I have often marveled at the profound value of positive thinking. The ability to see one’s life in a positive light translates to a good life, perhaps to a greater extent than “positive” circumstances might do. I’d like to share an excerpt from our book, The Well Life, on this subject, because I think almost everyone would like to have a more positive mindset but very few know how to do so in a consistent way.
“The tricky part of positive thinking — or so it seems to a mind that loves complication — is remembering to do it. Many people feel it’s not in their nature to be positive, or that life circumstances have made it difficult to be an optimist. But the truth is that they have just made a habit of focusing on and emphasizing negative viewpoints. It’s an indulgence that people are often masochistically attached to.
Have you ever been brooding about something and you catch yourself going back to it over and over and over, even though it feels bad? You’re addicted to the fight, even if it’s all in your own mind. Furthermore, your own negative tendencies may be reinforced by the company you keep. Complaining and critiquing are popular social activities, and many people seem to believe that the ability to point out flaws is a demonstration of intelligence.
Invite Positivity Into Your Life
Here are eight strategies to keep you on track:
- Follow the good. Look and listen for good signs, positive news, beauty, and fascinating things, and then latch onto them, talk about them, share them, savor them, amplify them, and run with them. Imagine you just tapped into a vein of gold in the earth, and now you want to follow that vein. Jump from one good thing to the next. Make a game out of it.
- Generate more positivity in the world. This is especially important if you find it hard to generate your own optimism. Point the people around you toward the positive, even if you feel dark inside. Create the vein of gold that you can then follow by asking people about their lives, their kids, their dreams. You will ignite a light in someone else that will lead you in the right direction. Then keep doing it. Deliver genuine compliments. Help others to see the bright side of whatever they’re grappling with. It’s often easier to do for others than for yourself.
- Get out of the dirt. Following the gold vein is as much a matter of not choosing to veer into the dirt as it is a choice to follow the gold. Catch yourself choosing to indulge in negativity and be disciplined about shifting your attention to something else. It’s like breaking an addiction. Notice which of your friends or family members have a “this sucks” mentality and (A) hang out with them less (this is especially important if you feel incapable of staying upbeat in their presence); (B) find the humor in their perennial negativity, like Eeyore in Winnie-the-Pooh, and laugh inside; (C) don’t let them enroll you or throw you off your gold vein. Also, choose your media consciously. Stop watching “feel bad” videos and avoid tragic news unless it truly serves a purpose.
- Know what you want. Most of us spend so much time thinking about our current problems and the undesired future situations we hope to avoid that we have a clearer sense of what we don’t want than what we do want. Know with laser-like precision what kind of life you want and replace the habit of dwelling on what you don’t want with savoring what you have and eagerly anticipating the great things that are coming.
- Don’t expect yourself to be happy all the time. If you’re in a funk, focusing on the disparity between how you’re feeling and how you think you should be feeling will usually make you feel worse. If, on a theoretical scale of happiness from one to ten, you’re feeling like a two, don’t shoot for immediately feeling like a ten. Shoot for feeling like a three first. Usually, this can be accomplished by simply ceasing to fight what you’re experiencing. Accept it. Breathe. Stop making it wrong. Tell yourself, “This is just what I’m feeling in this moment. I’m open to the possibility of feeling a little bit better.” If you make it to a three, aim next for a four. Then see if there’s some beauty you can appreciate. See if there’s some negativity you can let go of, even if just for a moment. See if there’s someone else you can turn your attention to, instead of yourself. The gold vein may feel at times like a very fine gold thread, but you’ll find it again.”
I sincerely hope you’ll try these strategies for positive thinking and share your experience with us in the comments below. And if you’re interested in learning about the three remaining recommendations and a whole lot more, check out our book, The Well Life.
Dr. Peter Borten