Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? What do these words mean to you?
If you’re uncertain, perhaps the question should be more specific: what do you think about your life? How do you see your future? Is it more pain and misery or rainbows and butterflies?
The modern world makes it truly difficult to be naturally positive. From our busy, fast-paced lives, to all the negativity, scarcity, violence, and fear that we’re constantly bombarded with on TV and online, it would be cynical to say it’s easy to be happy nowadays. The coronavirus crisis brought even more troubles to our plates, with all the uncertainty about the future and the economic crisis we’re facing.
In such circumstances, slipping into a negative state of mind can happen without even noticing. You just wake up one day thinking: when did it all go downhill?
A negative attitude is a sure way towards achieving total life dissatisfaction and pushing people away from yourself. If you’ve had a few bad experiences when you’ve tried to change or influence the world around you, then it’s likely that only resulted in further disappointment. However, there’s always one thing you can do, and it is no small matter but something achievable if you really want to do it—change yourself. How?
By achieving a positive mindset.
It may sound like a cliche, but the benefits of a positive mindset are real and demonstrated by multiple scientific studies. A positive mindset is a game-changer, as it will further elevate and improve your attitude and behavior, and make you a happier person in the process.
This article is all about showing you what, how, and why of achieving a positive mindset and attitude in life, so let’s get started.
“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi
What Is a Positive Mindset and Attitude?
Gandhi’s wise words from the quote above best describe the action-reaction chain between thoughts, life, and destiny. If you think positively, your language and behavior become more optimistic, consequently making a positive impact on your habits, values, and future. Sounds great, right?
It’s easy to tell someone to “think positively”, but what does that really mean?
Positive thinking is not about sticking your head in the sand when faced with life’s issues. It’s not about ignorance and turning away from problems, as often interpreted.
It means approaching unpleasant situations with more positivity and productivity. However, it has to be based on logic and reason. Expecting the worst possible outcome in every situation is against common sense. As well as being irrationally positive all the time.
Building a positive mindset starts with self-talk and introspection, and it’s based on a detailed analysis of the world around you.
According to psychologist Kendra Cherry, positive thinking consists of several approaches to reality:
Approaching challenges with a positive outlook;
Making the most out of the potentially bad situations;
Trying to see the best in other people;
Viewing yourself and your abilities in a positive light.
So now that we’ve defined the meaning of a positive mindset, you may be wondering: why do I need it? If I change my attitude, what’s in it for me?
Well, we’re about to explain.
Why Is a Positive Mindset Important
The simplest way to explain the importance of a positive mindset is to give you the four essential areas in life that can be improved by this kind of attitude:
- Physical health;
- Mental health;
How Does Positivity Affect Physical Health?
You probably know this already, but repetition is the mother of learning, and our physical health is very much dependent on our psychological traits and conditions.
When we’re under a lot of stress, or often feel angry, or anxious, the organ that suffers the most is our heart. A 2016 medical research proved that people who exhibited a positive mindset and optimism were far less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases. There are two explanations for this, and they are both true:
People with a positive attitude have healthier habits: they eat healthy food, exercise regularly, rarely smoke, and drink less alcohol;
People with a positive attitude experience less stress. Stress-related hormones and neurotransmitters are a threat to our vital organ systems, especially the cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal (digestive). A 2008 research confirmed that people who have positive thoughts usually experience lower levels of stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol.
In line with these results are findings from Queensland, Australia. The research conducted with older generation participants proved that focusing on positive information can help strengthen their immune systems.
To put the cherry on top, it also turns out that people with a positive attitude have a longer lifespan. This link persisted regardless of sex, culture, and even habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
What do these results mean?
A positive mindset is a protective factor for our physical well being.
However, as it turns out, it’s all happening “in our heads”. How?
How Does a Positive Mindset Improve Mental Health?
To answer this question, we will turn to science—again.
We all sometimes feel anxious or depressed, and there’s no shame admitting that at times it can become unbearable, which is why we sometimes seek medical help.
