3 Ways to Spread Positivity

UPDATED: November 3, 2016
PUBLISHED: November 3, 2016

In director Christopher Nolan’s film Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man named Cobb who uses futuristic military technology to steal people’s corporate secrets by digging into their subconscious while they sleep. Then a secretive entrepreneur named Saito hires Cobb to do something a little different: plant an idea—inception—instead of stealing one.

The target of inception is the heir of an energy conglomerate whom Cobb’s new employers want to persuade to break up an empire he recently inherited from his father. So Cobb’s team enters the heir’s dreams to plant the idea that the heir’s father never wanted his son to go into the family business and is imploring him, from beyond the grave, to go out and build his own business.

For inception to be successful, the idea that Cobb plants has to be simple, emotional and positive. So instead of “I must break up my father’s empire” or “I hate my father,” he plants “My father wants me to build something for myself.” As Cobb explains to his team, “The subconscious is motivated by emotion, right? Not reason. We need to find a way to translate this into an emotional concept…. Positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time.” For Cobb, positive realities are much easier to transfer to others than negative ones because they create lasting change.

Related: 10 Clever Tricks to Trigger Positive Emotions

Out of the fantasy world and into the world of neuroscience and positive psychology, the research supports Cobb’s claim. Over the past several years, researchers have been investigating how perceptions and mindsets can be transferred to others. And as it turns out, the three best strategies for transferring positive genius to others are not that different from the ones Cobb employed. They are:

1. Success franchising: Coming up with a positive behavioral change that is easily replicated.

The first step in creating positive inception is to identify one aspect of a reality—yours or someone else’s—that, if replicated, would help other people harness their drive, motivation and multiple intelligences and become more successful. Research shows that to be contagious, these “success franchises” must be based upon a simple, easy-to-replicate idea.

2. Script writing: Changing a prevailing social script by making it positive.

Every aspect of our work and home life is guided by hidden social scripts. But certain social scripts wield more influence on our collective behavior than others. Social psychologists have found that the more positive one’s social script, the greater one’s ability to create positive social influence: in fact, a positive social script can increase workplace engagement up to 40 percent. So if you want to wield positive social influence, you often have to rewrite that prevailing social script. Speaking first, or using a “power lead,” and utilizing humor are two techniques for writing the kind of social script that leads to positive inception.

3. Creating a shared narrative: Creating value and meaning by appealing to emotion.

Finally, for positive inception to occur, you need to appeal not just to reason but to emotion. Fascinating new research shows that when just one person on a team appeals to emotion and highlights meaning in specific, positive ways, it can raise the team’s revenue by as much as 700 percent. One of the best ways to plant a positive reality is to construct a narrative around some shared emotional experience, positive or negative. Interestingly, my research shows that creating a shared narrative around past adversity or failure is one of the best techniques for creating positive inception. What’s more, research from Wharton Business School shows that positive inception works best when it comes from someone other than the team leader—in other words, anyone, with any role or title, can create positive inception if he or she appeals to value and meaning.

Although we cannot force others to see the world positively—the ultimate decision rests in their hands. But we can plant seeds of positive realities into their brains. The benefits of positive inception are twofold. Not only will we reap the obvious benefits of having other positive geniuses in our companies, on our teams, and in our families, but new positive psychology research proves that it is easier to sustain our own positive reality and build on our own successes when we help others to raise their levels of positive genius as well.

Misery might love company, but positivity cannot live long without it.

Related: 4 Ways to Be More Positive


This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.