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How to be more positive: 5 secrets (backed by research)

There are 5 ridiculously simple ways to train your brain to be more positive.

And once you know what they are, and how they work, you’ll want to kick yourself for not trying them sooner.

In fact, a few of these strategies have helped me become more optimistic (even in tough times).

So today, I’m going through 5 simple techniques backed by research that you can use to be more positive.

Let’s dive right in…

1) Repeat a positive mantra

Research has found that a personal mantra (a phrase you repeat silently to yourself) can benefit your brain in the short-term and long-term.

Published in the Journal of Brain and Behavior, the study found that silently repeating a positive personal mantra “quiets the mind and reduces self-judgment”.

It’s no secret that most of us have a tendency to dwell or ruminate on negative thoughts.

However, this only serves to strengthen those connections in the brain, and the more you dwell on negativity, the more the brain becomes negative.

But repeating a positive mantra to yourself puts a stop to negative thought patterns, and the neurons that fire when you repeat a positive mantra become strengthened.

According to the research study:

“The pattern of neural activity that constitutes your silent thought becomes easier to conjure over time and becomes increasingly effective in countering negative thoughts or feelings.”

The question is:

How do you pick a personal mantra that works for you?

It’s not rocket science. You just need to think of a line that invokes positivity and hope within you. It should also feel truthful.

Here are some examples of personal mantras:

“I love myself.”
“Nothing bad is happening.”
“I meet limited circumstances with limitless thoughts.”
“I am willing to see this differently.”
“I am doing all that I can.”

When is a good time to use a personal mantra?

You can use a personal mantra anytime you feel doubtful, negative or angry. It’s important to use it when you feel negative energy brewing within you.

A good rule of thumb is to repeat the mantra for at least 5 minutes, 3 times a day.

It’s also a good idea to use it when you wake up. This will get your day started with the right mindset for the day ahead.

[To learn mindful techniques to help you accept you be more positive, check out our eBook on the art of mindfulness here].

2) Change the words you use

Have you ever blurted out the following:

“This circumstance is just impossible.”
“I always fail.”
“I’m hopeless”
“I’ll try but it won’t work out”.

If you answered yes, then don’t worry. Many of us sabotage ourselves with negative self-talk, but it might be having a bigger impact on our mind than we think.

According to research, our subconscious interprets what we say very literally.

In other words, your mind tends to follow the words you say. Using words like “never” or “scared to death” are influencing your mindset.

However, before you throw in the white tale, neuroscience has discovered that we have the ability to change our brains with ongoing practice on how we use our speech.

So to change your language to become more positive, here are some things that you can do.

1) Begin monitoring your language.

Notice when you say something limiting or negative. After you’ve recognized that it is negative, ask yourself how you can reframe it so that it’s more optimistic and positive.
For example, if you say “you’ll never be able to get that pay rise”, change it to, “I’ll try my best, work hard, and with a bit of luck, I might be able to get that pay rise.”

2) Ask someone else to monitor your language.

Sometimes we don’t always catch our negativity, and it can help to have a second pair of ears monitoring when you’re complaining or being negative.

You can even have a bet with your friend. Tell them that you’ll give them one dollar every single time they catch you complaining. There’s nothing quite like losing money to change your mindset!

In the end, the first step to changing your language is observing and recognizing it for what it is.

With practice, you’ll be able to replace language that is negative, limiting and imprecise with positive, specific and declarative statements.

3) Observe your mind

Did you know that humans on average, can have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 negative thoughts per day? Pretty remarkable, right?

But here’s the real kicker:

According to neuroscience, the brain is not designed to create happiness. It’s actually designed to survive, which is why we may have so many negative thoughts.

So while it’s difficult to change negative thought patterns, it is possible to stop identifying with them. After all, your thoughts are just thoughts. You don’t have to believe them.

And if you don’t believe them, then they’ll have less impact on your mindset.

As spiritual guru Eckart Tolle says, observing our mind allows us to take a step back and recognize thoughts for what they are:

“What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken…The moment you realize you are not present, you are present. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.”

The question is, how do you practice becoming an observer of the mind?

