The Covid pandemic brought to our doorstep financial upset, an uncertain future, social disconnect, and brain fog. Then things got worse.
In the post-pandemic world, our futures came washed in shades of hopeless blue. For a long time, we merely survived, having lost our optimism. All the brightness we saw was across a dark tunnel that stretched far out.
A negative mindset can only lead to more despair. What might really help us get out of this languishing state is a strong positive attitude. Only then will we be able to rise and thrive.
What is a positive mindset?
A positive mindset is a way of thinking that focuses on the bright side of life. It is keeping a resourceful stance, a constructive approach, and an optimistic attitude, especially during difficult times. A positive mindset person has an optimistic outlook and hopes for a favorable future.
How to have a positive mindset?
Positive quotes may help us stay inspired for a while, but they are not a long-term solution. How do we build a positive mindset that endures even during the trying times?
Try adopting a few habits from the following positive-psychology-based practices and develop an optimistic outlook in life.
1. Rise above the win-loss perspective
Life isn’t always about winning at the cost of defeating someone. When you plan every interaction such that the other person has to lose for you to win, it is called zero-sum thinking. It is a mental blueprint for approaching everyone in your life with a win-loss perspective.
Rozycka-Tran et al. explain zero-sum thinking in their 2015 paper Belief in a Zero-Sum Game as a Social Axiom: A 37-Nation Study as:
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 towards zero-sum thinking. It is the 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. These couples believe that loving more than one person at a time (as in polyamory and open relationships) means loving each one less.
Another possibility is that monogamous individuals learn to apply zero-sum logic through their experiences with monogamy.
A far better option is to have a non-zero-sum approach—a win-win takeaway for all. A win-win scenario is a type of non-zero-sum game in which two or more players benefit from the outcome.
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.
2. Start a habit of gratitude journaling
A gratitude journal is a diary of your thoughts, experiences, and observations that make you feel grateful. Its purpose is to intentionally remember and appreciate the nice things that happened to you that day. 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?
An attitude of gratitude is a key component in developing a positive mindset. Research finds gratitude can significantly boost our happiness while also protecting us from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression. It can also improve our relationships at home and outside. It can even help us sleep better at night.
Gratitude journaling, over time, can transform a gloomy outlook into a hopeful one. So, to nurture more feelings of positivity, start noting things you are grateful for.
Try the Three Good Things (TGT) positive intervention from psychology. Use this quick guide ➜ The 3 Good Things.
3. Always stay ready to learn from failures
People will not always behave in the way you want them to. When someone fails to meet your expectations, it’s time to learn something new.
The theory of “failure-driven learning“ says learning happens only when people do something different from what we expect them to do. The “failure” in the theory points to an expectation-failure. Failure of an expectation brings insights that help us identify what we 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 ready to see your efforts flop and your predictions fail, you will be left with new lessons, not frustrations.
Sometimes the wins that come after we’ve failed, learnt from our mistakes, and tried again, are more satisfying. Research on video-game players found not only 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 more and improve your skills.
Do not treat failures as permanent blockades and stop playing. See them as your chance to try again, harder, maybe after a break.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. — Robert Kiyosaki
Failure means you couldn’t complete a level and now you need more skills. Failures are points to pause, hone your art, and try again.
The failure-driven learning model is also a helpful way to step out of a fixed mindset and walk into a growth mindset. A growth mindset helps us see failures as springboards to stretch our existing abilities and grow.
So, stop defining your efforts and processes in terms of winning or losing. Instead, assure yourself you can win, or you can learn. Better still, tell yourself you can keep on learning as long as you need until you reach the final level.
Embrace challenges as adventures. See your failures as opportunities to find fresh answers. Remember to check out the 7 Proactive Steps To Success In Life.When you sign up for a failure-driven learning slot, you rise above the win-loss paradigm. Your failures become windows to fly out into a future of success. Click To Tweet
4. Add positive words to your language
We are poor communicators, and we don’t even know it. The words we use daily have a lot more power than we think. How you talk and think about your life plays a big role in how your mindset shapes.
