In the last 15 years researchers in the field of Positive Psychology have discovered amazing things about our minds. They debunked some long-held myths and are helping us better understand human behavior, including creativity. In this episode Dr. Tina Hallis talks about the connection between positivity and creativity, the important difference between positivity and positive thinking, and how you can increase positivity in your life.
What You’ll Learn
- What the research says on how positivity increases creativity
- How cortisol impacts our body
- Tina’s favorite strategies for increasing positivity
About Tina Hallis
The Weekly Challenge
Pick out one tip that Tina shared and try it for one week. How did it go? Share your experiences below in the comments section.
Feel like reading instead of listening? Download the free PDF Transcript or read it below. Enjoy!
Transcript for Episode #040: How Positivity Can Increase Creativity
Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative podcast Episode 40. I am so excited today because we have a special guest on the show, Dr. Tina Hallis, who is a positive psychology expert and a friend that I have known for a few years. Tina has an interesting background. She started out as a biochemist, working in a lab, and then a few years ago, she made this huge career shift and moved into studying positive psychology and positivity, and started her own business called The Positive Edge. It has been very cool to see her grow her business and grow herself, really. I met her right as she was starting her business and so I have seen that progression and very awesome, very cool.
Tina is going to talk to us about how positivity can impact creativity, and also how you can bring more positivity in your life. She makes an important distinction between positivity and positive thinking and happiness. They are not all the same thing, which is something I did not know. You will hear it from Tina why this matters and why this will impact creativity in your teams in your organizations. So here is Dr. Tina Hallis.
Tina, thank you so much for being on The Deliberate Creative podcast. Welcome to the show.
Tina Hallis: Thank you Amy. I am excited to be here.
Amy Climer: Awesome! So can you start off and tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and what you do?
Tina Hallis: Sure. I founded this company called The Positive Edge, really based on helping people build their positivity. My background is science. I have a PhD in chemistry, of all things, worked in biotechnology for 20 years. But then it was 2011 I discovered positive psychology. Changed my life, changed the way I look at things. I decided I needed to do something more with this. I needed to get this information into organizations. I do not know if you feel this way, but I feel like if there is one place we need help staying positive, it is at work.
Amy Climer: Yes.
Tina Hallis: So I decided I have got to do something with this. So I hung up my lab coat, started my own company and it has been such an adventure. I have met so many amazing people like yourself so it is a wonderful opportunity. I love getting this message into organizations to just help people enjoy work more and actually be more successful.
What is Positive Psychology? [03:03]
Amy Climer: That is so awesome. So you mentioned positive psychology, this field that has had this profound impact on you. Can you explain a little bit of what is positive psychology?
Tina Hallis: Sure. I think a lot of people hear the word psychology and it sort of has a certain connotation in their head. What I like to think about is, for years, psychology was about helping people that were suffering and struggling. And now positive psychology is looking at the other end of the spectrum. These outliers of people who are really flourishing and thriving, and understanding what are they doing different, and how can the rest of us learn and benefit from that? So it is really about how can we live our best life.
They are now doing studies on this, looking at these outliners on the positive end and saying if we reproduce some of the stuff that they do, can it help the rest of us, as people in the middle, to move us up in sort of our thriving and flourishing spectrum? And they are finding it does, and that is why I am super excited about this because it is information that everybody can use and everybody can benefit from.
Amy Climer: Is positive psychology about being happy and about positive thinking? Is that a piece of it?
Tina Hallis: Thank you for asking. That is such a great distinction because I think positive psychology starts to get a bad rep when people think it is positive thinking, and it is not. It is really about how can you use your emotions the way they are meant to be used? Negative emotions serve a purpose. I like to use the example that if your smoke alarm goes off in the middle of the night, you better be concerned and you better be getting out of the house. If the roads are slippery, you better be extra careful. There is a place for that anxiety, that caution. But on the other hand there are so many situations today that we let our anxiety, we let our frustrations take over and that does not serve us. It does not help us. We can even replay things in our heads and it is not even really happening. So it is not positive thinking.
