In these strange times, the power of positivity has never been more important.
Whilst many businesses have temporarily paused their operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, others have kept things ticking over to offer a little slice of happiness.
With this in mind, Michelle Connolly caught up with Astra McNicholl, who established the Itty Bitty Book Company along with her husband, Al. Check it out and don’t forget to subscribe to ProfileTree’s Business Leader series for more industry-leading insights!
Table of Contents
Bringing Happy Vibes to the World
Growing up in an adventurous family, Astra spent her childhood living and travelling across South Africa, the Carribean, Australia, England and America. She met her husband, Al, 13 years ago in England before moving to Northern Ireland three months into their relationship. The couple fell in love with the country, settling down into life in Ireland.
But how did Astra get the inspiration behind The Itty Bitty Book Company? She casts her memory back to her childhood, when she loved quotes and scribbled them into her school notebooks.
“I’ve also been fascinated how combinations of words can come together to help people feel better,” she explains. “The first book was created in Christmas 2012, when my sister was preparing to make a long journey by boat. She loves my happy vibes and my positivity, so I wanted to pour a little bit of that into something that she could take with her. She loved it, showed it to her friends and the idea really took off.”
For Astra, putting together such a book helped her to bring out the very best of her personality for the enjoyment of the rest of the world.
“I was pregnant with my son, and I began to wonder about how I could potentially make a business out of this. We opened up our Etsy store that Christmas and sold our first couple of books online. My son was born in February, and my husband handed his notice in to his graphic designer job. Before I let him get stuck into freelance work, I roped him into working with me on designing the books. He stayed with it, we made a great team, and now Al and I have been in business together since 2013.”
The driver behind The Itty Bitty Company highlights that having her first child was the main catalyst behind launching the brand.
“When you have a child, you do acknowledge that aspects of your life will fall apart, and certain parts will have to rebuild. After the birth of our son, we decided that we would rebuild our lives in a way which was better than before. Looking back on this now, we know how risky this was,” says Astra.
“We set up the business with £700 – but I always joke that enthusiasm and passion got us through the first two years!”
Growing Pains and Learning Curves
What challenges did Astra and Al face as they set up The Itty Bitty Book Company? As the founder explains, some of the biggest challenges were in realising what they needed to start out with.
“There’s a lot of support out there for new businesses in Northern Ireland, which is great. However, in those early days, we didn’t know how to be specific enough to get the help I needed, and that came years down the line. I was eventually able to ask for help with SEO for my website, and people don’t know how to help you with things like that unless you’re really specific. Knowing what we needed was one of the biggest early challenges.”
Astra has one pertinent piece of advice for business owners: always remember that there are just 24 hours in day.
“We both quit our jobs, so it was quite pressured at the beginning. We set up as market traders at St. George’s Market to get some income to support us through it. It was a lot of work and a lot of hours – way more than you actually think it’s going to be. However, the experience in the market was amazing, and meeting other business owners who had the same challenges as me was really rewarding.”
The couple made a marked shift in their business model, moving out of St. George’s Market and setting up a fully online eCommerce platform to sell their books. According to Astra, this was a business risk that paid off in the long-run.
“I wrote a personal blog before we set up the business, so I was already familiar with this aspect of digital. Admittedly, it took a while for us to realise the value of sharing that authentic side of us – it’s such a scary thing to do, especially when we are supposed to be positive?” she laughs.
“The last two years have really helped push us along that road, and we’ve had our own amazing journey to go through and share together.”
Encouraging Positive Mental Health
The couple have worked together as a team through difficult times, and have recently celebrated the conclusion of a successful fundraising round.
“We wanted to bring positive mental health and kindness into schools. A lot of people had been buying our journals to do at home with their families, which is amazing. But we did realise that those children were privileged to have those books purchased for them, and privileged enough to have the emotional intelligence to understand them.
“We asked our community to help us bring out gratitude journals into 50 of our schools. We hit our target thanks to donations from Council and our supporters. We hand-delivered the books and met the teachers, and we’ve had amazing feedback from our 30-day challenge. They’ve noticed a real difference in the kids – even if it’s something as simple as saying thank-you to each other more often. When you hear this feedback over and over again and you know you’re making an impact – that’s just so rewarding. Individually, teachers noticed a big difference with certain people – especially with stress around exam time.”
Where does the future lie for The Itty Bitty Book Company? Astra projects hope for the future – but is always mindful of taking care of life at home first.
“We had huge plans about targeting America, expanding and more. But we have our own challenges to overcome closer to home. We want to keep making those personal connections and we want to keep hearing the stories we’re hearing about making people feel better. Keeping that at the forefront whilst making a positive impact is our goal. Then, maybe after a few years we can focus on running the world!”
