How to have a positive mindset in a post-pandemic world, when our present seems washed in shades of hopeless blue?
Many of us are languishing and merely surviving. Low on optimism, all hope we see now is across a dark tunnel that stretches far out.
Quickly, what is a positive mindset?
A positive mindset is optimistic thinking that focuses on the bright side of life and hopes for a better future. It involves keeping a resourceful attitude and a constructive and resilient approach, especially during difficult times. It does not mean ignoring our negative emotions.
A positive mindset can help you have better relationships, achieve more success, be more productive and creative, stay resilient to stress, and even live longer.
So, how to have a positive mindset, get out of this state, and learn to thrive again?
How to have a more positive mindset this year?
Motivational quotes may inspire you to achieve a positive mindset for a while, but they are not a long-term solution. You are better off adopting habits based on positive psychology.
Here’s how to have a positive mindset that endures trying times:
1. Rise above the win-loss perspective.
Nobody tells you this when it comes to how to have a positive mindset:
Life isn’t always about winning at the cost of defeating someone.
Ever heard of zero-sum thinking? It’s when you approach every interaction as a situation where the other person has to lose for you to win. This mental blueprint can be toxic, as it makes you see everyone in your life through a win-loss lens.
Rozycka-Tran (2015) explains zero-sum thinking:
People who share this conviction believe that success, especially economic success, is possible only at the expense of other people’s failures.
A related term—zero-sum bias—is a cognitive bias that is a tendency to judge a situation as zero-sum, even when it is not so.
The 2016 paper, Wanting “the whole loaf”: zero-sum thinking about love by Tyler Burleigh and Alicia Rubel, points out this bias in monogamous couples:
- Monogamous couples believe that loving more than one person at a time (as in polyamory and open relationships) means loving each one less.
- Monogamous people may insist that monogamy offers the most ideal marriage experience and that all other types are negative.
Solution? A non-zero-sum approach—a win-win takeaway for all.
A win-win situation is one in which everyone is happy with the outcome. It helps grow a positive mindset. A win-win attitude can make negotiations seem fairer and make both parties feel more satisfied.
A win-win scenario is a type of non-zero-sum game in which both the players benefit from the outcome.
2. Always stay ready to learn from failures
This is how to have a positive mindset at work:
Accepting that those who work for you won’t always behave as you expect them to, and therein lies your opportunity.
This comes from the theory of failure-driven learning that says learning happens only when people do something different from what we expect them to do.
The “failure” points to an expectation-failure. When someone fails to meet your expectations, they also give you insights into what you need to learn.
When you sign up for this failure-driven learning slot, you raise your game above the success-failure paradigm.
When you stay prepared, your failed attempts do not frustrate you, but rather teach you new lessons.
And so often, those wins that come after flop shows and bad mistakes, are more satisfying.
Research on video game players found that not just winning, but also failing, can be so much fun that it can keep a person playing longer.
The famous game designer Jane McGonigal writes in her book Reality Is Broken:
As long as our failure is interesting, we will keep trying… and remain hopeful that we will succeed eventually.
- So rise above the failure-frustration paradigm.
- See your failures as features built into the game of life to help you learn and improve.
- Treat your failures as your chance to learn new things, and try again harder, maybe after a break.
A failure means you couldn’t complete a level, and just need more skills and time to do so.
The failure-driven learning model is also a helpful way to leave a fixed mindset and walk into a growth mindset.
When you sign up for failure-driven learning, your failures become windows to a future of success.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. — Robert Kiyosaki
3. Start a habit of gratitude journaling
A grateful attitude is a key tactic for maintaining a positive mindset.
A gratitude journal is a diary of your grateful experiences. When you intentionally remember and appreciate the nice things in your life, you create a positive mental attitude.
Research finds expressing gratitude can boost your happiness as well as protect you from stress, anxiety, negativity, and depression. It can also improve your relationships and help you sleep better at night.
Do it a few times each week, before going to bed.
If you can’t come up with things to be thankful for, take a cue from these prompts:
- What made you smile, even a little, today?
- Who had the most positive influence on your day?
- What is the single best thing that happened today?
- Why is your neighborhood such a great place to live?
- What made you feel good that you didn’t buy with money?
- Can you write a Thank-You note to an item you use every day?
Start noting down things you are grateful for in your journal today.
One of the best positive thinking exercises: The 3 Good Things To Boost Your Happiness.
4. Add positive words to your language
The words you use daily play a big role in how your mindset shapes up, and you may not even realize it.
When you make a negative statement, it can create ripple effects throughout your brain. It pushes a panic button in your brain, releases neurochemicals that cause stress, and you make more negative statements.
Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, neuroscience researchers, tell us the words we use can alter our brains.