I also like to clarify it is not just happiness either. Positive feelings and emotions associated with positivity could be curiosity, feeling pride in something you did or something somebody else did. Feeling that awe or inspiration when you have been to a really good program or you have seen an amazing sunset, gratitude. There are so many other positive emotions. Happiness, I think, takes too much of the headlines.
Amy Climer: I think sometimes when we just look at being happy all the time it is like Pollyanna Syndrome. Or it is like, “Well, I have a lot of emotions in my life, happiness is one of them, but it does not mean if I am not experiencing happiness that I am unhappy or having a bad life.”
Tina Hallis: Right. And I think it is interesting too, just thinking of different people that you know, some people are really high energy people. And there is maybe a lot of excitement and a lot of high energy there. I tend to be more of a low energy person. I love positive emotions like just serenity and calm, because to me that is kind of where I am most comfortable. I do not need that super high energy, like some people do. We are all different.
Amy Climer: Yeah, and I think recognizing the differences we have in our personalities is really that richness that can come from life.
Tina Hallis: Right.
How Positivity Impacts Creativity [06:32]
Amy Climer: Of course, you know this podcast is all about creativity. How can positive psychology or positivity impact creativity? Is there a connection there, and if so, what is it?
Tina Hallis: It has really been interesting, as I went back and become certified in positive psychology, to learn about what they are finding as the benefits. Again, benefits with spending more time in positivity — I am not saying getting rid of negativity, but increasing that ration — more time in positivity, they found that we make better decisions and that we actually take in more information. My analogy to this is like driving at night with your lights on low right out in the country. Because when we are frustrated, when we are anxious, we get very focused on the problem. And that can be good for making sure you take action about that problem. But what you miss out then is you do not see the other information, the other possibilities and options that are out there.
The other analogy then is it is like driving during the daytime when you can see the scenery. You can take in more information. In fact, they have even primed people to be either in a negative or positive mindset, and then they can track their eye movement. We look around way more when we are in a positive state than when we are negative. So we physically are taking in more information. It is psychological and physical. We can think of more things.
Another example I know we were talking about before is this creativity test where you say, “How many different things can you think of to do or to make out of a common household object? When we are primed for positivity, we come up with many more examples.
Amy Climer: I think going into that, talking about how your eye movement is impacted based on your mood, yeah I have noticed that. If I am angry and I am walking down the street, I am not looking at anyone. I am just like, “Argh.” But if I am in a good mood, my head is up, I am smiling, I am looking at people. And getting more information, like more input, can help us be more creative because it can help us generate more ideas, we see things differently, we can make connections. Is that what you have seen in your work?
Tina Hallis: Right, exactly. I think your analogy for yourself is so useful. Because I think if we all think of a time, specific example, when we were frustrated about something, then that is what we get so focused on. And then it is really hard to work effectively, it is hard to even sometimes read because you are just re-reading the same paragraph, because your mind is replaying what is boring you. It is hard to break out of that thought pattern and take in more information and more ideas.
Amy Climer: Oh yeah, I have caught myself doing that for sure. I am like, “Okay, I am closing the book. I am not making any progress.”
Tina Hallis: It is not working right now.
How to Increase Your Positivity [09:20]
Identify Why It is Hard
Amy Climer: Yeah, absolutely. So how can you increase your positivity? We know that it has a positive impact on creativity, but can we control this? Is this something that we can do anything about?
Tina Hallis: This is my favorite topic, how to do this. Because what I think everybody could benefit from understanding is that it is natural for us to focus on, to dwell on, to replay all the negative stuff. The stuff we do not like, the problems, that is really easy. The challenge is that it is how our brain is wired. And what is really helpful to understand is that it is actually a good thing. That is why we are here. That is how we have survived. We had the survival instinct, which mean if there is a problem, if there is danger, we need to take action. And when things are good, we do not need to pay any attention to it. Our brain says, “Boring, who cares? You are fine. No action needed.”
So the analogy I love, I think this was by Rick Hanson; our brains are like Teflon for the good stuff. Just slides off. And our brains are like Velcro for the negative. It sticks because that is going to help us survive. We need to remember not to eat that poisonous plant, whatever it is. So that to me is the first step, understanding why it is hard.
