of these five areas to accomplish more at work and become stronger leaders and more admirable people.
Create and Communicate Compelling Goals
Identify your situation and determine an awesome goal: what’s something exciting that would be really cool to accomplish? Maybe it’s doubling your market share or maybe it’s building a new office or getting nice raises. If you make it exciting and make it something those around you will want to be on board with, you’ll have their attention.
Make It Clear How People Contribute
People want to know that their contributions matter. They want to be a part of the accomplishment. This means that there must be clarity in the big picture and how each person plays a vital role in that. When you share your vision with an open mind, people will often let you know how they can help. As you listen, adapt, and give praise when progress is made, people feel fully engaged. You’ve created an energy that has drawn more energy towards you and people will, simply, do more because they enjoy what they’re doing.
Be Fully Engaged
Set the example. Your work ethic shows others that you care. But don’t just be engaged with yourself. Talk to those around you. There’s an old management philosophy called MBWA: Manage by Walking Around. The idea is that you are hearing and talking to others; you are listening to their ideas and you’re implementing them. If you just sit in your office and hope good things will happen, you’ll likely find yourself frustrated when they don’t. But if you are fully engaged in the process—if you’re listening, learning, and adapting—you’re more likely to see success in the accomplishment.
Establish the Perception of Progress
Let those around you know what progress is being made. Sure, setbacks are a natural part of every goal, but if you look for what is working well and you can build on the good, others will be more likely to continue working toward the goal. If you get frustrated, annoyed, or simply tend to dwell on issues that arise (or attack people when they don’t do what you hoped for), you’ll start to cloud your positive energy with defeating darkness. When you lose that light around you, people will be less inclined to give back that positive energy and progress will become markedly stifled.
Believe in Your Idea
Remember those adages like “I think I can, I think I can” and “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Note that most good and rewarding ideas are challenging. Running a business or managing a team is challenging. But if you believe your company can grow and you keep telling others that it can and their contributions will get you all collectively there, you’re much more likely to make it happen.
Sometimes it seems like a no-brainer, but we often have to be introspective to make sure the heliotropic effect is working in our personal and professional lives. Have you felt stagnant at work? Do you feel like you’re accomplishing little? Are others around you not contributing like you would like them to? If so, ask yourself: have I been a source of light or do I bring frequent cloudiness? Do I constantly communicate positivity, praise, and enthusiasm, or do I suffuse my surroundings with negativity, gossip, complaint, anger, and annoyance?
It we want the heliotropic to work, we have to choose to be the light. And it all starts with our communication.