Brain science shows that when we make a negative statement, it creates ripple effects throughout our brain. It pushes a panic button in our brain, releases neurochemicals that cause stress, and drives us to make still more negative statements.
Andrew Newberg, an American neuroscientist, and Mark Robert Waldman, a neuroscience researcher, tell us the words we use can alter our brain. 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.
If you think the way you talk about your experiences and life does little to influence your mindset, you are dead wrong. The words you use day-in and day-out to describe your life make you accordingly a negative or positive mindset person.
On the flip side, positive words like “love” can fortify the brain cells in our frontal lobes—parts of the brain in charge of thinking and consciousness.
Positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s somewhat flawed research found 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 might also maintain a set of instructive and motivational statements in a diary to read the first thing when waking up.
- Talk about the present and the future in optimistic terms — it can set up your mind to expect good things. Remember and write about the positive takeaways from a past event that seemed utterly insufferable at the time.
5. Savor the good things in your life
Savoring is the use of thoughts and behaviors to increase the intensity, duration, and appreciation of pleasurable experiences and emotions. When you change your way of seeing everyday things, you take a step up toward a better, stronger, and more positive mindset.
So, savor the good things you already have in your life and feel grateful for having them.
Appreciate the everyday activities you get to do. For example, as you drink a glass of clean water, think of the millions who do not even have access to that. And be thankful and appreciative of that.
Look up and say thanks for the many chances of bliss you’ve had today. Try to be a little more thankful for every blessing you have, and every person you come across today. It will develop your attitude of positivity.
You can savor it in one of the four ways: 1. Thanksgiving, 2. Marveling, 3. Basking, and 4. Luxuriating. Find out more about increasing your savoring capacity.#Savoring is a great way to stop taking life, and everything good about it, for granted. It makes us happier and more positive. Click To Tweet
6. Focus on the process, not on the result
We are not asking you to take your eyes off the problems in your life. No. We are talking of flow — the state of optimal happiness.
Keeping a positive attitude does not mean you always look for ways to avoid the negatives or bypass the problems. Being of a positive mindset means realizing the problem points and then focusing on the process of finding solutions.
It helps to maintain a sharp focus on the process if you know how to get into a flow. 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 when doing something difficult for your present skill level.
The instant feedback from your state of flow prepares you to learn more from your experiences and rely less on your expectations from them. When you focus on the process while problem-solving, it gets you more optimistic and positive.
In a way, this is the easiest method to cultivate your positive way of thinking. Because, when you become skilled in focusing on the process of whatever you are into, it takes your mind off the future uncertainties.
7. Show a little more generosity to others
According to the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Project, generosity is “giving good things to others freely and abundantly.”
Humans are brain-wired for generosity. When we act generously, it lights up the same reward pathway in our brains that gets activated by sex and food. It is a correlation that might explain why giving feels good and why pro-social generosity has been an evolutionary advantage.
Generosity is a bonus in itself. 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.
You can donate a little, share funny ways to see mundane things, take your best friend to a movie — and make their lives a little happier. If you are reading this, you probably have the means to make someone else smile today. Use that power more often.
Making and seeing people get happier because of you also brings you joy and satisfaction.
8. Do positive self-talk and self-affirmations
This one differs from the point above that asks you to add more positive words to your mental vocabulary. Here, the idea is to talk to yourself intentionally and modify the talking head inside your head.
Self-talk can be negative or positive, but frankly, most of the time those thoughts that run in your head are negative. From an evolutionary point, our minds lean towards the negative. Because, if our ancient ancestors 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. And even prevent it from happening. Positive thinking often starts with positive self-talk.
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 are easy modes to encourage a positive mindset. They can rewire our brains positively— a phenomenon proven by MRI brain scans (Cascio et al., 2016). Self-affirmations push our brains to form new synapses (connections) between neurons. We call this neuroplasticity.
Affirmations 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 wellbeing.