Amy Climer: That makes me think about — and you and I were talking about this before we started recording — when you get evaluations from a presentation you have done or a workshop and there are like 75 positive comments, you are like, “Oh yay!” And then you get to that 76th comment that somebody did not like a phrase you said or the way you introduced an activity, and I think it is tough. Because on one hand, you can dwell on that too much, but if you dwell only on that, then that is too much negativity. But I think the benefit is okay, how do you take that and do something with it?
Tina Hallis: You hit that so well because the negativity is there for us to take action, just like we were talking about. And if we know that, then we can say, “Oh look, here I am getting stuck on this negative comment, here I am getting stuck on this negative conversation,” whatever it is, and then to remind ourselves the point of this is then to figure out what action do I need to take. And then once you make a plan for that action, you can let it go, and not get stuck there.
Amy Climer: And I think that is how we grow and improve, if we can look at okay, what can I learn from this? So first thing is identifying that there is…
Realize That You Can Change the Way You Think [11:53]
Tina Hallis: Why is it hard? And then once you know it is hard and you recognize that, I tell people most of us do not even know that we have a choice. Most people do not realize that you can change the way you think. In fact, really in the last 15 or 20 years, this has been big news in the scientific community. Because they said, “Well once you are an adult you cannot really change the way you think or who you are, it is pretty much set.” And now this term “neuroplasticity” is getting a lot of news because they are like, “Holy cow, that is not true! It does not matter how old you are our brains are always changing.” And what the great news is they are finding we can actually guide those changes. If we pay attention to our thoughts and start to choose what we focus on, they can actually physically see the changes in our brain with new technology like functional MRI.
Amy Climer: Wow!
Tina Hallis: Yeah. So we can practice, and some of the strategies we are going to talk about, to rewire our brains to just make it easier to get a better balance. To not get stuck in the negative, to remember to use it for what it is there for, and then spend more time in the positive so then we can be more creative.
Amy Climer: It is so exciting really, if you think about it. If we had to stop at age 25, it is like, “Oh, we are done,” well it is kind of depressing. So to think like, “Oh, we have a lot of opportunity to change and grow.”
Tina Hallis: And I think that is where we are just beginning to tap into that potential to understand how we can use that. I am really excited to see what the next 10, 20 years is going to bring.
Amy Climer: I think we are just living in this time of scientific explosion, which is so cool.
Notice When You Are Stuck in Negativity [13:34]
Tina Hallis: So first up, we talked about why is it hard, second step, just realizing we have a choice that we can change, that we do not have to stay in our current mindset, and then to notice our thoughts. That sort of comes back to mindfulness, emotional intelligence. Noticing when we are stuck in the negative. Noticing, “Oh look, here I am dwelling on this negative comment, or this negative conversation.”
Teach Your Brain to Notice the Good Stuff [13:56]
Then the next step is really strategies to practice to get better at re-wiring our brain to notice the good stuff. And this I think is where this positive psychology studies are really helpful. Because a lot of this stuff, when I share it or when you hear it, they would be, “Oh, I knew that. My grandmother told me,” but now the science is backing it up. Yes, studies are showing it really is good to be grateful. It really is good to take some time to help somebody else, all these kinds of things.
Tina’s Favorite Strategies for Increasing Positivity [14:28]
Amy Climer: So can you go into some of those specific strategies?
Tina Hallis: Right. I will tell you some of my favorites that I use a lot. Because I will tell you what, re-inventing yourself, going from being a scientist to a professional speaker or an entrepreneur, whoa! Lots of opportunity to practice these strategies. One of my first favorites is really to understand that when you start getting frustrated, when you start getting worried, anxious, to know that this is actually a chemical change in your body. Your body is flooded with cortisol when you are upset. And cortisol does strange things to us. Cortisol makes us more sensitive to other stressors. So those little things that normally would not be a big deal, they set you off and you cannot take it.
The next thing it does is it gets you really focused on the problem. This is really where it inhibits creativity, because again now this is all you can see, all you can think about. And then the crazy thing is the next step is it suppresses the control of cortisol. So as the cortisol is flooding through your body, it is telling your body to release more and more until you get this downward spiral that can be really hard to break out of. So the strategy here is to distract yourself. Break out of that thought cycle. Get up, move around, exercise, call a friend. One of my favorite things is to put on that favorite song that you know is going to make you feel better, get up and dance. Whatever it is you need to do. But do not let yourself sit there and replay and just go over it again and again.