Research conducted with patients who suffered from Generalized Anxiety Disorder revealed that excessive worrying, which is typical for this disorder, can be successfully replaced with a positive mindset. The participants went through a four-week positive-imagery training, after which they experienced less worrying and anxious thoughts.
With depression, it’s quite similar: a cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approach recommends replacing negative thoughts with more realistic and positive ones, as a method of lowering the depressive symptoms.
In general, a positive mindset contributes to our overall psychological well being by promoting mindfulness and positive emotions. Just like with physical health, it works as prevention.
Positive Mindset and Relationships
It’s no secret that positive people are simply more pleasant to be around. You don’t need science to tell you that you’d rather spend time with someone who smiles, listens to you, has an empathetic approach, and sees good even in bad situations. However, if you do ask science, it will most likely tell you that positive people do have stronger and more cohesive social circles.
How Can a Positive Mindset Help You with Your Career?
There is one concept that captures it all: psychological capital. It encompasses four psychological resources that provide better coping mechanisms: hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism. A research conducted in 2004 discovered that people with stronger psychological capital are more committed and satisfied with their jobs. They tend to perform better at work and feel less stressed or anxious.
It’s pretty straightforward: as positive psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky and her colleagues discovered, happier employees are more productive, creative, and receive better evaluations from their supervisors. As a result, they also make more money!
This means that both employees and the organization benefit from instilling a positive mindset.
It’s not only that you become happier, healthier, more connected, and satisfied—but you can even become wealthier!
We’re aware that we’ve listed a ton of positive mindset benefits, but we still haven’t explained how to achieve one. Don’t worry—that’s where we’re headed next.
How to Create A Positive Mindset
A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart—W.Von Goethe
Let’s roll. Here’s a list of tips we prepared to help you shift your mindset into a state of greater positivity. Some of them are practical, like keeping a gratitude journal, or volunteering, while others are more introspective and imply a change in habits and attitude. You don’t need to instill all of them to achieve a positive mindset, especially not all at once. Pick a couple to begin with, and see where it takes you!
Keep a Gratitude Journal
If you struggle with the inability to shift your focus from all the wrong things in your life, this is an ideal way to start making a change. Don’t let bad things overshadow all the great stuff that happens in your life.
The practice of gratitude helps adjust your attitude towards greater positivity, as it reminds you that no matter how bad things are, there’s always a little something to be thankful for. Studies show that cultivating an attitude of gratitude improves our health, mood, relationships, and our career—it brings a positive mindset itself!
There are various ways of keeping a gratitude journal. For example, you can buy a nice blank notebook and get creative: write essays, poems, draw, or glue stuff in it. And, of course, make lists of three, five, ten things you’re grateful for every day.
However, if you’ve never done it before, you might lose inspiration after the honeymoon journaling period is over. That’s why we recommend using a curated gratitude journal. The Five Minute Journal is a structured and guided journal notebook, designed to gear you towards a state of greater positivity. Or, if you’d prefer a digital journal app, feel free to download The Five Minute Journal app. That way, you’ll always have your journal with you, as you probably never leave home without your phone. Check out these tips on how to keep your gratitude journal practice fresh and useful for a long time.
How exactly is a gratitude journal helpful?
Well, instead of starting your day by reading news about COVID-19, or just any news in general, you can dedicate 5 minutes of your morning to yourself and fill out your gratitude journal. That way you’ll gear your mind to keep it positive throughout the rest of the day.
What do you do before going to bed? No matter how stressed out you are, the worst thing you can do before falling asleep is thinking about all those things that are burdening you. We don’t want to say “stop thinking about them”, but that everyone is entitled to high-quality sleep. That’s totally achievable with a gratitude journal. Before falling asleep, take five minutes to fill out The Five Minute Journal and you’re good to go.
