How can you have a positive mindset when you’re wading through an endless stream of life’s challenges?
When we’re in survival mode, we’re afraid to feel hopeful or happy. It’s hard to see that light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
But what if I told you that turning things around might be easier than you think?
What exactly is a positive mindset?
A positive mindset is thinking positively, focusing on the bright side of life, and working towards a better future. It means being resourceful and having a resilient approach, especially during difficult times.
A positive mindset is more than just ‘feel-good’ thoughts. It’s a proactive attitude that seeks solutions and opportunities even in tough times. It’s about facing life’s challenges through fears and uncertainties.
Having a positive mindset can make you happier, improve your relationships, boost your career success, enhance productivity, and even add years to your life.
So, how can you shift from merely surviving to truly thriving with a positive mindset?”
How To Have A Positive Mindset: Tips From Psychology
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 zero-sum attitude.
The old-school idea of ‘winning at all costs’ is rooted in zero-sum thinking. It is a wrong tool to build a positive mindset.
Rozycka-Tran (2015) tells us that “people who share this (zero-sum) conviction believe that success, especially economic success, is possible only at the expense of other people’s failures.”
This mental blueprint can be toxic. It makes interactions seem like they’re about winning and losing, turning your relationships into competitive battles.
A related term—zero-sum bias—is a cognitive bias that makes to tend to judge a situation as zero-sum, even when it is not so. It’s a trap that can limit your opinions and opportunities.
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.
Switching to a positive mindset changes the game. It’s not about you winning at someone else’s expense anymore.
Instead, it’s about embracing a non-zero-sum perspective—a win-win outcome for everyone involved.
In a win-win situation, all parties walk away satisfied. This approach not only fosters a positive mindset but also makes negotiations feel more equitable.
Think of it as a non-zero-sum game where everyone gains, rather than one person benefiting at the expense of another.
Winning isn’t always about defeating someone. Don’t see every person as a competition to crush.
2. Embrace failures as learning opportunities.
To have a positive mindset, start viewing your setbacks—and those of others— as opportunities to learn and grow. This elevates you beyond the simple success-failure dichotomy.
This comes from research on failure-driven learning.
Did you know that AI and machine learning systems are expected to frequently underperform and even fail to achieve success?
“In fact, heuristic systems are somewhat encouraged to “fail” in order to expose the algorithm to the entire problem space, in the belief that this turbulent, knowledge-building process is an essential precursor to better performance later.”– David W. Russell, 2007
Being ready for failure means you won’t let it stop you. Instead, you’ll learn from each of them.
Interestingly, the wins that follow failures often feel more rewarding.
Studies on video gamers show that even losing can be engaging enough to keep players hooked.
Because, a failure for a gamer simply means they couldn’t complete a level, and they just need more skill and time. They see their failures as steps to future success, and this keeps them hooked.
How to have a positive mindset at school?
Darabi & Arrington (2018) suggest that we should encourage students to learn from their mistakes. We could do so by creating classrooms where students feel safe to take risks and ask questions, have opportunities to reflect on their failures, and identify ways to improve.
Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset
Adopting a failure-driven learning model is a powerful way to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth creativity mindset.
Incidentally, those with a fixed mindset typically ignore constructive feedback and feel threatened by the success of their peers (Saunders, 2013). They blame outside factors for their failure.
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.
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.
Upgrade your vocabulary with more positive words.
The words you use daily shape your mindset more than you might think. Negative words can trigger stress responses in your brain, leading to a cycle of more negativity.
Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman found that even a single negative word can activate the amygdala, the brain’s center for intense emotions such as aggression, anxiety, and fear.
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.
A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.– Newberg and Waldman, Words Can Change Your Brain
Barbara Fredrickson found that maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts can lead to healthier relationships and a happier life.
- Start your day with a positive affirmation or an uplifting song.
- Keep a list of motivational quotes to read first thing in the morning.
- Reflect on positive aspects of past challenges to reshape how you view them.
- Speak optimistically about the future—it primes your brain to expect good things.
5. Savor the good things in your life.
Relish the good moments.
Savoring is about amplifying and prolonging your positive experiences.
It’s like giving a longer, more heartfelt hug to someone you care about. These moments of savoring can gradually build a more positive mindset.
So, take time to appreciate the good things you already have. Feel grateful for them.
There are four main ways to savor life’s joys:
- Basking, and
By savoring, you stop taking the good parts of life for granted and start living more fully.
6. Focus on the process, not on the result.
Zero in on the journey, not just the destination.
Having a positive mindset isn’t about ignoring the bad stuff—that’s toxic positivity. Instead, it’s about acknowledging challenges and actively seeking solutions.