Amy Climer: That is really good advice.
Tina Hallis: The trick here is to really have a list of those things that you know are going to help you because when you need them, you are not going to remember them. So put a list maybe by your computer, on your bathroom mirror, wherever it is that you can remember and be like, “Oh yeah, I know what I can do, but I just have to do it now.”
Amy Climer: And almost like forcing yourself to do it because I would think at the same time you do not want to do it.
Tina Hallis: No, because the cortisol is feeding off of itself so it is liking the fact that you are miserable.
Amy Climer: I am just imagining these little hormones in your body with like these evil faces.
Tina Hallis: And I think cortisol does serve a purpose, right? Get out of the house, the smoke alarm is going off, or swerve to avoid that bad driver, whatever it is, but most of the time we do not need it.
Amy Climer: Yeah, great. All right, so that is the first thing. That is your favorite.
Five to Eight Slow Deep Breaths [16:58]
Tina Hallis: Yes. Another one I use every day that is five to eight slow deep breaths. Slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, helps purge the cortisol out, and helps you refocus and think. I almost think every meeting, whether it is a brainstorming meeting, a creativity meeting, a problem solving meeting, should start with everyone closing their eyes and taking some slow deep breaths.
Actually on that point, the other thing I want to share is that when you start meetings at work, start with sharing something positive. Meetings are usually about problems. If you start with something positive, you are now shifting everybody’s mindset out of that narrow mode back into sort of seeing the scenery, seeing more options and possibilities. And there is research that shows that when you start meetings with something positive, that meeting is more effective, more efficient. And it could be just a few people sharing if it is a big meeting, it could be everybody sharing, showing appreciation, thanking people, whatever works and makes sense for that meeting
Amy Climer: I love that. That is great. I have definitely seen that with other facilitators or I have done some of that at times, either the breathing or sharing something positive, and it is kind of amazing, the impact that it has. One way I have used the breathing is just, if for whatever reason things have gotten really chaotic in the meeting, and to use it in a way like, “Okay, let’s all come back together,” and it can be powerful. And it seems like a little woo woo at times, but it is all in how you frame it, I think.
Tina Hallis: Right. When you tell people, “Okay, we are going to take a moment here to lower our blood pressure and slow our heart rate, purge our cortisol,” then they might be like, “Oh okay, what are we going to do?” We are going to take some slow, deep breaths and re-center ourselves.
Amy Climer: Right. What is the next strategy?
Looking for the Positive in our Day [18:49]
Tina Hallis: So those are a couple that I recommend when you are already in that negative mode. But I also like to tell people, think about increasing your positivity. Do not wait for the negativity. Just increase that positivity. Now, I want to share with you two of my favorite things. One is just looking for the positive in our day. Simple to do, but we do not normally do this. We come home, we vent about what went wrong, what we did not like, the traffic, whatever. But then, what if you could also say, “And here are some things that went good today.” And we are talking simple little things like, “Oh, I had this phone call that went really well, or you know what, I had a green light and I was not late, or I did not have to put gas in today on my way to work, or I had time for my favorite cup of coffee or tea,” whatever it might be. Little things. I have been actually doing that with my daughter who is ten. I bet we have been doing it for three years.
Amy Climer: Wow!
Tina Hallis: I tuck her in bed at night, and we each share a couple of good things. Because they have shown that when you make a habit out of that, you do it at dinner time or bed time, they can see again that you are rewiring your brain. You are forcing your brain to go back, look for the good stuff and then it gets better at doing that.
Amy Climer: That is so cool that you are doing that with your daughter. It is like training her from this young age to focus on that. I have met your daughter, and she is positive and happy and open. We went rock climbing together, which was pretty fun. And she had never done that before and she was so open, like, “Oh yeah, I want to try this,” which not all ten year olds are.
Tina Hallis: Yeah. And granted she is not always that way, but I am amazed at sometimes just how adventurous and open-minded she is.