Those wishing to learn more about The Itty Bitty Book Company can view a full range of products on the brand’s official website. Interested parties are also invited to reach out to Astra McNicholl directly via LinkedIn.
Cultivating a Positive Mindset:
Building a positive mindset takes effort, but the rewards are abundant. Here are key strategies to help you overcome negativity and embrace a brighter outlook:
1. Challenge Negative Thoughts:
- Become aware: Pay attention to your internal dialogue. Listen to the thoughts that pop up throughout the day, especially when faced with challenges.
- Question the validity: Don’t automatically believe everything your mind tells you. Ask yourself: “Is this thought helpful or accurate?” “Is there evidence to support it?”
- Challenge and reframe: Don’t just dismiss negativity; engage with it. Identify the underlying fears or beliefs fueling the negativity and challenge them with logic and alternative perspectives. Reframe negative thoughts into more positive and realistic ones.
- Examples: Turn “I’ll never succeed at this” into “This is challenging, but I can learn and improve.” Reframe “Everyone thinks I’m boring” to “I can contribute interesting things to conversations.”
2. Gratitude Practice:
- Shift your focus: Gratitude encourages appreciation for the good things in your life, big and small. This shift in focus counteracts negativity and fosters happiness.
- Start small: Begin by journaling three things you’re grateful for each day. You can also express gratitude verbally to others or write thank-you notes.
- Expand your practice: Experiment with different gratitude exercises like gratitude walks, visualizing positive experiences, or creating gratitude boards.
- Scientific evidence: Studies show gratitude practices increase happiness, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality.
3. Positive Self-Talk:
- Inner voice matters: The way you talk to yourself significantly impacts your thoughts and emotions. Replace negative self-talk with kind and encouraging words.
- Affirmations: Use positive affirmations like “I am capable” or “I am worthy of love and happiness” to counter negative self-beliefs. Repeat them regularly, especially when feeling down.
- Reframe self-criticism: When you make a mistake, instead of saying “I’m so stupid,” say “Everyone makes mistakes, and I can learn from this.”
- Be patient: Changing your self-talk takes time and practice. Be gentle with yourself and celebrate your progress.
4. Surround Yourself with Positivity:
- Choose your circle: Spend time with people who uplift and inspire you, those who bring out your best self. Limit interactions with individuals who drain your energy or bring negativity into your life.
- Seek positive environments: Surround yourself with inspiring spaces, whether it’s nature, a well-organized room, or a favorite art gallery.
- Be mindful of media: Limit exposure to news or content that fuels negativity and anxiety. Choose uplifting movies, books, and music that inspire and motivate you.
- Remember: You have control over your environment and the people you interact with. Choose wisely to nurture positivity in your life.
he Power of Positivity in Action:
Positivity’s impact extends far beyond individual well-being; it ripples outward, fostering positive change in our relationships, workplaces, and overall well-being. Here’s how:
- Enhanced Communication: Positive individuals tend to communicate more openly and honestly, creating a safe space for sharing thoughts and feelings. They listen actively, offer constructive feedback, and express appreciation, strengthening bonds.
- Fostering Connections: A positive outlook makes you more approachable and likable, attracting others and nurturing deeper connections. Positive energy and enthusiasm are contagious, uplifting those around you.
- Building Trust: Positivity fosters trust by demonstrating optimism, reliability, and belief in others. It encourages honest communication and open-mindedness, building a foundation for strong relationships.
- Enhanced Collaboration: Positivity encourages teamwork and collaboration by promoting active listening, empathy, and mutual respect. Individuals are more willing to share ideas, support colleagues, and celebrate successes together.
- Increased Productivity: Positive attitudes enhance engagement and motivation, leading to higher productivity and better task completion. Optimism encourages problem-solving and perseverance, even in challenging situations.
- Improved Work Environment: Positivity creates a more enjoyable and stress-free work environment. Laughter, humor, and appreciation boost morale, reducing tension and conflict, contributing to a happier and healthier workplace.
3. Health and Well-being:
- Reduced Stress: Positivity helps manage stress by promoting relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing. Focusing on the good reduces reactivity to negative stressors, lowering cortisol levels and promoting calmness.
- Improved Immune System: Studies suggest positive emotions strengthen the immune system by increasing the production of disease-fighting antibodies. Gratitude and compassion also contribute to overall well-being and resilience.
- Faster Healing: Positive thinking can positively impact recovery from illness or injury. Optimism improves pain tolerance, promotes motivation for rehabilitation, and encourages a belief in healing, contributing to faster recovery.
4. Overcoming Challenges:
- Building Resilience: Positivity fosters resilience by helping individuals adapt to difficult situations with optimism and hope. It encourages a “glass half full” perspective, allowing individuals to bounce back from setbacks and stay focused on solutions.
