Imagine this scenario: you are up for an annual performance review at work. The results come back and you did worse than you were expecting. You can either take this news negatively by thinking you are the worst employee ever, make that the worst person ever, look for a new job and dwell on it for days or weeks, or you can approach the situation the way a positive person does.
Someone with a positive outlook on life will be disappointed by the review, but will look at the feedback with an entirely different perspective. He or she will ask themselves, or even their employer, “what can I do to improve?” and use that review as a way to learn new skills or hone existing ones. Which kind of person are you?
According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can lead to the following health benefits:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Simply put, the more positive your outlook, the easier you are able to handle stress, which can have a huge impact on the body. In addition to better health due to lack of stress, positive people are also less likely to engage in other damaging behaviors such as smoking and excess alcohol intake.
Now that we know the why of positive thinking, let’s take a look at the how. Here are eight tips for improving your own positive thinking:
1. Write a gratitude list
If you are in a pattern of negative thinking, it can be hard to see the positives in life. Start by writing out a gratitude list. Include everything you can think of, from shelter to the ability to reach out and talk with friends. Soon you will have a hard time remembering what was so negative in the light of all the meaningful things.
In addition to a list, you can also keep a gratitude journal that allows you to keep track of the best parts of your day. Keep it on your nightstand as an easy reminder to record the highlights of each day before heading to bed.
Have you ever finished a workout feeling more upset and negative than when you started? My guess is no. According to U.S. News & World Report, exercise has been found to reverse the detrimental effects of stress, lift depression, improve learning, build self-esteem, and improve body image.
On days when I could easily fall back into a pattern of negative thinking, even a short 30-min workout leaves me feeling far better than I did before. Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but there are benefits to your mental and emotional health as well.
Ever heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it?” I have found that smiling, especially when I am in a bad mood, helps increase positive feelings. Soon the smiles come naturally and I am not as weighed down by negative thoughts and feelings.
“Power posing” is another example of faking confidence in order to feel more powerful. For example, before a job interview or other big event where you need your confidence, strike a pose that takes up space- think standing wide with your arms spread towards the sky- for one to two minutes in order to feel more powerful.
According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor, your body language tells a lot about who you are as a person. Her research found that our nonverbal cues govern how we think and feel about ourselves. The more open you are in your body language, the more confident and powerful you begin to feel. In contrast, the more you close off (think shoulders hunched and arms crossed), the more feeble and helpless you appear and feel.
4. Help others
Spend some time doing things for other people. Offer to help a friend move, give someone a compliment, or buy coffee for the person behind you. Even better, do something nice for someone else without anyone ever knowing about it.
The moment that you start focusing positivity outside yourself is the moment you will find it within. Selfless acts of kindness lead to feelings of positivity. The more you give to others, the more you also give to yourself.
5. Stop comparing
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is one of my main mantras in life. There is nothing that will lead to negative thoughts faster than comparing yourself to someone else. What you need to realize is that no one is perfect and that as long as you are doing the best for you, nothing else matters.
6. Keep the right company
Since I’m on a roll with catchphrases, another popular one is “you are the company you keep.” If you surround yourself with other negative personalities, the likelihood of you breaking that cycle is low. Spend time with people who also have a positive outlook on life and it will be much easier for you to embrace positivity. You may also be able to learn what techniques these people employ in order to keep negativity at bay.
Music is a powerful tool. When we are sad, that feeling can be compounded by listening to sad music. I know when I first saw Titanic in the theater (yes, I saw it more than once), I went home and listened to “My Heart Will Go On” on repeat so that I could relive the tragedy that was the love of Jack and Rose (curse you iceberg!!).
The same is true in reverse. Listen to music that you find uplifting and soon it will be hard to remember what was bringing you down. Put on headphones while walking around the city or riding the train. You can even combine exercise and positive music and you will be in a great mood in no time.
8. Change your perspective
Negative thoughts and feelings are natural. We all have them. The choice is what we decide to do with them. In order to maintain a positive outlook, the best thing to do is choose to change your perspective. Acknowledge the negative thought or feeling, then ask yourself “what opportunity does this present?” or “what can I learn from this?”
As an example, I was underprepared for a half marathon I ran in May and didn’t perform as well as I could have. I could have bought into the negative thought patterns that told me I was a horrible runner and I shouldn’t do any more races, but instead I acknowledged my disappointment and asked myself what lessons I could learn.
I realized that this gave me the opportunity to train more thoroughly next time and see how much I could improve. This change in perspective not only allowed me to accept my performance in that race, it also allowed me to set goals for myself that I was excited to achieve.
What other tips do you have for maintaining a positive outlook?