Let’s talk about the value of positive emotions in organizations

positividad éxito en la vida y en el trabajo

What better way to start the year than by talking about the power of positive emotions!

It is well known that “serial entrepreneurs” celebrate their perseverance in the face of multiple failures and remain optimistic.

The more times you shoot for goal, of course, the greater the chance that you will score one. But most of us are not connected in that way. When we fail, we lose our confidence, and thus decide that maybe football isn’t for us after all. It’s a rational response, but it leads nowhere: we learn from our poor performance and are no longer so optimistic about our abilities in sport (or in personal and/or professional life). That’s what we’ve been taught since we were kids: to look at what we’ve done wrong in order to try and fix it, instead of focusing on what we already do well.

Positive emotions, according to Barbara Fredrickson

An irrational level of optimism may seem extreme, but sometimes it can help us to see the world through new spectacles, through a lens of positive thinking. Why is this important?

Because positive emotions generate very powerful cognitive changes in the brain, making us more creative and resilient…

For almost the entire 20th century, psychology focused on finding out the reasons for our negative states, leaving aside the entire positive spectrum of emotions. It was in 1998 when the subject of positive emotions was addressed from a serious perspective for the first time, thanks to Barbara Fredrickson, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA), and one of the most important researchers in the field of Positive Psychology.

“Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, they make us more receptive and more creative”

Before her study, it was believed that positive emotions were simply the opposite of negative ones, but Barbara Fredrickson showed that positive emotions have an exceptional effect: “Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, they make us more receptive and more creative”. She also affirms that positivity allows us to develop new skills, new relationships, new knowledge and new behaviours.

Positive emotions cause changes in cognitive activity, which can eventually lead to behavioural changes, or what she calls an “action tendency”.

Thanks to Fredrickson’s work, it has been shown that positive emotions help us to “broaden, transform and build”.

Optimistic thinking and positive emotions can make you a better problem solver, while negative emotions diminish the brain’s ability to think laterally and come up with creative solutions.

Furthermore, “positive emotions help speed recovery from negative emotions,” says Barbara Fredrickson. “When people can self-generate a positive emotion or outlook, it allows them to bounce back. It’s not just that you recover and then you feel good, but rather, feeling good drives the process.”

According to this expert, founders of companies with a lot of confidence in themselves and their own abilities “are better positioned to start and succeed with another company.”

What do negative thoughts do to our brain?

James Clear, in “How Positive Thinking Builds Your Skills, Boosts Your Health and Improves Your Work”, proposes this scenario:

“You’re walking through the forest and suddenly a tiger crosses your path. When this happens, your brain registers a negative emotion, in this case fear, and you run.

The rest of the world doesn’t matter. You are focused entirely on the tiger, the fear it creates, and how you can get away from it.

In other words, negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts. At that very moment, you might have the option to climb a tree or grab a stick, but your brain ignores all of those options because they seem irrelevant when a tiger is standing in front of you. This is a useful instinct if you’re trying to save life and limb, but in our modern society we don’t have to worry about stumbling across tigers in the wilderness. The problem is that our brain is still programmed to respond to negative emotions in the same way: by closing itself off from the outside world.

The brain shuts off the outside world and focuses on the negative emotions of fear, anger, and stress, just as it did with the tiger. Negative emotions prevent our brain from seeing other options that surround us. It’s a survival instinct.”

Now, let’s compare this to what positive thoughts and emotions do to our brains.

Barbara Fredrickson set up a little experiment. She divided participants into five groups and showed each group different movie clips. The first two groups were shown clips that created positive emotions. The last two groups were shown images that aroused negative emotions.

Subsequently, each participant was asked to imagine themselves in a situation in which similar feelings arose and to write down what they would do.

They were given a sheet of paper with 20 blank lines that started with the phrase: “I would like to…”. The participants who had watched images of fear and anger wrote down the fewest responses. Meanwhile, those who had viewed images of joy and satisfaction wrote out a significantly larger number of actions they would take.

In other words, positive emotions open our minds to more options. But that is only the beginning. In fact, the greatest benefit that positive emotions provide is an increased ability to develop skills and resources to use later in life, both personally and professionally.

How can you be a positive organization?

Having reached this point, the most important question of all: if positive thinking is so useful for developing valuable skills and as a way of looking at life, how do you manage to be positive?

Or… how can we be a positive organization? From our point of view, at Madavi, the answer is: focusing on our strengths and discovering what we DO have to do to be more and better.

What’s the point in focusing on what we DON’T have when we have so much?

At Madavi, we focus on exploring and discovering the greatest moments by asking ourselves, researching and visualizing new opportunities.

As our colleague Cristina Sendino says, “this is how we awaken the appreciative muscle”.

Let’s start by appreciating an everyday situation, in order to ask ourselves unconditionally positive questions. What is the greatest learning from this moment? What went incredibly well? How can we repeat it and make it even better?

Appreciating is much more than just being positive.

That means appreciating, and appreciating is much more than just being positive. It is asking ourselves the question: what potential does this moment have? Because any moment has potential.


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