2 Self-Leadership Hacks for Positivity

by  Alan Derek Utley  |  Self Leadership
2 Self-Leadership Hacks for Positivity

While on vacation I was reminded of the power of positivity.

During lunch, my wife and I couldn’t help but notice a particular waitress who bounced from table to table, serving her customers with a smile and a side of joy. We watched as she delivered a child’s sandwich in a sing-songy voice.

“Here comes your grilled cheeeeese and haaaaam.”

She made it fun. She delighted every person she served.

I didn’t get her name, but I will never forget her great attitude.

That night, a second waitress grabbed our attention. Her name was Molly and she had such presence. She was confident, engaged. She smiled and made eye contact. She seemed like she was having a wonderful time. She made us feel the same.

Now these were no ordinary restaurants. They were two of the busiest, most popular restaurants in the heart of New York City, during one of the most hectic weeks of the year.

The customers were packed in like sardines. The service was fast and the wait staff blocked and tackled their way to each table. Their brows were knitted in a tight thin line. Their shoulders were hunched over and their gazes averted. They took their orders and promptly moved on. They were stressed, over-worked, and we couldn’t blame them.

But not these two waitresses. Nope. They stood out in stark contrast. Like little pops of color amongst the gray.

Inspired by Molly’s happy nature, we engaged her in a little small talk as she topped off our drinks.

“Having fun? You sure look it.”

Molly joked, “Thanks. I guess those acting classes really paid off.”

It turns out Molly wasn’t having a great night after all. She was gritting her teeth on the inside, willing her way to the end of her shift. Like all the rest.

But what made Molly different was we didn’t know. From where we sat we never would have seen her internal struggle. For us and for every other customer in that restaurant, she was putting on a show. And it was a happy one.

How’d she do it?

A little smile and shift.

How to hack positivity


Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, is famous for saying, “tiny tweaks can lead to big changes.”

She asserts that our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior and our behavior changes our outcomes. Fake it until you become it, she says.

As Cuddy suggests, Molly worked from the outside, in. She started with a smile – perhaps something she learned from acting class. In the end Molly smiled her way to a happy place and her customers loved her – and we tipped her well. Most would agree that’s a positive outcome.

While Molly uses a smile, Cuddy suggests there are other ways to change your thinking through body language. For example, standing in a power pose – even when we don’t feel confident – could have a fruitful impact on our success.

I’m reminded of the many teachers who encouraged me and my classmates to stand tall with our chests out and our heads up. I know that always made me feel better.


Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence, suggests that our thinking processes are always at risk of turning negative because of “a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns…that work against our best interests.”

He calls these mind patterns Saboteurs. They are universal – we all have them – because they are connected to the functions of the brain focused on survival. The problem with these Saboteurs is they make it difficult to see a problem as an opportunity.

But, that can also be a healthy thing. Chamine explains:

…a few brief seconds of feeling anger, disappointment, guilt, or shame are fine as immediate reactions to an event. This is similar to feeling pain when you touch a hot stove. A moment of physical pain should alert you to remove your hand to avoid further damage. A few seconds of psychological pain should similarly alert you to shift your mind to the [positive] mode so you can deal with the situation without further distress and damage from your Saboteurs. If you don’t shift your mind, it is like keeping your hand on the hot stove and continuing to feel the pain that was only initially useful.

As a way of shifting your mind, Chamine recommends the Three-Gifts Technique. It is simple. When faced with a bad situation, come up with at least three scenarios where the problem could turn into a gift and opportunity at some point in the future.

Perhaps Molly’s three gifts were:

  1. This is a chance to try my acting skills

  2. Maybe a customer is having a worse night, and I can make it better

  3. A big smile equals big tips (and it did)

How positivity benefits us

Tom Rath, author of  Strengths Finder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership, recognizes “Positivity” as a core relationship-building strength. He suggests that people who lead with positivity “have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.” Being positive can make you a better leader.

Further, research in neuroscience, organizational science, and positive psychology suggests there are positive correlations between positivity and performance, health and happiness.

Research aside, doesn’t being positive just feel better? And doesn’t it make others feel better?

I think so. And all positivity needs is a little smile and shift.

Bonus Hack: When in doubt, sing it out

If smiling or mind-shifting doesn’t quite do the trick, maybe try singing.

When I was a child, any time my sister and I felt the blues, my mother cheered us up with a song. Recently I asked her where this song came from and to my delight I learned she made it up.

So in closing, I share the lyrics to my mom’s original number – The Positivity Song – in the hopes they inspire you as they do me.