Amy Climer: That is very cool.
Add Little Positive Things Intentionally [20:41]
Tina Hallis: Related to that strategy, here is another one that is great, and that is you do not have to wait for something positive to happen. We can purposely, intentionally add these little things to our day. And it can be different for all of us. I am just going to throw out some different ideas. Instead of waiting for something, to add some little thing like listening to your favorite song. With technology today, we can have almost any music at our finger tips. You might have that playlist, we are like, “Okay, I am really frustrated. I need something to calm me down.” Maybe you are feeling kind of down and you need something to boost your spirits. My daughter loves to help me think of songs for my playlist. I think that should be her playlist, not mine. But music is so powerful. You think of how it can shift your mood when a song comes on that maybe you have not heard and you are singing along and just feeling great. So that is one of my favorite ones.
Amy Climer: I was going to say and on the playlist idea, going back to what you said before, is planning that ahead of time. And having that ready and you just click a couple of buttons versus like, “Oh, what song should I play?”
Tina Hallis: Right, because then it is really hard to think of it. More likely you might think of a song that does the opposite.
Amy Climer: Right.
Getting Fresh Air [21:55]
Tina Hallis: So other ideas you can do are getting outside, getting fresh air. They have shown that can really help boost our wellbeing. Doing something nice for somebody else, getting out of our own stuff. And little things; could be just offering to help somebody, just smiling at somebody, holding the door, could be getting involved with a local charity, it could be something bigger.
Another thing is, I want to come back to smiling because I love this research from UW-Madison, Professor Richie Davidson. He and others have mapped our brains with things like functional MRI and can see the part of our brain associated with happiness. And it lights up on the MRI. And if you smile a fake smile with just your mouth, nothing happens, but if you crinkle the corners of your eyes like a true smile like we do, in a few moments they see the part of brain associated with happiness light up. So I tell people you know what, just try it. It does not require any extra equipment, no cost to do this, you can do it anywhere, no side effects, just try it and see if in a few moments it does not become a real smile. And I have had people come up to me months after and they go, “Oh my gosh, that works. I do that all the time.”
Amy Climer: Oh, that is so cool. I love that. Awesome! So real smiles. And even if they are fake at first, that is okay. Let it grow into a real smile.
Tina Hallis: Right, exactly. Fool that brain because a lot of times, our brain is taking signals from our body. Well how are you feeling? So it looks at how the body is standing, how you are holding your face, and then it will process that as if it is what you are really feeling.
Amy Climer: You mentioned how we are standing. Does that impact our brain and how we feel?
Tina Hallis: Yeah. There is a lot of newer research coming out, and I will be very excited to watch how this develops, but they talk about power poses; standing big, tall, proud, your arms above your head or on your hips, how that signals our brain differently and how they have done studies to show that it does make us feel more confident. It helps us with being more positive. If you are sitting all slouched and hunched over and you go, “Boy, I feel really happy,” your body does not believe you. It is really hard to see it because you are just like, “Yeah, right.” Or if you stand real proud and you put a big smile on and you go, “I feel crappy!” Your body is like, “I do not think so.” So it is kind of that fooling your brain and your body sends some pretty strong signals.
Amy Climer: I have heard of that, the positivity from standing up. And there have been times where if I was maybe a little more nervous about a presentation, that I would do that. Even sometimes before I left the house, I’ll just in the morning I am like okay, I am standing up, my arms above my head and it seems to help. It certainly does not hurt.
Tina Hallis: No, and really I think it is related to also this idea of envisioning success. There is a lot that has been studied about how just thinking about success and imagining something going well, your brain believes it to be true. The more effort you put into making it seem real, your brain is like, “Okay, we are ready, let’s go. You are going to be successful at this.” Versus your brain telling you, “No, you are really not going to do well at this.” Your chances then of doing well are really limited if you are starting to think oh yeah, all kinds of things are going to go wrong.
Amy Climer: Yeah, and I think when it comes to creativity — and other parts of life too — but we have that inner critic. It is like sitting on our shoulder and telling us like, “Oh, that is a stupid idea. That is dumb. Somebody has already done that.” I have talked about that in previous episodes. I think when you can ignore that inner critic and find your inner champion, that can help you be more creative.
