Who's Right: The Critic or the Pollyanna?

Barbara was incredibly lucky. Her husband died. She had been married only three years, and she was shocked and feeling lost when Fred died in a car crash.

Fred was a nice fellow, but he tended to be very critical of Barbara. No matter what she did or said, Fred could always find fault with it. He took pride in being a critic.

Barbara was very shaken when Fred died. Not only was she widowed, but her self-confidence was so shattered that she doubted she'd ever be loved again.

Two years later, Barbara was lucky to meet Jack. Jack was a very nice fellow, but he wasn't very realistic. He could only see the good in people. His friends thought he was a bit like pollyanna, and some people took advantage of his good nature.

When Jack and Barbara started dating, Jack couldn't believe his good fortune. Barbara was everything he had always wanted in a woman. Jack admired, respected and appreciated every little thing she did or said. Jack thought she was wonderful.

You can probably guess the end of this story. Jack and Barbara married and are living 'happily ever after.'

Who was right? Barbara was the same person, and yet Fred only seemed to see her flaws, and Jack sees only her wonderfulness. It doesn't matter what you or I think. Barbara soon discovered that Jack was right. Barbara was truly wonderful. Barbara blossomed with all the attention, affection, and appreciation that Jack gave her. She feels well loved. She has totally regain her confidence.

Here is the plain and obvious truth. No one is so great that you can't find a flaw ... if you look for flaws. No one is so awful that you can't find the good in them ... if you look for good.

What do you want for a partner? A critic? A Pollyanna?

Would you rather have a partner that looks for your strengths, your skills, and what's good about you, or a partner who looks to find your flaws, failings and weaknesses.

The technical name for seeing the best in your partner is "Positivity."

Positivity is the ratio of positive to negative thoughts or statements. Think for a moment about someone you know who is extremely positive. No matter what’s happening this person almost always has something positive to say.

Now, think about someone you know who is truly negative. You seldom hear positive comments, and frequently hear complaints, gripes, sarcasm, cynicism, or critical statements.

The first person has a high positivity ratio, the second person has a low positivity ratio.

Raising your positivity ratio will make you happier. And, everyone around you who is positive will be happier. Negativity can bring other people down, and invites them to be negative too.

By raising your positivity ratio, you’ll be happier in many ways. First, you’ll be happier yourself. Next, you’ll make your people around you happier. And, no matter how grumpy you may be, you’re always going to be happier when those around you are happier.

Your family (kids, parents, siblings, etc.) will be happier when you are more positive. Your co-workers will be happier when you’re happier, and so will your friends.

Many scientific studies have been done, and they confirm each other. If you can keep your positivity ratio at five to one, or better, you’ll be positive, and so will all those around you.

In work situations, it has been proven that managers who are positive while relating to their employees — on a ratio of at least five to one — will have happier employees, less turnover, more productivity, and more loyal employees.

In marriages, it has been studied with incredible care. There is even a book called “The Mathematics of Marriage” by the leading marriage expert Dr. John Gottman et al, that shows that lasting marriages are those where the partners each have positivity ratios higher than five to one, when interacting with their partner.

If you have a low positivity ratio, you will be unhappy. Your marriage won’t be going well, your kids will be difficult, you probably won’t get to manage people, and if you do, they won’t be happy. Even your friends won’t be that happy with you.


Is there any limit to positivity? Can there be too much positivity?
Yes, the benefits of being positive start to reverse when your ratio goes above about thirteen to one. That’s Pollyanna territory. If you’re always positive, and never critical, assertive, or distrustful — even when it is called for — you lose what you gained by being positive.

If you have a low positivity ratio, you probably don’t have to worry about becoming too positive. If you want to learn to lift your positivity ratio, we’ve got some excellent practice that will enable you to turn things around and become much more positive. It won’t happen overnight, and it may be really challenging for you, but if you do a little tiny bit everyday, you can turn your ratio around and start heading higher in a very short time. Every day you persist, and every day you do the five-minute practice, your ratio will creep ever so slightly higher. You’ll discover an amazing change in yourself.

You don’t leap from critic to Pollyanna. You creep, day-by-day, ever so slightly higher, until pretty soon people start to notice a change in you. You’ll become happier, your partner will be happier, and so will everyone you deal with. In six months, or maybe even a year, just doing a few minutes a day of positivity practice will totally reverse your positivity ratio. And, you will be happier.

Getting to a five to one positivity ratio if you’ve been a negative, critical person, may be the most challenging of all the skills we teach. Yet, it is the most powerful change you can make in yourself and your life and in your relationship. The practice only takes a few minutes a day, and it is really easy to do. So, if you are committed, and have the ability to persist, you can become a positive person.

An Example: two people watching a tv show

A negative person and a positive person are watching a TV show. Notice that the show is the same for both people. The negative person is constantly noticing “what’s wrong or bad” with the characters and the lines in the TV show. The positive person enjoying “what’s good or right” with the characters and lines in the TV show. The positive person finds the good in a TV show, even if a critic might find the show to be dreadful.

The negative person finds every flaw, blemish, mistake, or weakness in the show. The positive person enjoys the show. The negative person might enjoy the show, but mostly enjoys finding the flaws.

If the negative person insists on commenting on every flaw, it’s difficult for the positive person to continuing enjoying the show. And, unless the positive person is mentally tough, the constant carping can even make the positive person turn negative about the show.

How do you change from negative to positive?

Here is one formula for turning negative thinking into positive. Anytime you’re aware that you’re having a negative thought, reaction, or feeling about something, ask yourself, “What’s good about this?” before you go outside of yourself and express something negative.

When you have found even one thing to like about what’s happening, express yourself positively in some way. Maybe at first you just smile or nod. Gradually, you might work yourself up to commenting; “I like this .…” about what ever it is you found that was good.

Positivity may be the single most important factor in determining how long a relationship will last. Dr. Gottman, and his colleagues at Seattle's Gottman Institute offer proof that it takes a ratio of 5 positives to every negative communication from one partner to another to be confident that the relationship will last.

Being positive about and toward your partner is very difficult to do if you're generally negative about about everything else. Learning to be more positive about everything will give you the practice and skills needed to be positive toward your partner.

For more on positivity, read "Get Off Your Lazy Fat Ass" which answers the question, "What does it take to have a positivity ratio of 5 to 1?"

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