In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they show that even one negative word can increase the activity in our amygdala — the brain center of intense emotions such as aggression, anxiety, and fear.
Newberg and Waldman wrote:
A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.
On the flip side, positive words like “love” can fortify the brain cells in your frontal lobes—parts of the brain in charge of thinking and consciousness.
Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden And Build theory suggests that if we have less than 3 positive thoughts for every negative thought or feeling, we end up more angry, irritated, or depressed. But those who can generate 5:1 positive to negative thoughts or emotions have loving and thriving relationships.
- Start your mornings by saying aloud a positive affirmation or plugging into an upbeat song you love. You may keep a set of motivational statements to read the first thing on waking up.
- Talk about the future in optimistic terms — it can set up your mind to expect good things. Write a few positive takeaways from a traumatic past event that was insufferable at the time.
5. Savor the good things in your life
Savoring is increasing the intensity and duration of happy experiences and emotions.
When you hug someone you love, make the hug longer while thinking about them warmly. These savoring experiences help to cultivate a more positive mindset over time.
So, savor the good things you already have in your life, appreciating and feeling grateful for them.
You can savor it in one of the four ways: 1. Thanksgiving, 2. Marveling, 3. Basking, and 4. Luxuriating.
Savoring is a great way to stop taking life, and everything good about it, for granted.
6. Focus on the process, not on the result
Keeping a positive attitude does not mean you constantly try to avoid or ignore the negatives, which is toxic positivity.
A positive mindset person realizes the problem points and then focuses on finding solutions.
It’s not asking you to take your eyes off the problems in your life. It’s about getting into the flow state.
A flow is a state of optimal happiness, where there’s a perfect balance between the task difficulty and skill level.
Flow occurs when you stretch your skills to the limit while doing something difficult. Once you enter flow, your focus on the process is sharp.
Flow helps you learn more from your present experiences and rely less on your future expectations from them.
In a way, focusing on the process may be the easiest way to cultivate a positive mindset.
7. Show a little more generosity to others
How to have a positive mindset without trying to break a well-set habit?
Humans are brain-wired for generosity. Pro-social generosity played a key role in our evolution, as it allowed us to build larger societies by giving and sharing our limited resources.
When we act generously, it lights up the same reward pathways in our brains that get activated by intimacy and food.
Generosity is a bonus in itself. Giving feels good.
According to the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Project, generosity is “giving good things to others freely and abundantly.”
A UC Riverside research team, headed by the University Chancellor, randomly assigned 88 employees in a Spanish corporate workplace to be Givers, Receivers, and Controls.
- They found that the Givers and Receivers mutually benefited in well-being in both the short-term and the long-term.
- Receivers became happier after 2 months, and Givers became less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and jobs.
So, donate a little to a charity of your choice, share some of your resources with someone less privileged, or buy a meal for a homeless person.
8. Do positive self-talk and self-affirmations
Self-talk can be negative or positive, but frankly, most of the time those thoughts that run through your head are negative.
Why is it hard to have a positive mindset? Because, from an evolutionary point, our minds lean toward the negative. If our ancient ancestors were always thinking positive and had not worried a lot about the next threat, our species would not be here today.
But you could turn that negative self-talk into a positive one. Positive thinking often starts with positive self-talk.
Here’s how to do it so that “you” listen: Change the talking voice inside your head.
Talk to yourself in a voice that sounds different from your own voice. Imagine Iron Man or Princess of Wakanda talking to you.
Research shows even a little change in the way your self-talk can influence your ability to better control your feelings, thoughts, and behavior when under stress.
- Give yourself permission to be human. Learning to accept it is alright to slip up sometimes, as every human is prone to errors. Then push yourself to see the positive things you have also done.
- Appreciate yourself for the human you are, and pat your own back for your constant efforts at improving yourself. It will help you get rid of that toxic self-berating voice in your head and make your attitude more positive.
Self-affirmations can break patterns of negative thoughts, negative speech, and negative actions and help create a more positive mindset.
Positive affirmations can rewire our brains positively, as seen in MRI brain scans (Cascio et al., 2016).
They also release the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine.
- Normal serotonin levels make us feel happier, calmer, less anxious, more focused, and more emotionally stable (Scaccia, 2017).
- The right balance of dopamine helps us boost both our physical and mental well-being.
Self-affirmations can lower stress and rumination (Koole et al., 1999; Weisenfeld et al., 2001).
A few self-affirmations you could practice:
- I choose to be happy and cheerful.
- I accept and love myself completely.
- I have moved on from my past mistakes.
- I am grateful for my amazing friends and family.
9. Disengage the negative people and whiners
Watch out for the whiners and complainers.
Kowalski’s 1996 study looked at why people complain. He found that some people may complain even when they are not unhappy. They complain to release negative emotions or look good to others.
Do not let yourself get pulled into their little or large complaints.