Here’s an exempt from spiritual guru Osho describing how to go about it:

“Just like someone sitting by the side of a river watching the river flow by, sit by the side of your mind and watch….Or the way someone watches the rainy sky and the moving clouds, you just watch the clouds of thoughts moving in the sky of your mind…Don’t do anything, don’t interfere, don’t stop them in any way. Don’t repress in any way. If there is a thought coming don’t stop it, if it is not coming don’t try to force it to come. You are simply to be an observer….”

“In that simple observation you will see and experience that your thoughts and you are separate – because you can see that the one who is watching the thoughts is separate from the the thoughts, different from them. And you become aware of this, a strange peace will envelop you because you will not have any more worries. You can be in the midst of all kinds of worries but the worries will not be yours….”

“And if you become aware that you are not your thoughts, the life of these thoughts will begin to grow weaker, they will begin to become more and more lifeless. The power of your thoughts lies in the fact that you think they are yours. When you are arguing with someone you say, “My thought is”. No thought is yours. All thoughts are different from you, separate from you. You just be a witness to them.”

(If you’re looking for specific actions you can take to stay in the moment and reduce overthinking, check out our best-selling eBook on how to use Buddhist teachings for a mindful and happy life here.)

4) Look for 3 daily positives

A great way to train your brain to be more positive is to reflect on your day before you go to sleep and think of 3 positive things that happened that day.

Whether it’s a great workout, a friend buying you a coffee, or a phone call with your parents, just scan your day and write down what made you happy. Even the smallest things are worth writing down.

In fact, many studies recently have found that people who consciously count what they’re grateful for tend to be less depressed and happier in general.

According to UCLA, expressing gratitude (being thankful and appreciative) literally changes the molecular structure of the brain.

Thrive Global describes how gratitude can boost feel-good chemicals in the brain:

“In the study the researchers measured brain activity of participants experiencing different emotions, and found that gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and lights up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. In short, just like Prozac, gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine.”

5) Help others

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

It might be surprising to think that helping others will increase your positivity, but If you think back to the last time you did something helpful for someone else, it’s most likely that it felt pretty good.

Research has found how doing good for others, even if it’s small, not only feels good, but it improves your mindset, as well.

For example, volunteering has often been associated with depressing-lowering qualities.

Furthermore, there is neural evidence from brain scans that suggest a link between generosity and happiness in the brain.

Even “intending” to help others stimulates neural changes in the brain and makes us happier.

Here are some ideas to help other people:

1) Smile and be friendly: Sometimes something simple like smiling at other people and being kind to them is enough to make them feel warm and comforted. It’s a simple gesture that shows they’re not alone.

2) Stop to help other people: If you see someone else with a flat tire, help out. Hold the door for others. Give your seat up on the train. It’s small acts like this can start a chain reaction of kindness.

3) Teach others: If there’s anything you’re good at or any wisdom you can pass on, don’t be afraid to teach it. It could even be things like teaching your grandma to use email, teaching a child to ride a bike or teaching your partner to finally clean the toilet!

4) Comfort someone going through a tough time: Often a hug or a kind word will go a long way in helping someone feel a little better when they’re going through a tough time.

5) Send a nice email: Just tell someone how much you’re grateful for them, or how proud you are of them. It takes time to write an email and it will allow you to express yourself fully.

Doing actions like this on a daily basis will help you rewire your brain to be more positive over the long run.

Sum Up

To be more positive:

1) Repeat a positive mantra: Pick a line that invokes positivity and grit within you and repeat this mantra for at least 5 minutes, 3 times a day.

2) Change the words you use: Monitor your language and notice when you say something negative. Reframe that negativity to something that’s more positive. Find a friend to monitor your language as well.

3) Learn to observe your mind: Take a step back from your mind and witness your thoughts. Over time you’ll begin to realize that your thoughts and you are separate. You don’t have to believe them. This will give you more power to control your mindset.

4) Look for 3 daily positives: Studies have found that people who consciously count what they’re grateful for are less depressed. Get into a routine before bed and think of 3 things that happened during the day that you’re grateful for.

5) Help others: Research has found how doing good for others, even if it’s small, not only feels good, but it improves your mindset, as well.

(If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).


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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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