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The positiveness hunt

This positive thinking exercise involves purposely seeking out and recording the positive aspects of a young person's day.

1. They'll need a small pocket-sized notebook and in it write: “The good things that happened to me today.”

Each day, they go out and seek out the positive things that happen around them. If someone offers them something unexpectedly, they
make a note of it. They do the opposite so easily? This encourages them to recognise and seek the positive instead?

You can make it competitive. They can form teams and see which team finds the most positives and which finds the most unusual or striking positive.

2. They can also challenge themselves each day to beat the previous day's amount of positive events. This can be developed to illustrate goal setting too.

Looking at heroes/heroines

This encourages young people to look at people they admire and identify positive qualities about each which they can seek to mimic. They may need help to get behind some of the positive qualities. Young people will often identify with people from the sport and music worlds. What they may not always realise is how hard some of these have to work to get to the position where they are admired.

Ask the person to identify someone they admire and one positive quality that this person demonstrates. Then they are challenged to develop the same or similar behaviour.

The “glad” game

Turning negatives into positives

The character Pollyanna from the Disney movie plays a positive thinking game she calls “the glad game”. The game helps increase positive thinking habits. It works very well as a group exercise.

One person brings up a negative event, such as losing a job, doing badly in a test, getting a poor mark for an essay, being dropped from the school team etc. They start off saying something like, “I've just lost my job and I'm trying not to panic.”

Others provoke the first person and others to think positively by responding with positive phrases, such as, “But now I've been dropped, I'll have time to—blank.” The first person or one of the others fills in the blank with a positive word or phrase, like “watch the team and work out how I might do better,” or “have the time to do that job I need to do.”

Searching for the silver lining in setbacks is the optimistic basis for the “glad game.” Reframing

Inevitably there are times when we all get it wrong.

If something didn't go well enough or something went wrong, ask the young person to identify what might be the positive in the situation. It is very rare that anyone gets everything so wrong that there are no positive aspects in failure.

Listen to sports coaches talking about their team after a defeat. Most will acknowledge the defeat but they will also identify what went well and will often identify the mistakes as opportunities for improvement. The important thing here is to understand that things do go wrong and we do make mistakes but very rarely is it fatal in any way.

Instead get the young person to acknowledge and give themselves credit for what they have done, remind them that they are not perfect and that they can do better next time.

A good discipline is to take time out to consider;

• What kind of thing always makes me think negatively?

• What kind of thing always makes me think positively?

• What advice would you give to a friend who consistently showed these negative thoughts?

• How could they identify the positives in these situations? (this is very effective if they work in groups).

Thought stopping—physical and mental cues

Again widely used in sports coaching, this is a powerful and often quick to apply technique which is closely related to affirmations and self talk. A cue is a device that you activate when experiencing negative thoughts. It is useful in dealing with worry, panic, and anxiety.

The essence of thought stopping is that you consciously issue a “Stop!” command when you experience negative thoughts. The negative thought is then replaced with something more positive and realistic.

The way thought stopping works is straightforward. Essentially, it is a form of controlled distraction which abruptly and firmly turns one's thoughts from the negative to something that is more controllable. Without some form of positive intervention, negative thoughts can “accumulate” and become the normal response. This will influence the way you behave and feel.

If coupled with positive and reassuring statements, it is possible to break negative thought patterns. Thought stopping can arise through the use of mental or physical cues or a combination of both. The process is typically as follows;

• Identify a situation where you frequently find yourself thinking negatively

• Identify the negative statement you make when in this situation

• Prepare yourself with some form of relaxation

• Find a phrase or cue you can use to stop your negative thoughts.

A physical cue can be as simple as pinching yourself. Sports people will use elastic bands on the wrist and “thwack” themselves when a negative thought arises.

Mental cues will include:

• Positive statements which are activated when the negative thought arises

• Mentally or even orally shouting “STOP!”

• Replacing a poor image with a positive image

• Associating the negative image with it's consequence.

The positive thinking (attitude) ladder

Fiona Mackay Young developed a useful scale which she called an attitude ladder. It consists of a range of statements that change incrementally from “I won't try” to “I will do it”. This is shown below.

I did it!

1. I will do it

2. I can do it

3. I probably can do it

4. I will try to do it

5. I'll think about trying to do it

6. I do want to do it …

7. I wish I could—I'm not sure I can

8. I don't know how to do it

9. I can't do it

10. I won't try because I know I can't …

The ladder works as a device to get someone to benchmark current mindset.

• What is their typical response when asked to do something? Does that affect performance and/or wellbeing?

• What do they think is a better response? How will that impact on performance or wellbeing?

• How do they think that could be achieved?

It is important to provide recognition as their default response creeps up the ladder.

Finally, the last word goes to Groucho Marx:

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it. (Marx)1

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