- Maintaining Motivation: A positive outlook fuels motivation and perseverance when faced with challenges. The belief in overcoming obstacles leads to sustained effort and commitment, increasing the likelihood of success.
- Finding Opportunities in Adversity: Positivity helps individuals see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. They are more likely to identify lessons learned and use them to build resilience and improve future outcomes.
Remember: Positivity is not about ignoring problems or maintaining an unrealistic “Pollyanna” outlook. It’s about choosing to focus on the good, fostering hope, and actively seeking solutions. By incorporating these positive practices in various aspects of life, you can experience its transformative power on your relationships, career, health, and ability to overcome challenges.
Overcoming Obstacles to Positivity:
Cultivating a positive mindset isn’t always easy. Difficult experiences, negative thought patterns, and even temporary setbacks can make it challenging to maintain a positive outlook. Here are some strategies to navigate these obstacles and embrace positivity:
1. Navigating Negative Life Experiences:
- Acknowledge and validate: Don’t ignore or suppress difficult emotions. Allow yourself to feel the pain, sadness, or anger that comes with challenging experiences. Bottling up emotions will only hinder your ability to heal and move forward.
- Focus on what you can control: Acknowledge that certain things are beyond your control, but focus on what you can influence. This could be your perspective, your reactions, or your coping mechanisms.
- Seek support: Talking to a trusted friend, therapist, or support group can provide invaluable help in processing difficult experiences and finding healthy ways to move forward.
- Find meaning and growth: Look for the lessons learned or personal growth opportunities that may arise from adversity. Reframing challenges as opportunities can help you maintain hope and resilience.
2. Countering Negative Thinking Biases:
- Understand negativity bias: Our brains are wired to prioritize negative information as a survival mechanism. This can lead to negativity bias, where we focus more on the bad than the good.
- Identify your thinking patterns: Recognize your default negative thought patterns. Ask yourself if they are always accurate or helpful. Challenge them with logic and alternative perspectives.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Through techniques like meditation, you can observe negative thoughts without getting caught up in them.
- Practice gratitude: Regularly focusing on things you’re grateful for can shift your focus away from negativity and cultivate a more positive outlook.
3. Maintaining Positivity Through Setbacks:
- Remember, setbacks are temporary: Challenges and setbacks are inevitable parts of life. Don’t let them define you or derail your progress. View them as learning experiences and opportunities to grow stronger.
- Celebrate small wins: Don’t wait for major achievements to celebrate. Acknowledge and appreciate every step forward, no matter how small. This helps maintain motivation and reinforces positive progress.
- Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself when you experience setbacks. Forgive yourself for mistakes and focus on learning and improvement. Harsh self-criticism will only make it harder to stay positive.
- Maintain a growth mindset: Believe that you can learn and grow from challenges. Focus on developing new skills and strategies to overcome future obstacles.
- Find inspiration: Surround yourself with positive people, stories, and resources. Seek out inspiration that motivates you and reminds you of your goals and capabilities.
Remember: Building a positive mindset is a journey, not a destination. There will be ups and downs along the way. By acknowledging challenges, understanding your brain’s tendencies, and employing effective strategies, you can cultivate resilience, counter negativity, and ultimately harness the power of positivity in your life.
The Power of Positivity FAQ
1. How can I tell if I have a negative thinking bias?
Pay attention to your internal dialogue. Do you find yourself focusing more on negative aspects of situations? Do you tend to see challenges as insurmountable and successes as flukes? Recognizing these patterns is the first step towards overcoming negativity bias.
2. What if I can’t seem to find the positives in difficult situations?
Start small. Look for even the tiniest silver linings, like learning a new skill or strengthening your resilience. As you practice gratitude and reframe negative thoughts, your ability to find positives will improve.
3. What are some specific ways to practice mindfulness?
Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and spending time in nature are all excellent ways to practice mindfulness. There are also many guided meditations and mindfulness apps available to help you get started.
4. How can I stay positive when surrounded by negativity?
Limit your exposure to negative influences, whether it’s news, social media, or even certain people. Choose to spend time with positive individuals and engage in activities that bring you joy.
5. Is it okay to have negative emotions sometimes?
Absolutely! Ignoring or suppressing emotions is unhealthy. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, but don’t let them control you. Use healthy coping mechanisms to process them and move forward.
The Power of Positivity Conclusion
Life is full of challenges, but cultivating a positive mindset can equip you to navigate them with greater resilience and optimism. By acknowledging the obstacles, understanding your brain’s tendency towards negativity, and employing the strategies outlined in this article, you can overcome negativity and unlock the transformative power of positivity in your relationships, career, health, and overall well-being.
Remember, even small steps towards positivity can make a significant difference in your life. Start today and experience the joy, resilience, and success that awaits you on the other side of negativity.
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