How do you look out for the sunny side of life in a post-pandemic world? The times we live in are harsh at many levels — financial upset, uncertain future, social disconnect, brain fog. The challenges are extreme for both the mind and body.
The reasons to feel gloomy about tomorrow are too strong, even when we know a negative mindset can only get us to more despair. To get out of this survival mode, and flourish, we need a well-built positive mindset.
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, an optimistic attitude, and a positive outlook, both in the good times and the bad times. Such a person’s mindset is infused with hope for favorable future outcomes.
A positive mindset person has the following six key traits (that could be memorized using the mnemonic MOGRAH):
- Mindfulness — staying aware and mindful at the moment
- Optimism — keeping the hopes up about good outcomes
- Gratitude — appreciating life’s goodies and are thankful
- Resilience — bouncing back strongly after falling down
- Acceptance — accepting that it is only human to fail
- Honesty — remaining upright at all times, in public and alone
A positive attitude is a critical ingredient for our mental health. Studies find those who are more positive have much better psychological well-being. A positive mindset can protect us from having heart attacks and going into depression. Optimism, one of the six qualities of a positive mindset person, lowers the risk of dying from several diseases.
How To Have A Positive Mindset?
We can motivate ourselves for a while with positive quotes. But how do we build a positive mindset that does not waver even in the worst of times? For that, we need to pick up some habits from this list of 11 practices based on positive psychology, to help us turn a cynical outlook into an optimistic attitude.
Here are eleven science-backed tips to think positively and build a positive mindset:
1. Start writing a gratitude journal
Sometimes, a single experience can ruin our entire day. A lone unpleasant interaction can eclipse the joyful bits of our day. That one event can fill our day with worry, fury, anxiety, and other negative emotions. A single rough exchange from work, or morning commute, can be enough to darken the rest of the day.
It happens to all of us because our mind tends to cling to the negative. To offset this, we could focus on the good parts of our day and log them in a journal. It can help us go to bed with a lighter mind.
A journal is a diary of your thoughts, experiences, and observations aimed towards a specific purpose. A gratitude journal is for noting down all the big and little things that make you feel grateful. It is to intentionally remember and appreciate the good feelings you had today.
Take a cue from these prompts:
- What made you smile today?
- Did you thank someone today?
- What place makes you feel safe?
- How was today better than yesterday?
- Who had the most positive influence on your day?
- What’s one thing in your life you are thankful for?
- 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?
Gratitude is one of the main ingredients for building a positive mindset. Research finds gratitude can significantly boost our happiness while also protect us from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression. It can also improve our relationships at home and outside.
So, to nurture feelings of more positivity in yourself, start a journal to write down the things you were grateful for in the day. Gratitude journaling, over time, helps us change our cynical attitude into one of more cheer. It can get us to an attitude of gratitude.
The Three Good Things (TGT) is a positive psychology intervention to guide on this. To find out how to do it really well, catch the shortest guide on The 3 Good Things.
2. Rise above the win-loss paradigm
Life is not always about defeating someone or getting defeated yourself. You cannot decide every interaction to end up as one losing and the other winning. That is zero-sum thinking.
Rozycka-Tran et al. in their 2015 paper Belief in a Zero-Sum Game as a Social Axiom: A 37-Nation Study, explain zero-sum thinking as:
People who share this conviction believe that success, especially economic success, is possible only at the expense of other people’s failures.
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.
Tyler Burleigh and Alicia Rubel’s 2016 paper Wanting ‘the whole loaf’: zero-sum thinking about love points out this bias in those in monogamous relationships. They hold the idea that loving more than one person (as in open relationships and polyamory) at a time means loving each one less. They write:
Another possibility is that monogamous individuals learn to apply zero-sum logic through their experiences with monogamy.
You can also have a non-zero-sum game — a win-win takeaway for all. Try it, really.
3. Stay always ready to fail and learn
We always have some goals, whether they are clear or ambiguous in our minds. Now, most of our ambiguous goals, and a few of the clear ones, stay stubbornly outside our control. These undefined and uncontrolled goals are the ones we are more likely to fail at.
And the failed goals leave us frustrated and demoralized.
However, if we have a positive mindset, we do not brand our failures as points of loss or frustration. Instead, we see them as windows of learning that open us up for future wins.
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.
Once you sign up for this failure-driven learning slot, you raise your game above the success-failure paradigm. When you stay prepared to see your efforts flounder and your predictions bomb, they leave you with only new lessons, not frustrations.
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. Sometimes the wins that come after we have failed, learned from them, and tried again, are more satisfying.
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 archetype. See your failures as built-in features to make you learn more and improve your gameplay. A failure indicates you have completed a level and now need newer and better skills to go for the next. Failures are points to pause, acquire new learnings, and then go at it again.
Do not treat failures as permanent blockades and stop playing. See them as your chance to try again, harder, maybe after a break.
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 asks us to embrace challenges as adventures and sees 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 it needs until you reach the final level.
Who can stop you if, from this day on, you see your failures as prospects to find new solutions? As Robert Kiyosaki says, “Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.”
If you still think it is hard, check out the 7 Proactive Steps To A Successful Life.Once you sign up for a failure-driven learning slot, you rise above the win-loss or zero-sum paradigm. Your failures become windows to fly out into a future of success. Click To Tweet
Handling Rejections: Rejections are unmistakable cracks in your perfect image of an imperfect world.
- No one gets through life without being rejected at something, often many things. Learning to handle rejections is a necessary skill for living positively. One effective way is to interpret your endeavors as practice sessions in a game called life. The more you fail during practice, the more you learn how to win the match and the game.
- Also, do not expect worse things to happen further when faced with one rejection. Waiting for bad things to happen narrows down your mindset towards negativity.
