Amidst all the stress, the frustration, the setbacks and downsides, there are a few among us who still exude unsinkable confidence and enthusiasm. These people are strange. They appear to get happier whenever things get worse. Perhaps they’re masochists who just enjoy being tortured by a heartless world? No, that’s not fair. They are nonetheless abnormal. Let’s use the term from this week’s book: positive deviants. To quote:
A positive deviant is a person who, by all rights, ought to have a problem but for some reason doesn’t.
Sounds like a rare person. But here’s the kicker: you have been a positive deviant. You have been that rare, unshakeable soul. It comes naturally to all of us in certain circumstances and, when it does, it makes us our most influential.
This has been the long-standing claim of Professor Martin E.P. Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology. His decades of research has shown that we are all capable of possessing deviant positivity based on the way we view our circumstances. This is captured in what the professor calls our explanatory style.
You (yes you!) are a positive deviant whenever you encounter a bad situation and characterize it with the following three traits:
The bad situation is external (you don’t blame yourself), unstable (it involved circumstances that can still be changed), and specific (it doesn’t affect everything in your life).
This is an example of how narrative affects us all. The stories we tell ourselves influence everything.
Maintaining a positive (or possibilistic) view is a kind of deliberate strategy. You can choose it. And it’s especially important that you choose it when all others around you do not. Consider it a form of “counter-influence” as we consider “counter-intelligence.”
I say counter-influence because a proper, positive perspective creates the good kind of influence; it is the White-T cell against those terrible viral attitudes. The change doesn’t happen immediately (it’s hard to instantly change the mood of a group) but definitely builds over time. Why? Because people know, deep down, that any other kind of attitude doesn’t help them.
Consider the prevailing research and your own common sense: positive perspective is highly correlated with success. To borrow from Richard Branson: “Positive people don’t just have a good day; they make it a good day.”
That’s a fine quote. But living it is the real stuff of wonderfully deviant behavior.
At some point today, you will have the chance to be the one person who is feeling strong. Find authentic positivity in the manner that Professor Seligman suggests. Share it with the rest, recognizing you will be deviant, recognizing that you won’t fit it with the anxiety and tension that floats around the room. Don’t overshare, of course, but stand out.
To conclude, I never thought I’d write these words but here goes: Let’s be deviants today.