Stress and anxiety are on the rise as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rampage the entire globe. Billions of people suffer either from the imminent consequences of the disease itself or its many adverse side effects, such as losing income, trying to maintain a reasonable level of productivity while working from home, or being separated from their families and friends for prolonged periods of time.
Naturally, people are searching for ways to either calm down or cheer up in order to not lose their minds. Here´s the challenge: Most of the things we usually do to attain these emotional states, such as going to the gym, taking a yoga class, or seeking the comfort of our loved ones, are not permitted in many countries due to virus countermeasures.
But what if there were a simple way that could help you to feel better in an instant and almost automatically? What if everything you needed were already in your pocket, or even in your hands, right now?
Creating your Positive Portfolio
I encourage you to create on your smartphone what I call a digital Positive Portfolio: This is a folder attached to your home screen where you consciously assemble artifacts, such as photos, videos, and music, that evoke memories of special positive valence. Think about wedding videos, pictures of newborns, the most mellow shots from a cherished vacation, that special song you used to hear back then, and reminders of small and big victories in sports, business, and life in general.
In essence, the Positive Portfolio is a digitally enhanced and readily available version of the good old photo album, only it is consciously created around the notion of emotional valence rather than around a specific period from your life. You could even think about crafting several editions for different emotional needs, such as relaxation and amplifying optimism.
After crafting your portfolio, you can use it in times of stress for a few minutes whenever you have a short break. Do it instead of smoking, eating sweets, or other behaviors that help to fight off stress but have negative side effects over time. It´s a method that is actually quick and easy, as opposed to techniques that claim to be simple but actually aren’t.
Creating a Positive Portfolio basically works for everyone everywhere, and you can start today. It´s essentially free of cost as everything we need is already waiting for us. We all have experienced moments in our lives that are positively outstanding in one way or another, and currently roughly four billion people do own a smartphone.
How and why does it work?
The idea of the Positive Portfolio runs counter to the notion that using a cellphone creates or aggravates stress and negative emotions. Employed mindfully, a smartphone can be turned into a powerful tool to fight off stress and fatigue. The emotional valence of our positive reminiscences is literally at hand and can be of tremendous value when used proactively, both in normal life and under especially stressful circumstances.
The Positive Portfolio draws on ideas by Barbara Fredrickson (University of North Carolina) and James Pawelski (University of Pennsylvania), two eminent scholars in the field of Positive Psychology. Yet, the underlying principle is much older: When we remember something vividly, to some degree our bodies upload (metaphorically speaking) the emotional state that was present in the original situation. As our emotional states are accompanied by specific physiological states such as the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, we can hardly experience opposing emotions simultaneously. That is, it is nearly impossible to be relaxed and stressed at the same time because of the divergent physiological activity.
When faced with contradictory stimuli, in most cases, the stronger stimulus will prevail. Therein lies the power of the Positive Portfolio: If we manage to pick and aggregate distinctly powerful memories, namely those that are linked to vivid and authentic positive emotions, the Positive Portfolio will almost certainly win over weaker negative emotions.
In addition to the effects of using the tool when completed, the process of creating and maintaining a Positive Portfolio can have beneficial effects. Gathering, ordering, and arranging information is a structured, conscious activity that will keep your attention off thinking about whatever stressors are also present in any given moment. It is not a panacea for sure. But it comes at basically no cost and doesn’t have any negative side effects.
We´re all the same
Over the last years, I have explained the use and the mechanics of the Positive Portfolio to thousands of managers in keynotes on leadership and self-management in Germany and Europe. Usually, it´s one of the talking points that generates the most resonance with my audiences because the creation of the Positive Portfolio is a simple and intuitive process. I also use the construction of the Positive Portfolio as a group activity during workshops. In doing so, participants learn that, beyond our professional personae, we are basically the same and cherish similar things: our partners, our children, specific works of art, mellow evenings at the beach, and awe-inspiring mountainsides.
Are you ready to create your own Positive Portfolio now?
Yee-Ming Tan (2009). Awe and becoming larger than yourself. Positive Psychology News.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Woman with hat photo by Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash
Man holding red phone photo by Dean Bennett on Unsplash
Smiling Woman with Phone Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash
Seated man leaning over phone Photo by Derick Anies on Unsplash