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.– Leonard Cohen
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 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 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 write:
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.
If you regularly use a slew of negative words to describe your life, you probably spend a good part of your days in a climate of negativity.
If you are in the habit of describing your workday as busy, chaotic, rough, then you should be ready to feel their effects in other areas of your life. When you continually describe your leisure experiences as tiring, colorless, and soul-sapping, your brain settles into an overall negative pattern.
Soon you find your other life experiences have become insipid, chaotic, and bad.
But if you check yourself to recount those parts of your experience that were genuinely fun and relaxing, your brain wires up for a new pattern of positive thinking. Using positive phrases to describe your life while trying to see the good in most situations can help you reinforce your positive thinking mindset — science says so.
So, add more positive words to your mental vocabulary. Give it an extra push to describe the joyful parts of your day. In time, your mind and your life will fill up with practical positivity.
- 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 on waking up.
- Talk about the present and future in optimistic terms — it can set up your mind to expect good things. Remember and write the positive takeaways from a past event that seemed utterly insufferable at that time.
5. Savor the good things in your life
Life is full of responsibilities, big and small. Each day you have to hurtle from one crisis to another.
You have to wake up, have to eat breakfast, and have to go out for work. You have to go shopping to buy clothes. And you have to pay for the insurance for your car and house.
Your life is full of these things that you have to do. But what if you change your viewpoint? What if you see these burdens of daily life as things life has blessed you with?
- You felt blessed to wake up today, so you savored this morning in its simple glory.
- You felt blessed to have your breakfast and go to work, so you packed some food for a homeless person.
- You felt blessed to go shopping for clothes, and pay your insurance, so why not feel generous enough to donate some to a charitable cause?
When you see your daily chores as burdens, they sound imperative and carry a negative undercurrent. But when you see them as blessings, they feel permissive and bring a sense of gratitude and joy.
This is the practice of savoring. By changing the way you see everyday things, you step up to 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 have access to even that. And be thankful and appreciative of that.
Look up and say thanks for the many chances of bliss you’ve had today. Try being 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 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 is easy to fall into the trap of focusing only on the problem because it might derail your train to your goals. But, focusing back again on the process itself and changing tracks to find novel solutions, you help yourself get into a higher state of positivity.
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 Chancellor, randomly assigned 88 employees in a Spanish corporate workplace to be Givers, Receivers, and Controls.
They found 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.
Society today actively promotes egoism and egocentricity, with social media bombarding you from all sides to get on that “me-first” bandwagon. It’s almost a trend to obsess about how one could make their own lives better, always and first.
But if people choose to go easy on that, they could spare a thought about others who are not as blessed or privileged as them — and do a bit for them. You can do that, right?
You do not need to buckle under that toxic social pressure. You do not need to forget you always had the power to look up from your smartphone to do things that put smiles on people’s faces.
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 bring 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 modifying 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.
Like the rest of us, your inner voice is quick to remind you of all the wrong things you have done till that day. It criticizes all of your flawed actions and minor mistakes. It points out you could have done better and even say you are not good enough.
But if you constantly stay tuned to that negative self-talk playing in your head, you gradually change into a person with a deeply negative mindset about yourself.
Over time, these add up into a pile of lame reasons to why you are not a good fit for anything. You gradually notice more and more of your mistakes and even come to think you are no good at all. In time, it becomes a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy and you slip up more.
But you could turn that negative self-talk into a positive one. And even prevent it from happening. Positive thinking often starts with 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. Learn 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). And 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
Sometimes, the people around you are each a little swamp of negativity. They say and see things from a pessimistic point of view. They maintain a steady focus on the negative aspects of life. These are the perennial complainers.
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).
For example, it is common to hear some of our friends whining about the weather. People like them feel good only when they have aired their many complaints. Even if it were within their power to change things they grumble about (not the weather, obviously), they would not want to change any of it.
The Stoic philosophers had a brilliant model: The dichotomy of control and four virtues. The 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.
- If you are living with an overly negative person perforce, you might try Guided Therapeutic Imagery. Research shows it can decrease depression, fatigue, and total mood disturbance. It can also affect mood positively and reduce cortisol levels. Guided imagery scripts are available online, and you might practice the technique by yourself.
- Open up yourself 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
Sometimes, what makes you act negatively is a memory of a bad day, a negative situation, a cynical person, or a guilt-ridden mistake from your past. These force you into having negative feelings.
Soon enough, that one act traps you into a toxic loop of overthinking.
Yes, the past is invaluable for learning from your mistakes and not repeating them. But why fill your todays with only memories of failed yesterdays?
When your mind rewinds your past flaws, it acts 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. And then it induces an anxiety or panic attack.
Now, the great thing is, not only 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 our vagus nerve) does not take much time or practice. You could start away right now. Once you include this into your day, you would 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 the 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.
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 on tragedies and acts of injustice from around the world. The resulting micro-distresses take their toll.
As the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson sang, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.” To make that change, we need to start building a positive mindset.
A positive mindset is a mental and emotional outlook that aims for a good future on the other side of a tough present.
You only have one life, or as they say, YOLO! (You Only Live Once!), so aim to live the best and happiest version of it. If you see the future yourself as the best version of yourself, you can begin your journey to a brand-new self right away.
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.Positive-mindset people tend to remain honest and maintain their integrity, whether anyone is watching them or not. Click To Tweet
Now watch Dr. Alia Crum, a psychology professor who researches how a change in mindset can change one’s reality, talk to a TEDx audience:
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
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Authors’ Bio: Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics. Scott Mathews is a writer for Assignment Geek where he offers help for writing research papers. He contributed a small part to this post.
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