This is a guest post by Aaron Pitman, an angel investor and founder and partner of RA Domain Capital.


Is your attitude holding you back from success? I’ve always been a big believer in positivity. It’s helped me accomplish much in my life as an entrepreneur. When advising others, positive thinking is my first suggestion on the path to success.

All this made me wonder if there were actual, scientific links between positive thinking and success in business. (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.) Positive psychology is, in fact, a whole discipline centered entirely around the study of positivity and its effect on well being, productivity, and success.

“If you start a positive habit and see that it has a positive effect upon your business or health outcomes, your brain is more willing to utilize resources to continue that behavior and scan for new ones,” said Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. “The resulting effect is a cascade of success as greater meaning and well-being fuel more successes than garnered by defensive pessimism or cynicism.”

If you’re an entrepreneur, positive thinking is really a must-have. (Although it helps for all career destinations.) In an article in the Journal of Business Venturing, leading positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson found positive emotions help build essential resources for entrepreneurs. Among those resources, the top three she found were social capital, resilience, and big picture thinking.

“It’s not just one of those things that’s going to matter more than the others,” Fredrickson said. “All three are part of a larger web that creates an upward spiral.”

Why your bad attitude is losing you money

An upward spiral certainly sounds better than a downward spiral, right? Unfortunately, the business world is full of challenges, stresses, and reasons to make you want to hide under your covers in the morning. While there are always bright days when everything in your professional life goes according to plan, somehow we always manage to remember the rainy days where everything goes wrong instead.

This is a commonly-recognized phenomenon, so at least you’re not alone when mentally skimming over your business successes to dwell on your failures. Florida State University professor Roy F. Baumeister even wrote an article about the subject succinctly titled, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good”.

According to the paper, “You are more upset about losing $50 than you are happy about gaining $50.” What effect can this have on your business life, professional goals, and entrepreneurial success? Nothing good.

Negative environments make workers check out

Whether you’re an entrepreneur running a business or a superstar employee, negativity is unlikely to make your work life much better. Many studies have linked happiness at work with better overall career outcomes. Employees who score low in the “life satisfaction” metric tend to stay home 1.5 more days a month more than their happier coworkers. This can result in a productivity gap of 15 days a year for some companies.

‘Debbie Downers’ are less resilient

Resilience is a necessary emotion in professional life, especially when it comes to entrepreneurs starting up businesses with a high probability of failure. Positive thinking can mean the difference between an entrepreneur who picks him or herself up and starts over again, and someone who stays down for the count.

“Positive emotions help speed recovery from negative emotions,” Fredrickson said. “When people are able to self-generate a positive emotion or perspective, that enables them to bounce back. It’s not just that you bounce back and then you feel good–feeling good drives the process.”

They are also less productive

It’s no secret the most productive people also tend to be the most successful. But if you’re caught in a negativity loop, your productivity is likely to falter. Negative thoughts and self-doubt can make you question every decision and second guess yourself. And while you’re second guessing, it’s likely not a lot of work is getting accomplished. Which probably explains why the positive brain is 31 percent more productive than the negative brain.

How to hit the positivity tipping point

Let’s just assume we’ve all read Malcolm Gladwell by now, or at least have a solid understanding of a “tipping point”. Well guess what? Positive thinking has a tipping point, as well. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson, who I talked about earlier in this article, discovered the tipping point between negative and positive attitudes is a three-to-one ratio.

We’ve already discovered negative occurrences tend to stick in the mind longer and stronger than positive outcomes. If you received 20 compliments on your business plan and one criticism, odds are you’d focus on the one and ignore the many. So for every negative emotion, you need three positive emotions to keep your mood sunny. A calculator on Fredrickson’s website for her book Positivity can help you evaluate your own positivity ratio.

So how do you start tipping the balance in favor of positivity in order to improve your career prospects, your entrepreneurial endeavors, and your financial future? Here are a few simple ways to improve your positivity ratio:

Set your mind on success

Picturing a successful future might seem like Positive Thinking 101, yet it can be immensely helpful when it comes to meeting your goals. After all, the typical career path is littered with pitfalls, and the entrepreneurial path can sometimes become a 90-degree freefall to failure. In order to succeed, sometimes you need to have a little hubris — and a lot of self-confidence.

