A positive upward spiral is an idea in positive psychology. In essence, it is the opposite of a negative downward spiral.
This idea gripped me some years ago after a motorcycle accident. I was hurrying to see clients one morning, travelling through Ascot Vale in the rain, when suddenly I had to brake hard. On wet tram tracks. In twenty years of motorcycling I had never had an accident, but now I was flying through the air. Everything slowed and I felt like a collection of parts falling out of the sky: there’s my knee hitting the ground, I think that’s okay, there’s my shoulder hitting the ground, I don’t think that’s okay, there’s my head hitting, we’ll see….
The pain in my neck was too great for me to lift myself off the wet, freezing asphalt, and so I was lifted onto a stretcher and carried off in an ambulance. Once at hospital I was ordered not to move, for fear of spinal damage, and spent hours in a neck brace receiving scans. As I lay there I faced one of those nightmare scenarios: “Life could be very different from now on.” It’s a terrifying prospect.
This was an important moment of choice, which I will always remember. As that fear descended on me I could, for a passing second, feel within a profound freedom to choose my attitude. To adopt the spirit in which I would apprehend my new situation. And so I chose. I told myself that whatever was reality now, simply was reality. That I would live with it and create a good life regardless of what that looked like. Despite the fear, I made a fundamental choice about how I would respond from this moment onwards.
After all those scans and hours of lying there, waiting, it emerged that I was okay. I was in a lot of pain, but I would heal. In the days, weeks, and months after, I chose to carry forward the momentum of that decisive moment, to choose life as it came, and make the best of things on a moment-to-moment bases. This was not always easy; there has been trauma and abuse in my family and I have had to struggle against a tendency to deep melancholy throughout my life. But in the light of that choice that day, a lot of things slowly changed for the better. And I began to notice something: it seemed that each positive change I made led on to others. And from those on to further others. It was as though, taken altogether, they created a kind of high pressure system, where each improvement impacted the whole by lifting everything further. It was a positive upward spiral.