Affirmations can break patterns of negative thoughts, negative speech, and negative actions. 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
Although people sometimes complain when unhappy or dissatisfied, at other times, they complain even when they are not actually dissatisfied. Because doing so facilitates their achievement of some desired goal (Kowalski, 1996).
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 then involve more in things that bring peace and joy.
Watch out for the whiners and complainers. Do not let yourself get pulled into their little or large complaints. They gripe about things they are not satisfied with — which means everything and almost 100% of the time.
You might want to help them out with some well-meaning advice. But keep in mind, the whiners would count most of your good ideas as unsolicited advice. Do not try to counsel them. Move away, or if you must stay put, distract yourself with something else.
Do not indulge the habitual complainers out of pity. They are good at evoking pity in you to engage you. They can wreck your positivity. Experts have linked excessive complaining to decreased life satisfaction. Chronic complainers also tend to live with a narrower range of emotions.
Forgive those who hurt you regularly. Release them from your life and lighten your mind. Fill their void with good people who talk positively and think optimistically.
Open yourself up to humor. Read a humorous story or watch a funny movie. Watch Dr. Alia Crum share what her research found when a group of overworked and stressed employees was shown humorous video clips:
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.
As Mr. Anonymous said, “Don’t ruin a new day thinking about yesterday. Yesterday is gone; why drag it back by overthinking?”
At other times, it’s worrying about a future moment that gets your thoughts muddied up. But for the future, no one knows what will happen tomorrow. We must live in the future to experience it, and that is the only way to do it!
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.
And in all this melee, the present moment seems to have been pushed out of attention. Although, it is this present moment where reality is taking place now.
So, why not start by being aware of the present moment?
Focusing on the present makes you more mindful of your behavior and emotions in the now. You become aware of whether your behavior is hurting you or someone else. You get conscious if the emotions rising in your mind are trying to tell you something.
And, when you become mindfully aware of what is happening around you in this present moment, you allow yourself a fair chance to change your future behavior.
11. Pay attention to your breathing
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 fast and shallow, 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 an anxiety or panic attack.
Now, the great thing is, 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.
Getting to a calm and positive mindset via deep belly breathing (which stimulates your Vagus Nerve) does not take much time or practice. You can start away right now. Once you include this into your day, you will feel strong, peaceful, and positive even when stressful events unfold.
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:
6 Quick Actions For A Positive Mindset
The 6 practical pieces of advice to become a more positive person in life are:
- Get away from negative people.
- Change your negative self-talk.
- Embrace your negative emotions.
- Find joy in every little good thing.
- Socialize most with positive people.
- Create a positive environment.
Larry’s 7 Tips To Stay Positive
Larry Alton’s popular 7 tips for Success will help you find more positivity in your attitude:
- Start the day with positive affirmations.
- Focus on the good things, however small they are.
- Find humor in bad situations.
- Turn failures into lessons—and learn from them!
- Transform negative self-talk into positive self-talk.
- Focus on the present instead of getting mired in the past or losing your way in the future.
- Find positive friends, mentors, and co-workers to support and encourage you.
10 Positive Mindset Books
- Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization – Scott Barry Kaufman
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck
- Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
- Learned Optimism – Martin Seligman
- Phantoms in the Brain – V. S. Ramachandran, Oliver Sacks
- The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor
- The Positive Shift – Catherine A. Sanderson
- The Serendipity Mindset – Christian Busch
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World – Adam Grant
Our life reflects our attitude. Today, it is easy to grow a negative attitude without even noticing. Look at your day and see how often we get exposed to media bytes of tragedies and acts of injustice from around the world. The resulting micro-distresses take their toll.
Shaping up a strong positive mindset can look challenging. But what could make the challenge worthwhile would be your perspective on the outcome. Put the above practices into a habit and see positive changes get cultivated into your mindset.
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Authors’ Bio: Scott Mathews is a writer who offers help in writing research papers. He contributed a small part to an early form of this post. Edited and rewritten by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.
• Our story: Happiness Project
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