Think positive, believe you can,
Do anything that you plan,
If you do life will treat you grand,
Think positive, man!

Smile, shift, or sing it out!

Do you know of a great positivity hack? Tell me about it in the comments!

About The Author

Articles By alan-utley
Alan Utley is a Regional HR Director for one of the world’s largest vacation businesses. By night he dabbles in executive coaching, blogging, and public speaking and is proud to serve on the management faculty at a major university. In his own words, Alan is a “world-class wannabe expert in all things leadership and careers.” Connect with Alan at www.alanderekutley.com and on Twitter @AlanDUtley.

What People Are Saying

Mitchell Nash  |  12 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Thanks for this Alan. What a great way to think about shifting how you show up. I think we are always looking for way to be our best, and show up with a positive outlook. These were great stories, as well as a few ways to shift to the positive. As a new resident in Minnesota (from California) I find myself experiencing Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) with my first cold and snowy winter in many years. This is a great reminder that a small shift in behavior can have a big impact.

Mitchell Nash

Alan Derek Utley  |  12 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Mitchell, thank you for your comment! Focusing on “how you show up” is one of my favorite things that you always talk about. Such a good reminder to choose how to be present. Stay warm and avoid that ice!


Sam  |  12 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Thanks for the article Alan. A little attitude goes a long way for sure. A positive attitude can also be very contagious – and who wouldn’t want to spread that?

Alan Derek Utley  |  12 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Right on, Sam! I hope we can all catch a little case of positivity today. :)

Mary C. Schaefer  |  12 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Seeing that little song and hearing about your mother’s influence explains everything I know about you, Alan Utley. What a gift your mother gave to you and your sister, and what a gift you are to the world. Thank you for sharing this!

Alan Derek Utley  |  12 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Thank you, Mary. You’re always so kind and generous with your feedback. Thank you for being you.

Kristen Harder  |  13 Jan 2017  |  Reply

I wish I could write articles as powerful and well done as you did here. Wow.
I will say this, positivity goes a long way in every single aspect of life, and this is a super reminder. Recently, I realized that this coffee shop that I frequent serves wonderful coffee, however I was feeling guilty about the syrup they add in which makes it so tasty and considered no longer going there. But then I realized that it just makes me happy. I have a routine of dropping my kids off at school and then stopping for a cup of sugary coffee, and I listed to my worship music, and that kick starts my day. SO, I’ve decided to embrace the calories because until there is a healthy smoothie shop on the way to the highway, this is part of my happy for me. And, my 92 year old grandmother still has a diet coke every day because it’s her happy, so there must be a story to doing what feels good even if its a nutritional “don’t do.” ha.
Thanks again for your positivity. Hope to catch up soon.

Alan Derek Utley  |  16 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Thank you, Kristen. It is so nice to hear from you and I love your story. Yes – Find your happy! Even the sugary kind. I’m sure there is a wonderful lesson in there. You should write it. :)

Claire Edmondson  |  16 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Thanks for the great “shift” tips Alan. I wonder how much of being positive is, in fact, genetic and how much can be learned? I, too, had a Mom who loved to sing and was often called “Polyanna” for her look on the bright side mentality. She had setbacks but always maintained that “things will be better” and said it was because she was born in 1932, when things were REALLY bad. Because you shared your Mom’s song, I thought I would share one of my favorite songs she would sing when we were driving home in the car:
Here we are again. Happy as can be.
All good friends and jolly good company.
Never mind the weather, never mind the rain.
As long as we’re together…whoops! She goes again and again.

Keep on keeping on with the posts.

Alan Derek Utley  |  17 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Claire, thank you for the song! Sounds like we could all learn a thing or two from your mom about how to stay positive in the face of adversity. What an inspiration.

Maria Velazquez  |  22 Jan 2017  |  Reply

Love, love, love it!! It’s all about connecting!! I can sit in the office pulling my hair out and swamped with paperwork and deadlines, and the only thing that helps me from imploding is shifting!! Knowing that my job is so much more than ink and paper! I put on my smile and walk out of the office to connect with those I lead where I get alot of “wow Maria, you’re always smiling and your laughter is contagious” and walk away after every connection thinking (if you only knew the day im having). Yet a few of those connections that leave a smile behind helps me get back refreshed and ready to tackle paperwork and deadlines!! Thank you for your amazing leadership!! So blessed to have crossed your path!!

Alan Derek Utley  |  28 Jan 2017  |  Reply


Thank you for your wildly enthusiastic response! This put me in such a great mood – so, it seems your smile is contagious even through the internet. :) Keep doing what you’re doing!


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