When Gary McPherson studied musicians in 1997, he discovered there was one major factor that contributed to success years down the line. He asked 157 child musicians one simple question: “How long do you think you will play the instrument you choose?” Those who imagined playing their whole lives had more success than those who didn’t see a future in music. Sometimes visualizing success is the first step on the way to achieving it.

When mentoring others, there are always two steps I ask my mentees to take to improve their outlook. The first step is to write down 10 affirmations you want to achieve on a piece of paper. These affirmations can range from large-scale achievements to just small victories — “I want to be a millionaire” to “I want my presentation to go well.” Then, every morning, read these goals aloud to yourself. By focusing on your dreams, you can remind yourself why you work so hard.

The other step I ask people to take is to write out their perfect day if money and time were not obstacles. Then, like your 10 goals, read your perfect day out loud every morning. By visualizing success and clearly defining your goals, you start your day by focusing on the positive instead of the negative. When your career, your business, or life gets you down, you can return to these visualization exercises to imagine a brighter future.

Build strong social relationships

Sometimes we all need a little help from our friends. Studies have linked entrepreneurs’ chances of success with their social skills. But moving beyond the kind of “I’ll rub your back if you’ll rub mine” networking, helping others is also linked to greater levels of positivity. Think of the boost you get when giving a nice gift, helping a friend, or volunteering your time to help those in need.

Studies have shown social connections have as much impact on your overall health as high blood pressure and smoking. So take time to not only “network”, but also foster genuine friendships and mentor relationships with others in your industry.

Make good friends at work, have fun at industry-specific social gatherings, and take time each day to send a quick email to family and friends saying something positive. This way, when you’re feeling down, you’ll have a strong social network to pick you back up again.

Take two minutes and journal

When was the last time you journaled? For many, our last journal attempts were probably filled with more teen angst than positive thinking. But even if journaling seems like a very pre-Facebook concept, two minutes a day can really improve your attitude.

Once again, we know negative emotions can last much longer in the mind than positive ones. So it’s important to remind yourself about the positive things in your day, your life, and your future. Take two minutes and journal about a positive experience or something exciting you’re looking forward to. You’ll improve your positivity ratio by putting the good front and center in your mind over the bad.

Plus putting some positivity down on paper might just help extend your life. (How about that for an upside?) In a study of the handwritten autobiographies of Catholic nuns, more positive emotional content tended to correlate with a longer lifespan. No matter how busy you are, two minutes isn’t much time to take out of your day to improve your chances of success and a longer life.

Surround yourself with positivity

Stresses are all around, especially if you’re starting up a new business. The life of an entrepreneur can be both exciting and exhausting. And too much stress can tip your positivity ratio dangerously into the danger zone.

In one of Fredrickson’s studies, she took subjects under pressure due to an impending public speech and calmed them down by showing relaxing images. Images such as puppies playing, calm oceans, and a sad film were shown as subjects were hooked to a variety of instruments measuring blood pressure and heart rate. Those who had seen the positive images tended to have the fastest improvement in mood.

So the next time you’re under the gun and think you don’t have time for a funny video of a panda sneezing, think again. Surrounding yourself with positivity is a good way to calm down in stressful situations. Make your work area somewhere you enjoy being and fill it with happy mementos of friends, family, and hobbies you enjoy.

Use your favorite color, fill your workspace with postcards from your favorite travel destinations, or even just put up pictures of baby animals. (In fact, research has actually shown looking at pictures of baby animals makes you more productive. Isn’t science great?) Whatever you do, make sure to surround yourself with positive associations, so when things get stressful you can give yourself a quick boost.

Positivity doesn’t just make your life better, happier, and more fulfilling. It can also lead to professional success, which means you’ll be smiling right to the bank.

Image credit: David De Lossy / Thinkstock