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Whether they know the science behind it, or they just believe it to be best practice, athletes with any competitive experience lean on the concept of mental preparation or visualization. The techniques typically involve imagining the complex tasks they must perform well to succeed in their sport. The quarterback recites the play calls and commands the huddle, in his mind. An episode from last year’s Hard Knocks depicts this visualization when backup quarterback T.J. Yates sits in an empty room pretending to run the Atlanta Falcon offense, successfully picking up the defense, audibling to the right play call, and torching the imaginary foe.

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Photo credit: MartaZ* via Flickr/Creative Commons

But more than football, athletes of all kinds perform these visual mind games. A downhill skier will walk the course, imagining successful lines and fast times. A tennis player visualizes the perfect serve.

Beneath all of these visualizations is a core truth about positivity. Human beings respond well to positivity. They, in fact, thrive.

The Ratio

In fact, research suggests that human beings flourish much more consistently when they encounter 3 positive emotions for every negative emotion. This principle defines the positivity ratio.

The positivity ratio is, in fact, a calculation of an overall emotional state based on the emotions you are currently feeling. Have you felt silly, amused, or fun-loving? That’s a positive emotion. Have you felt guilty, repentant, or blameworthy? That’s a negative emotion. Over the course of 20 or so questions, you can begin to see where you stand on the positivity ratio.

What these athletes working through visualization are encountering is the benefits of positivity. In addition to the good feeling it provides, positivity can widen the scope of attention, broaden your behavioral repertoire, increase intuition, enhance creativity, speed up recovery from injury or disease, prevent stress-related disorders, provide resilience in adversity, and increase life span. So, in short, it’s a pretty big deal.

But an adequate positivity ratio is extremely rare. In fact, only 20% of Americans accomplish it.

The State of Nature

And intuitively, it makes sense. Everyone experiences good and bad emotions on a daily basis and our moods reflect that variety of positive and negative emotions. Brains have been wired to respond to threats against survival so we all tend to focus on that threat instead of seeing the positive things happening in life. When we experience positive and negative emotions at an equal level, the scale tips toward the negative and life feels unrewarding.

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Photo Credit: Daniel Lobo via Flickr/Creative Commons

These negative emotions trigger fight or flight behavior. While it might help us focus and increase our reaction time, it also challenges your health, especially if you work a desk job. Consistent stress can negatively influence your health rapidly. It can increase cholesterol production and decrease its rate of removal. It can position you to encounter a higher chance of blood clotting. It can take a toll on your immune system. It can even influence your memory.

Much of this negativity is a result of our own doing. As a society, we change jobs quickly. We are expected to take on high workloads. There’s a consistent stress on finances as we try to keep up with the Joneses. Generally, we’re too busy and our perfectionist ways lead to negative self-talk.

So how do you get there?

To start, take the test and take it often. You can find it at PositivityRatio.com. Secondly, find some balance through skills and hobbies that can relax and refresh you. This suggestion is especially important for people stuck in mid-level and entry-level roles where they don’t feel like they have much autonomy to change the system. Maybe it’s reading a book. Perhaps it’s joining a rec-league basketball team. Maybe it’s serving at an animal shelter.

If you’re in a management position, take steps towards creating a positive environment. Provide support, encouragement, and appreciation. Be an advocate for your team. But don’t avoid conflict, as an appropriate approach to conflict can be affirming as well, provided the end goal is collectively in mind.

So business people should take a page out of the sports playbook and think positively. It might mean visualizing a great day at work. It might mean harnessing the things you can control in your life to provide some balance. It could mean approaching team management a little bit differently. But shifting the ratio toward positivity, at least 3-1, but even higher is better, will be good for you, good for your team, and good for business.

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The question begins early in life. What do you want to be when you grow up? As a child, you play with your favorite toys and all of a sudden family and friends suggest that you become an astronaut, a painter, or an athlete.

The question remains as school starts. You get good grades in math and engineering becomes an option. You have an affinity for English and teaching seems plausible. You learned to play guitar so perhaps you’ll be a musician.

The question continues in college. What do you want to do? Answer that question, then choose your major. Medicine? Astrophysics? Business?

The question persists after college. Where will you work? What kind of job will you get?

The question remains after you’ve officially “grown up.” Do you like your job? Is it time to change career paths?

The Guess-And-Check Career

When it comes to determining a career path, the dominant practice is often a series of guess-and-check exercises around your talent and the kind of life you want to live.

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Photo credit: David Wall via Flickr/Creative Commons

An affinity for baseball cards might lead to you to play baseball for a while — before you realize that the amount of work it would take to even get a scholarship is beyond what you’re willing to do.

Excellence in mathematics puts engineering on the table — but the more complex math becomes, the more you realize how much you hate it.

You course-correct a few times in college before settling on history as a major — but your only options for a career seem to be teaching or post-graduate work, neither of which are compelling to you, especially since you have student loans to pay off and you want to buy a house in the next 5-10 years.

Your entry-level job pays the bills but you hate it; the work is not what you thought it was. The second job gets you a little closer to what you want to do, but it still feels tedious. Perhaps after 10-15 years, you find that job that fits within your specific talents and gives you the opportunities you want inside and outside the company.

A New Way to Map a Career Path

But what if there was an easier way? What if you focused not on your competencies — the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired over time — but on your capacity — your innate hard-wiring — for any given career?

In actuality, your hard-wired personality will tell you quite a bit about the right career path for you.

Before we dive in to this concept, it’s important to provide some definitions. Colloquially, we often equate personality with the Myers-Briggs personality test. This test, while helpful to begin a conversation about the ways in which we are different from each other, is not that accurate when it comes to assessing personality. Developed in the 1920s, the Myers-Briggs test has since been lapped by much more accurate measures.

Think about it this way: Would you want to use a 1920s automobile for your personal transportation these days? Aside from driving on a parade route, that automobile is no longer functional! The technology in cars these days is exponentially greater.

So why would you use a personality test from the 1920s, 60’s, or even 80’s?

Within the past decade, tools have been developed that are much like our modern automobiles: functional, accurate, and safe.

Personality Tools

The particular tool we use measures 5 major traits and multiple sub-traits for each. It is based on cutting-edge research and is now considered by many to be the gold standard in personality assessments. These major traits are N (Need for Stability), E (Extraversion), O (Originality), A (Accommodation), and C (Consolidation). These traits form your innate capacity. This capacity is consistent throughout your life. It shapes your behavior and preferences and needs to be carefully considered when deciding on your major in college and making career choices.

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Photo Credit: DotMatchbox via Flickr/Creative Commons

The power of this assessment lies in its ability to accurately define who you are. In the film Fight Club, there’s a line that says, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact…” If you remove some of the existential dread from this line, it’s essentially a reaction against the notion that the world is our oyster. We’ve been led to believe that we can set out and do anything we want to do, but this belief ignores the constraints of innate capacity. We are all unique in our personalities. Some people have a predilection for the details. Others tend toward big picture work. Some people feel energized when they work collaboratively with a team. Others want solitude in their work. These details provide a framework to help people choose the right career path.

It is imperative to take our personalities into account when we consider the career we choose, or else we run the risk of choosing work that drains the life out of us. That’s why personality tools are important.

Learning to Thrive

This assessment teaches you about your innate capacity and your ability to thrive in certain workplace scenarios. When the competencies required by your job align with your capacities, your work is energizing and you find passion in it. Instead of hating your job and feeling stress in the pit of your stomach every time you go to work, you can thrive because you are in the right situation.

Looking to start your career? Curious whether your current career path connects with your capacity? Let us know!