When the news is constantly negative – as it has been since the coronavirus pandemic – it’s hard for even the most optimistic of us to stay positive.
It is true that we need to take this virus very seriously – it’s capable of causing illness, death and drastic long-term changes to the way we live our lives.
But focusing on these thoughts too much can become counterproductive.
Obviously, there are things you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak to protect yourself, but you don’t need to become a virology expert, and you don’t need to be obsessed with every unpleasant detail about it from dawn to bedtime.
That will only serve to damage your mindset.
In times like this, we need to try to be more positive so we have the resolve to weather this storm.
So in this article, I want to talk about 8 ways to train your brain to be more positive.
Once you know what they are, and how they work, you’ll want to kick yourself for not trying them sooner.
Let’s dive right in…
1. Limit your intake of negative news
It’s everywhere these days. You go on Facebook and dire news about the coronavirus outbreak appears front and center.
You can’t help but click on every single news story with a clickbait heading. It doesn’t make you feel better, but you can’t help yourself from doing it. I’m guilty of this too.
But while it’s certainly real, we need to remember that the news tends to focus on the most negative aspects. It’s designed to shock you and get you to click.
Too much consumption of this type of media will only serve to panic and scare you.
However, it’s important to get up to date with what’s happening, particularly in your own city or country.
So my advice is to choose a single news source that you know you can trust and decide how much limited time you’ll spend reading it each day. Then stick to that plan.
2. Look to the past
It’s important to get hope from your past and human history’s past.
You’ve likely endured unforeseen major life disrupters like 9/11, natural disasters and the financial crisis of 2008. And guess what? You made it through!
I’m sure there are many other personal challenging situations you’ve survived.
And let’s not forget that humanity has made it through past pandemics before, and we’ll make it through this one.
It’s important to remind yourself of your resilience. Know that you will get through this.
3. Set some goals
The situation we find ourselves in will undoubtedly last for months and we’re going to be spending a lot of time in our homes.
Instead of sitting on the couch and watching Netflix all day, set some goals for yourself.
There are plenty of online courses to get stuck into. For example, I’m using this opportunity to get stuck into the online education platform MasterClass.
I’m also planning to write a new eBook and a lot more posts on this blog.
Tell yourself you’ve got 6 months at home. What do you want to get out of that time?
You might be able to learn new skills. Finish a project. Get fit. Whatever it is, the benefits of goals aren’t in achieving them, it’s that they give you direction and meaning.
Deciding what you’re going to focus on will make you feel less uncertain and you’ll wake up with a purpose.
Whether you start small or go for broke with your goal setting, you need to at least have some kind of idea of what you want your life to look like so you can start working towards it.
The longer you tell yourself that you don’t know what you want, the longer it will take you to get it.
Setting goals allows you to take control of where your life is heading.
Here are 4 golden rules for setting goals:
1) Set goals that actually motivate you:
This means setting goals that means something to you. If you’re not interested in what you’re doing, or you don’t really care about the outcome, then you’ll struggle to take action.
Focus on setting goals that are a high priority in your life. Otherwise, you’ll end up with too many goals and you won’t take action. To find out what’s important to you, write down why your goal is valuable.
2) Set SMART goals.
You’ve probably heard of this acronym before. It’s popular because it works. Here’s what it means:
Specific: Your goals must be clear and well-defined.
Measurable: Label precise amounts and dates. For example, my goal could be that I have to write at least 3000 words every day.
Attainable: Your goals have to be achievable. If they’re too difficult, you’ll lose motivation.
Relevant: Your goals should be aligned with where you want to get to and what you want to do.
Time-bound: Set yourself a deadline for your goals. Deadlines force you to get things done, and not procrastinate.
3) Set your goals in writing
Don’t just rely on your brain to remember your goals. Physically write down each goal, no matter how small it is. Putting a line through your goal will give you the motivation to keep going.
4) Make an action plan.
You’re not going to achieve your big goals in a day. You need to write out individual steps to get there. Cross them off as you complete them to give you more motivation.
[If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check Hack Spirit’s eBook on how to be your own life coach here].
4. Repeat a positive mantra
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].
5. Change the words you use
Have you ever blurted out the following:
“This circumstance is just impossible.”
“I always fail.”
“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 minds 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.
6. 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.)
7. 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.”
8. 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.
There are plenty of elderly people that need help with everything that’s going on. You could go out and buy groceries for them.
While you can’t get outside and meet people, you can be kind online. Send positive comments or helpful advice to your friends.
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.
To be more positive:
1) Limit your intake of negative news: Stick to one news source and limit your time reading it.
2) Look to the past: You’ve endured challenging situations before. You can endure this one.
3) Set some goals: Instead of sitting on the couch and watching Netflix all day, set some goals for yourself for the next few months.
4) 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.
5) 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.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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).