This isn’t about turning a blind eye to life’s problems. It’s about achieving a state of flow, where you’re fully engaged in what you’re doing.
Flow is that sweet spot where your skills are just enough to meet the challenge at hand. When you’re in flow, your focus sharpens, and you’re fully immersed in the process.
Being in flow lets you absorb more from your current experiences, reducing your dependency on future outcomes for satisfaction.
In essence, concentrating on the process could be your shortcut to developing a positive mindset.
7. Be more generous—it’s good for you.
Wondering how to boost your positive mindset without overhauling your habits? Try giving more.
We’re hardwired to be generous; it’s in our DNA. Generosity helped our ancestors build stronger communities by sharing scarce resources.
When you’re generous, it activates the same reward pathways in our brains that get activated by intimacy and food. Simply put, giving feels great.
The University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Project defines generosity as “giving good things to others freely and abundantly.”
So, the next time you’re looking to lift your spirits, consider giving—whether it’s your time, resources, or a simple act of kindness.
Generosity is a bonus in itself. Giving feels good.
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. Switch to positive self-talk and self-affirmations.
Most self-talk is negative, and there’s a reason for it.
Evolutionarily, negativity kept our ancestors alert to threats, ensuring our survival. But times have changed, and you can flip that script.
Start by changing the voice in your head. Imagine Iron Man or the Princess of Wakanda guiding you. This shift can help you control your emotions and behavior, especially under stress.
Self-affirmations are powerful. They can break the cycle of negative thoughts and actions, paving the way for a positive mindset.
Research confirms that even small changes in self-talk can influence your ability to better control your feelings, thoughts, and behavior when under stress.
So, be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you’re only human, and humans make mistakes.
Silence your inner critic. Acknowledge your efforts. Celebrate your wins.
Positive affirmations can rewire our brains positively, as seen in MRI brain scans (Cascio et al., 2016).
Affirmations trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that make you feel good (Scaccia, 2017).
They also reduce stress and overthinking/rumination (Koole et al., 1999; Weisenfeld et al., 2001).
Some 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. Sometimes it’s easier to know what you want to become by looking at what you don’t want to become.
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 their 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:
Quiz: Do you have a positive mindset?
This is a simple quiz to test yourself.
What’s your mindset?
Choose one option, A/B/C from the right column.
|1. Are you more of a positive thinker or a skeptic?||A) Always positive, no matter what!|
B) I try to be positive but sometimes fail.
C) Mostly skeptical. I’ll believe it when I see it.
|2. How do you handle stress?||A) I take deep breaths and focus on solutions.|
B) I get a bit anxious but eventually find a way to cope.
C) Stress? I’m a ball of stress.
|3. What’s your go-to coping mechanism?||A) Exercise or meditation.|
B) Talking it out with friends or family.
C) Stress eating or ignoring the problem.
Mostly A’s: The Optimist
You have a naturally positive mindset. Keep it up!
Tips: Continue practicing mindfulness and gratitude to maintain your positive outlook.
Mostly B’s: The Realist
You’re somewhere in the middle, leaning towards positivity but with a touch of skepticism.
Tips: Focus on setting achievable goals and celebrate small wins to boost your optimism.
Mostly C’s: The Skeptic
You tend to view things more skeptically and might struggle with maintaining a positive mindset.
Tips: Try to challenge your negative thoughts. Start small by focusing on one positive thing each day.
What are the 5 best positive thinking tips?
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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 and 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, do not feel forced to feel positive. Grief has its own process, if it’s something you’re going through.
You could 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.
Why is positive thinking important?
Positive thinking is not just about feeling good; it’s about how you interact with the world. A positive mindset can improve your physical health, reduce stress, and increase your lifespan.
It boosts your resilience, making you more adaptable to life’s ups and downs. This mindset also enhances your problem-solving skills, making you more effective at work and in relationships. It’s like a ripple effect—start with one positive thought, and it can change the course of your day, and eventually, your life.
Why is it hard to have a positive mindset?
Having a positive mindset is challenging because our brains are wired to focus on threats and negatives. It’s a survival mechanism from our evolutionary past when overlooking a negative detail could mean life or death.
Today, this negativity bias can make us dwell on setbacks rather than celebrate wins. Stress, past experiences, and societal pressures can also feed into this mindset. Breaking free from this cycle requires conscious effort, self-awareness, and sometimes even professional guidance.
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 contributed a small part to the early form of this post. Expanded, edited, and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.
√ Please share it with someone if you found this helpful.
√ Also Read:
- 7 Strategies From Stoicism For Happiness: Are Stoics Happy
- 10 Greatest Happiness Hacks From Positive Psychology
- 10 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude Every Day
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