The Stoic philosophers had a brilliant model: The Dichotomy of Control. Modern Stoics still use it to filter out the things they cannot control and focus on things that bring peace and joy.
You might want to help out a complainer with some well-meaning advice. But remember, they count most of your good ideas as unsolicited advice.
So, do not try to counsel them.
Avoid the habitual complainers. They are good at evoking pity in you, but once you engage with them, they can wreck your positivity.
Experts link excessive complaining to decreased life satisfaction and a narrower range of emotions.
Release them from your life and fill their place with people who talk positively and think optimistically.
Open yourself up to the lightness of being. And forgive those who hurt you.
10. Stay mindful of the present moment
The past is invaluable for learning from your mistakes and not repeating them. But why fill your day with only memories of failed yesterdays?
When you rewind your past flaws, your mind works like a hamster on a wheel—running fiercely but reaching nowhere.
“Don’t ruin a new day thinking about yesterday. Yesterday is gone; why drag it back?”
Focusing too much on the future can also disrupt your mental peace. While making plans is necessary, worrying about the unknown can be a waste of energy.
As His Holiness The Dalai Lama said,
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.
In all this melee, the present moment is exactly where reality is taking place now. So, pay attention to it.
More mindfulness of your present thoughts, behaviors, and emotions makes you happier.
When you are mindfully aware of the events around you in this present moment, you gradually create a more positive mindset.
11. Pay attention to your breathing
Give yourself permission to be human. Accept that it is okay to slip up sometimes like any other human.
You have probably noticed your emotions impact your breath. If you are angry or anxious, you breathe faster and shorter. This is hyperventilation.
By breathing in a fast and shallow way, you make your brain think something bad is happening or about to happen. It triggers your stress response.
You become oversensitive to negative stimuli. Then it induces anxiety or panic attacks.
The great thing is that not only do the emotions influence your breath, but your breath can also influence them.
If you pay attention to your breath, you can control it. If you keep your breath smooth and calm, you observe a gradual lifting of your mood.
Check out this infographic on the benefits of breathing from Emma Seppala, former science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and the author of The Happiness Track:
What 5 best positive thinking tips?
- Surround yourself with positive people who uplift and support you. If you have negative people in your life who constantly bring you down, it’s time to distance yourself from them. Instead, spend more time with those who make you feel happy and encouraged.
- Pay attention to your self-talk and challenge the negative thoughts you may have. When you catch yourself thinking things like “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll never be able to do that,” replace those thoughts with more positive and affirming ones. Tell yourself things like “I am capable” and “I can do this.”
- Allow yourself to feel negative emotions sometimes, but don’t let them consume you. Instead of trying to push them away or ignore them, acknowledge them and try to understand why you’re feeling that way. Once you’ve identified the root cause, work on finding ways to address it or let it go.
- Practice gratitude by finding joy in the little things. Instead of focusing on what’s going wrong, take notice of the things that are going well. Whether it’s a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal, or a kind gesture from a friend, make a habit of appreciating the good things in your life.
- Practice mindfulness and live in the present moment. It’s easy to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets about the past, but doing so can prevent you from fully enjoying the present moment. Instead, try to focus on what’s happening right now. Pay attention to your surroundings, engage with the people around you, and savor the experiences you’re having in the present.
5 Positive Mindset Books
- Learned Optimism – Martin Seligman
- Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
- The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World – Adam Grant
How to stop being negative?
Start by focusing on what you want and what you are good at (your strengths) rather than what you lack or what you are not good at (your weaknesses). Identify and practice three things that will help you build the best version of yourself, like learning a new skill, starting an exercise-meditation routine, and reading some great books.
What are the 5 positive attitudes?
1. Viewing failures and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow from.
2. Looking for silver linings or learning opportunities in a difficult situation.
3. Focusing on the present, and not dwelling on past mistakes or future worries.
4. Being aware of negative self-talk and reframing them as positive affirmations.
5. Taking time to notice and appreciate the good things in life as they happen.
How to think positive when depressed?
When feeling depressed, try to focus on small positive aspects of your life, practice self-care, and positive affirmations, and engage in activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment. Most importantly, talk to your loved ones and seek support from a mental health professional.
Finally, here are 3 great positive thinking techniques from positive psychology:
- Cognitive restructuring, which involves replacing negative thoughts with more positive, realistic ones, can help break the cycle of negative thinking and improve mood and well-being.
- Random acts of kindness, that is, doing something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return, can increase happiness and well-being for both the giver and receiver.
- Positive visualization, which involves imagining positive outcomes and experiences, can help boost confidence and motivation to achieve goals.
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Author Bios: Scott Mathews helps write research papers. He contributed a small part to the early form of this post. Expanded, edited, and rewritten by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.
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