Find the Bright Spots

Barbara Fredrickson Feb 19, 2013
Even through the leaves, you can find the bright spots.

How do you make life-altering changes?

Let’s be serious for a moment, weight loss should be a life-altering change. A large percentage of people fail at it every year because of a problem with our own short-term thinking.

Attack the problem with the end in site only a few week or months from now and you increase your odds for relapse.

When you accept change as a lifelong process, you’re far more likely to experience success with it.

Here is another simple mindset concept for you. It’ll help you focus on the skill or skills you already possess that can get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What Is a Bright Spot?

A bright spot is a moment of clarity or a moment of near-perfection. A moment that can serve to positively reinforce a skill, habit or behavior you are trying to change or improve.

These momentary events can be used to signal and remove negatives outlooks and encourage a positive outlook.

They reinforce that you are already capable of completing something. If only for a moment and if only for one small part of your puzzle.

I pulled the term from the book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. This is my interpretation based on my own experiences.

Most of what I do involves helping people identify a block and move through it. The majority of folks I work with are stuck on a negative phrase or narrative.

For instance:

  • I don’t know where to start
  • I’ll have to give up on all the foods I love
  • I don’t have the time to get to the gym or to cook
  • What if I fail?

A Positive Spin

The thing about any excuse is that it’s easy to rationalize. We all do it. Yes, even me.

The bright spot technique can help flip that miserable, negative outlook on it’s head. To a more positive outlook.

Rather than focusing your energy on the excuse, or what you don’t do well or are dreading to give up. You focus your energy on something you already do well.

Even if it’s small and seemingly insignificant right now. Small bright spots can lead to big breakthroughs.

I’ve been working the last few months in particular with a long-time client on overhauling her diet.

It’s not even that she eats badly. Certainly better than most, but she’s also not quite where she wants to be at the moment either.

We didn’t start the discussion by looking at what she’s doing wrong. We started by focusing on what she’s already doing right.

You can do the same.

It’s like greasing your mind with a little bit of positive reinforcement, before addressing any shortcomings.

For instance, she’s eating a high quality breakfast (protein, veggies, and/or healthy fruit), and dinner (lean proteins with lots of veggies).

These are things she already does well. By highlighting them regularly, the mere acknowledgement leaves her with a lot more confidence. Confidence translates into motivation. The things that are tough or challenging, suddenly don’t see so tough or challenging.

It’s easier to find solutions for the things you don’t do well, if you come in with that positive attitude. Only once we’ve pumped her up a bit can we start nit-picking the finer details of her eating.

Lesson #1

If you want to change something, don’t start immediately with what’s wrong. Look for what you do well first.

Most people start with what they do wrong. These negative thoughts weigh heavily on your conscious thought. They draw our attention to all of our problems, but not solutions.

Many psychologists believe that there is some sort of ideal ratio between positive and negative thoughts. No one knows for sure but it’s been determined that negative thoughts tend to have a deeper impact on us as people than positive ones.

The thinking goes that for happiness and success to ensue, we need more positive thoughts than negative ones. Meaning it’s ideal to start from positive thoughts, before negative ones.

You’ll never eliminate negative thinking. This is a pipedream. Negative thoughts serve their own purpose. Gabriele Oettingen did some wonderful and surprising research in this regard.

Research that I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time. A technique called ‘contrasting.’

You need some negative thinking to help iron out realistic solutions. Positive thinking in the absence of some negative thoughts leads to a euphoric state with no incentives for improvement.

It’s a short-term coping mechanism, not a good way to approach problem solving or motivation.

You’ve likely see that abomination of a documentary/book, “The Secret?” It’s total nonsense…

A lot of people for a very long time thought that just thinking positively about something would help make it true.

That’s not what I’m getting at here. Bright spots are not affirmations. It is not just thinking positively about something you want to accomplish.

It’s more active than that.

You need to go into a problem solving solution by establishing the bright spots. Some positive areas that you can lean on for support. The headspace will then permit you to thinking constructively about areas of improvement.

Start positive, before contrasting to the roadblocks you’re going to face. This improves decision making and problem solving skills.

Maybe getting to the gym isn’t your problem, but getting the most out of your time there is.

Maybe cooking isn’t the problem, you just have trouble making healthier food taste as good as your comfort foods.

Isolate what you already do well, then extrapolate how that can impact what you want to change. Find the positives, before the negatives.

Let’s identify what you’re doing well at the gym, not what you can’t do. Then we can worry about something small that you can improve from that good mindset.

Lesson #2

Apply what you already know to the change process.

My client was already getting good at pairing good foods together the majority of the time.

One of the areas she struggled with was lunch and any “snacks.” Dinner was easy because it was cooked at home and breakfast was pretty much the same thing every day.

Lunch however, was a struggle. If there weren’t enough leftovers from the previous dinner it often was purchased out. If it was purchased out, it was often with friends and friends wanted to go someplace quick and cheap (think fast food).

Snacks were often incomplete too, consisting of something quick and cobbled together like baby carrots or an apple. Fine on their own, but not very filling, and she would soon find herself hungry.

Knowing she already had dinner/breakfast down, we reinforced those behaviors at other meals.

We test-drove and problem solved only after leaning on what she knew for those meals:

  1. Add at least 1/2 a serving of protein to the carrots like cottage cheese or greek yogurt
  2. If you’re out with friends encourage better choices, if you can’t resist, opt for meals that resembled your dinner/breakfast patterns (salad with lean protein, dressing on the side for instance)
  3. Build in some flexibility to have some fun with lunch at least once a week (Go for her favourite lunch time meal — Sushi, with rice…). For sanity sake.

Drawing upon what she was already good at, now we have some simple strategies to address where she may have been astray.

Her meals at work were a little more difficult to fit into the schedule, but she knows what constitutes a good meal. She just needed to practice applying those skills to lunches and snacks.

By drawing on what you already do well, you’ll find solutions that are a little easier to swallow and implement.

What are some bright spots you can count on right now?

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Darren Beattie

A former University Strength & Conditioning Coach. Now aspiring tech entrepreneur and developer exploring fitness and nutrition to deep specific levels.

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