Change Your Language
Language is one of the most powerful tools the human species has at its disposal. How you speak defines what your life is like and how other people perceive you. How do you describe your life? Which words do you use more often?
If you describe your life as boring or difficult, it’s most likely that you’ll feel the same way. On the other hand, using positive words can help you reframe how you feel, and consequently, how you act.
Another example of how your language affects your actions is using have to instead of get.
Doesn’t this sound burdening? How about changing it into:
This way it sounds more positive and above all, grateful. Try to implement this change when you’re thinking or talking about yourself, and you’ll see how happier and stress-free you’ll be.
Try Breathing Exercises or Yoga
Breathing is how we stay alive. Every time we breathe in, we bring oxygen to our bloodstream, and every time we breathe out, we let carbon dioxide out.
Breathing exercises can help us take this to the emotional level: every time you breathe in, imagine you’re taking all the good things in, and every time you breathe out, you let go of your burdens. Breathing exercises can help you get rid of stress and achieve an emotional balance. How?
You’ve probably noticed how your breath changes depending on how you feel. When we’re angry or scared, our breathing becomes more shallow and fast. When we’re focused or relaxed, we breathe slowly and deeply.
That’s why practicing proper breathing can help you feel more relaxed and positive. The best thing about these exercises is that you can do them at home. Check out this video with beginners’ breathing exercises.
Another way to do breathing exercises is through yoga. All kinds of yoga training involve them: ashtanga, vinyasa, yin, hatha - you name it.
To find out more about the science behind proper breathing, check out this useful infographic.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive at first. How can doing something for free, for someone else, make us more positive?
Well, it’s quite simple: the more we give, the happier we are. Why?
Volunteering helps us feel more connected to other people. Seeing that we’re doing something meaningful for this world gives us more meaning in life and makes us emotionally more fulfilled. In addition, our social skills improve, and we learn how to be more empathetic.
All these things are necessary if we want to shift towards a more positive mindset and attitude.
Learn How to Accept Rejections
Nothing attacks our ego and makes us insecure as much as rejection. Rejected love, rejected job applications, rejected friendships. However painful, you shouldn’t allow these unpleasant events to overwhelm you. What’s much better is to perceive rejections as a challenge: analyze the situation, try to understand why it happened, and how to improve in order to prevent this from happening in the future. That is how you build a growth mindset. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a desperation void—nothing good comes from that place.
Failures Are Lessons
Failing an exam is not a reason to hate yourself, your teacher, or your university. Making a mistake on a project doesn’t mean you’re not good at your job. Every mistake has a lesson hidden inside. If you approach it that way, you’ll grow as a person, instead of becoming more and more negative.
Be Present in the Now
If you’re doing your laundry, but your mind is still at work, what are you actually doing? You’re neither doing your laundry, nor your job.
Being present in the now means in this exact moment. Most of our negativity stems from memories of previous events, or future events’ expectations that we exaggerate in our imagination.
However, it’s highly possible to prevent this. Stay present in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing right now.
If you don’t know how to achieve this—don’t worry. It can be practiced. One way of practicing presence is through meditation. Check out this short guided meditation created especially for practicing presence. Or, if you’d like to dive more deeply into the subject, take a look at this (and other) lectures about staying present by Eckart Tolle.
If you want to know what are the first steps to becoming more present, read this article where Mimi Ikonn shares a powerful weekly habit that can help you be more calm and restore your energy.
Surround Yourself With Positive People
What are your friends like? How do you spend time with them? Do you laugh, ride bikes, go hiking, or do you rather contemplate the meaning of this empty life?
How about your workplace? What’s your closest colleague like? Is your friendship based on complaining about your low wages, or how terrible your boss is? Or maybe you found a mutual language while working on a challenging project together?
People who surround us, reflect our personality and attitudes. Take a look around: are you surrounded by positive or negative people?
We are so deeply social and dependent on others, it’s visible even on the neurological level. When a person we communicate with is happy and smiling, a neural structure in our brain called “the mirror neurons” reacts to that, and we start smiling ourselves. The same goes for all other emotions and attitudes.
