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Noticing Goodness with Liesl

As a society, we are regularly bombarded with PollyAnna-like positivity. “Positive vibes only”, “Keep smiling” and “See the good in all situations” are phrases we’re all familiar with. Personally, the overemphasis on positivity in our culture has made me slightly cynical.

As an author and speaker, I’m constantly re-enforcing the importance of making space for all emotions because it’s backed by data. I also see the impact toxic positivity has on people going through hard things and it makes me angry (speaking of emotions).

However, recently I’ve been reading Adam Grant’s brilliant book, Think Again. In his book, Grant highlights the importance of being a continuous learner and not making beliefs we hold a part of our identity. When we attach ourselves to an idea, we often feel threatened and defensive when it is challenged. Because I’m a self-development geek, I spent an entire week examining what beliefs and ideas required me to think again.

After some deep thought, I realized I had tethered myself to this idea:

Constant positivity prevents you from experiencing all emotions.

Therefore, anytime someone touted the benefits of positivity, I immediately shut my brain off. Afterall, I had already decided that the impacts of toxic positivity cancelled out any of its good attributes. The positivity mantra had a very clear label for me: It’s all bad.

As humans, we appreciate putting things into two categories: it’s either good or bad. Our brain thrives on certainty. Rather than working through complexity, we often categorize an issue, belief or thought into its proper binary box.

Without getting too adversarial, I want you to think about hot button issues in our society like abortion, immigration, global warming and vaccines. These are extremely complex issues. However, many people have put these issues into two very simple boxes: They are either all good or all bad. This leaves us very little room for exploring the complexities associated with these topics. We often feel attacked when someone shares a differing view. We also regularly collect evidence that is only supportive of our beliefs. This bias prevents us from learning or thinking again.

This was exactly what I had done around the benefits of positivity.

It was time for me to think again. Despite my determination to re-evaluate this belief, I wasn’t sure where to start. After a couple of weeks wrestling with my need to think again, Amy Johnson (The Founder of the Noticed Network) popped up on my newsfeed. She posted one of her “notice goodness” quotes.

After years of knowing and loving Amy Johnson, she has been a consistent positive influence in my life. She is always noticing goodness around her and regularly shares the ways she applies this in her life. Based on my mad respect for her, I decided to take a page out of her book: for one day I was going to intentionally notice goodness.

The day started with several career coaching sessions in my office. I have a gorgeous office in a Historic building that is shared with a clothing boutique. My work location is nestled behind the boutique storefront. In fact, I can regularly overhear what people are saying on the boutique floor. Typically, I put my headphones in to drown out any noise. But on that particular day, I was trying to be present.

As I was finishing up notes from my previous coaching session, I heard a lively group of women trying on outfits and talking.

The dialog I heard throughout their 15-minute exchange sounded like this:

“Oh, my goodness! You look absolutely gorgeous in that outfit. It brings out all your best features. You have to buy it”

“Well, I just don’t think burnt orange highlights your great complexion. Let’s find you a shirt that will.”

“I found this dress for you. It is so your style! You must try it on.”

“Okay, this shirt doesn’t show off your amazing arms enough. Let’s find another one.”

As I sat in my desk chair, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. There were no snarky comments about anyone’s body type and no disparaging words about weight. These women affirmed each other without lying, found options that were personalized to each person and built each other up for a solid 15 minutes.

“Is this what noticing goodness feels like?” I wondered.

Then another thought, “How can I be more like these women?”

Long after these lovely customers left the boutique, I thought deeply about what I heard. I felt overwhelmed with joy that women like this existed. If it wouldn’t have come across as stalker ish, I would’ve asked if they needed a new friend.

Maybe I was wrong about dismissing the entire positivity movement as total BS. Perhaps I had made something complex too simple. Of course, there are ways the positivity movement has become toxic. However, it’s unfair to dismiss an entire movement based on a subset that isn’t executing it well.

Plus, there is so much data to support the benefits of noticing goodness. As a data nerd, I found more articles from credible sources than I care to admit.

In general, this summarizes everything I learned:

So, how do we start the process of noticing goodness in our own lives regularly?

Here is an exercise that has helped me:

Every night when we are eating dinner, I ask my children this simple question: What went well today?

Some days it’s very easy to identify several examples. Other days, we must dig deep. However, collectively we can always find one thing each.

This exercise has become my favorite way to end the day and it’s created an even stronger connection with my children.

So, now it’s your turn. Perhaps there are areas in your life where you desperately need to think again.

It’s possible you’re like me and the positivity culture has left you sour. While I’m not dismissing there are harmful ways this movement has been used, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Start small. Perhaps make a list of three things that went well for you each day. Or start reading The Noticed Network's Blog to gather ideas.

I’ll leave you with this one question: What is one thing you can do today to notice goodness?

Liesl Hays is the author of Broken Changed & Rearranged. In it she shares her story, her perspective, and her strategies for becoming the next person you were meant to be.

You can get your copy of Broken Changed & Rearranged on Amazon.


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