I often wonder if I would’ve lost 90 pounds last year if I hadn’t been reading up on the psychology of positivity in the months before I started my quest.
It wasn‘t something I planned: First develop a fundamental understanding of the principles of positivity, then begin weight-loss program. But in retrospect, I now think that may have made all the difference.
What really floored me in the first book I read on the topic — “Positivity,” by UNC-Chapel Hill psychology professor Barbara L. Fredrickson — wasn’t so much the practice tips or the feel good stories, but the fact that the study of positivity is now treated like a science, with mathematical models demonstrating superior outcomes for people with “higher positivity ratios.”
I hadn’t thought of myself as a negative person. But reading that book made me realize I was stuck in repetitive patterns of frustration on several fronts. Making just a few small changes — such as using words with slightly different connotations or “reframing” a hassle as a challenge or even an opportunity — not only made me feel better, but seemed to produce tangible results.
According to Fredrickson, positivity opens your mind to possibilities you wouldn’t even see otherwise. I began to think of positivity as a football field, with certain actions yielding positive yardage and others negative yardage. The terrain on the one side of the 50-yard line looked and felt much more appealing than the other. I decided to try to live more of my life on that end of the field.
I hadn’t yet applied any of these strategies to my overeating. If anything, I was letting myself go more than usual as I tried to change my perspective on the challenges of raising four kids amid job uncertainties and financial pressures. All but my biggest pairs of pants were getting snug, and they got even tighter over the holidays.
Last January my mom suggested we try Weight Watchers. I was dubious about the cost and the humiliation factor. In the past, I would’ve said no. But because I’d been working on “positive yardage,” I also saw an opportunity — to provide support for my mom as well as to help myself.
Looking back, I can’t say that I consciously linked my weight-loss strategies to the principles of positivity. Yet it sure feels like that underlying change in outlook made a crucial difference. I don’t doubt that Dr. Fredrickson could plug my experience into a mathematical model and prove that that’s exactly what happened.