This means that if the people around you are rather negative, you’ll most likely have a hard time maintaining a positive attitude. On the other hand, if your mates are people who are grateful, hopeful, and overall positive—your chances of becoming positive as well will become much higher.
Practice Positive Affirmations
Another amazing method that can bring you closer to your positive and more empowered self is practicing positive affirmations. These are simple statements designed to encourage you in life. There are no special rules on what they should sound like or when to practice them. You can make them a part of your productivity morning routine, or use breaks at work to give yourself a verbal “pat on the back”.
“I am a person worth loving.”
“I am smart and capable, and I’m going to nail this project!”
“I choose to be happy today.”
“I make a significant contribution at my workplace.”
Pick your positive statement, stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and say it out loud. What does it feel like?
If you’re uncomfortable with standing in front of a mirror, or simply don’t have enough privacy to talk to yourself out loud, you can also write these down in your journal.
Find Your Emotional Outlet
How do you deal with your emotions? Are you better at bottling them up, or are you more of an expressive type?
Either way, it’s important that you’re capable of understanding your emotions. If you’re able to understand and name how you feel, you’ll most likely become aware that some emotional states are beyond your control.
That’s why it’s important to find an emotional outlet.
Imagine you’re having a rough month at work. If you keep spending your weeks on autopilot, only waiting for the weekend to come so you can get drunk and forget about everything, or just sleep it off, you’re putting yourself in a state of risk. People who hold on to negativity tend to become depressed, and risk harming their overall mental wellbeing.
There are different emotional outlets you can pick. Some people take boxing to release their aggressive impulses. Others prefer running or swimming, as they’re more meditative. We also recommend dancing (alone, in a group, or with a partner), yoga, and hiking. Sports activities can increase the levels of dopamine and serotonin as well, which are responsible for our feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
If you’re not into sports, creative hobbies such as playing a musical instrument, singing, painting, or sculpting can also serve as emotional outlets.Reward and Love Yourself
When we start riding the wild wave of life, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Acknowledging, rewarding, and loving ourselves should come far before waiting on other people to do so. Of course, praise by your boss, parents, or partner can be soul-soothing, but when was the last time you congratulated yourself on the amazing results you’ve accomplished?
Gratifying yourself after doing something good is called positive reinforcement. It’s a technique that enhances the odds of repeating the same behavior.
Self-reward can be important even when you fail! This is a bit controversial, but don’t you agree that failure is painful enough itself? Why would you punish yourself any further when you actually deserve nurture?
If you enter the vortex of self-punishment, you'll most likely end up miserable. Loving, nurturing, and rewarding yourself can help you shift towards a positive mindset even when things are rough.
Loosen Up—You Can’t Keep Everything Under Control
Are you a control freak?
Maybe this is a harsh description, but if you do struggle with letting go, you’ll probably recognize yourself in it.
Keeping things under our own control helps us overcome insecurities. For example, if you’re coordinating a project at work, it’s normal that you want to have a certain amount of control over things as you want it to turn out great. However, it’s important to keep it reasonable. Handling your tasks, and knowing or helping with others’ tasks is fine. But if you’re trying to fulfill everyone else’s obligations just to be sure that it’s all done properly, you’ll end up overwhelmed with stress and negativity.
Another example of an unhealthy controlling attitude is when people are angry because of the weather—it’s too cold! It’s raining, and I wanted to go camping!
You can’t control the weather, but you can control your reactions. The same works with project tasks, friendships, or romantic relationships: it’s important that you trust other people in order to maintain good relationships. That’s what people with a positive mindset do!
A Positive Take Away
Although we hope this article inspired you to start acting immediately, we also have to remind you that this kind of change requires time. Don’t expect your life to change overnight, just because you’ve read this one article.
Be patient, keep calm, and practice a positive mindset on a daily basis!