New Year resolutions! Adopting a positive attitude

By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th December 2018

What better topic to select from Daniel Goleman et al’s Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence, as we prepare for a new year, than booklet #5 on “Positive Outlook”?!

What is positive outlook?

According to the definition in the booklet, “Positive outlook” is about:

Seeing the positive in people, situations and events: being open to the idea that people might mean well, much as whatever they have said or done has come across differently.  And having a mindset that something good might come out of change.

Seeing the opportunity in situations. It’s also about having “dispositional optimism” (Michael Carver, Charles Scheier et al) – focusing on what is important to us, and on what we can do in a given situation.

Persistence in pursuing goals: keeping focused on what is important to us, despite setbacks and obstacles.  It’s also about having an “optimistic explanatory style” (Martin Seligman et al): bad things happen, but not everything will be bad, and I will deal with it somehow.

Expecting the best from others – if you show people that you believe in them, then you are more likely to respond to that in a positive way.

But an unrelentingly positive attitude might not always go down well!  As Daniel Goleman points out, what makes for a positive outlook in America, may come across as unrealistic in Europe, or arrogant in Asia! And the obstacles to achieving something may indeed be insurmountable, or unsafe to try to overcome.

So “positive outlook” is also optimism tempered with “realistic pessimism” or humility, to suit the different cultures and situations that we might find ourselves in.

Why a positive outlook is so important

Why a “positive outlook” is important. Illustration based on #5: Positive Outlook in Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman et al. Keystone Publishing, 2017

As the illustration above shows, a positive outlook will lead to positive emotions, which in turn will help us to be more effective in our work with colleagues and customers.

Positive emotions are contagious!  People who give out positive emotions will get positive emotions back from others. (Just think what happens if you smile at someone – well most of the time!)  In teams this effect will lead to greater cooperation, less unproductive conflict and improved performance.

These positive emotions will also lead to greater well-being and resourcefulness in our day-to-day lives.

How to increase our positive outlook

How to develop a “positive outlook”. Illustration based on #5: Positive Outlook in Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman et al, Keystone Publishing, 2017

According to Richard J Davidson, the centre for having a “positive outlook” is in our pre-frontal cortex.  It is what enables us, in early childhood, to reach out, learn and respond to stimuli from our parents and those around us.  Apparently, mindful meditation, for instance taking time out to focus on our breathing and close out distracting thoughts, is a great way to further develop the pre-frontal cortex and so increase our capacity for having a “positive outlook”.

Richard Boyatzis advocates practising visualisation to train our neural networks, as athletes do.  We can practise visualising positive outcomes.  We can reflect, ask ourselves and others questions in order to find the silver lining in any given situation.  We can be more aware of the small acts of kindness that others do for us, and return them.

As Vanessa Druskat says, teams can also create this kind of affirmative environment by looking for silver linings, and for causes for hope in their work.  Yes things will go wrong in a project, or in day-to-day processes.  But team members can proactively identify potential problems, solve them and gain satisfaction from what they have learnt. They can also remember their successes and keep focused on the team’s purpose.

Will you develop your positive outlook in 2019?  How will you do so?


Blogs on other booklets in the Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence series:

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). 


Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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