Tina Hallis: Right. And sometimes it is even thinking of past times that you were creative or successful. Because then you are like, “Oh yeah, that was me, I did that. Look at that. That was really cool.” It kind of comes back to kind of that pride and positive emotion because then you can feed off of that.
Amy Climer: Absolutely. That is a great list. Are there any more strategies you want to add?
Enjoy and Savor the moment [26:05]
Tina Hallis: Another one of my favorites that is related to those is that if you start practicing noticing the good stuff, you start suddenly in the moment seeing that. You will be like, “Oh my gosh! Look, green light.” And instead of having to think back at the end of the day, you notice that during your day. “Oh wow! What a great phone call that was.” And then what you can do is you can savor it. Again, savoring, making it last, really noticing how you feel, letting it sink in, they show that that reinforces those new neural connections and you are going to be re-wiring your brain even faster when you start doing that. So the key is to realize yeah, that is actually an investment, when you take that time to really enjoy and savor that moment.
Amy Climer: You say take that time and it is like what, 30 seconds?
Tina Hallis: Right.
Amy Climer: It is not much.
Tina Hallis: But today I feel like we are always so busy. It is like, “I do not have time for that. I got to be thinking about the next thing.”
Amy Climer: Yeah, that is great. I love it. Savor the moment. Are you having fun?
Tina Hallis: Yes.
Amy Climer: Good. All right, so we have talked about positive psychology, how positivity impacts creativity, you have given us some great strategies. I always end every episode with a weekly challenge. This is something that listeners can do this week to start implementing some of the concepts that we have talked about. So what would be a weekly challenge that listeners can do this week?
The Weekly Challenge [27:29]
Tina Hallis: I would like to challenge people to say pick one of the things that we have talked about and try it for one week. For example, pick the thing where, for example, at the end of every day you are going to reflect back and remember one or two good things about that day. Try that for a week. Because what they find is we are all different, we all have different personalities, different lifestyles. My favorite strategy might not be the best for you, but if you try it for a week or two, you get a pretty good sense of whether yeah, that was useful. That did something good. Or no, that is just not working for me.
Amy Climer: Yeah. And it seems like just doing maybe one a time could be helpful?
Tina Hallis: Right.
Amy Climer: Great. And Tina, if people want to learn more about you and your work, where can they go?
Tina Hallis: I would love to have people visit my website www.thepositiveedge.org. I have a bunch of resources there, I have weekly positivity tips, I recommend other positive psychology books and website. And I would love to hear feedback and comments from people. So always feel free to contact me with the information on the website.
Amy Climer: Great, thank you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate it.
Tina Hallis: Thanks Amy, this was great fun.
Amy Climer: Good.
Loved listening to Dr. Tina Hallis. She always has good things to say. Thank you, Tina, for being on The Deliberate Creative podcast. For those of you that would like to access the shownotes and some of the resources that Tina mentioned, you can go to climerconsulting.com/040 because this is Episode 40. So climerconsulting.com/040 will take you to links that reference Tina’s website as well as some of the other resources she mentioned.
Also, while you are there, you can comment on the show. Feel free to add some comments to Tina, or if you have questions for her you can leave them there and I will make sure she gets those and she can answer them for you. And let us know how the weekly challenge goes for you. Leave some notes there. It will be great to hear from you.
This is Episode 40 and right now on iTunes, The Deliberate Creative podcast has 39 reviews. I would love to bump that up to at least 40. So if you are listening to this show, I would invite you and be so excited if you went over to iTunes and took two minutes to write a review. It really just takes a couple of minutes. You got to www.climerconsulting.com/itunes and it will take you right there, or you can just go into iTunes and search for The Deliberate Creative podcast. You can do if from your phone, your tablet, or of course, your computer. So if you would take a few moments to do that and let’s get those reviews up over 40. We want to have more reviews than episodes. That seems reasonable, don’t you think?
Thank you so much for listening. I hope you found this as helpful and as interesting as I did. Have a wonderful, wonderful week, and I will see you next time. Bye.
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