Staying positive has real tangible benefits in life.
Most of us strive to stay positive simply because it feels better. Who doesn’t want to live a happier life?!
Yet it doesn’t always feel so easy to choose positivity. Not when worry and anxiety can so easily weigh us down.
So how do some people stay so positive?
This article will share with you their secrets.
1. Cut yourself some slack
We often extend compassion and understanding to others but struggle to show ourselves the same benefit of the doubt.
We notice when our friend is undervaluing herself. We see when our colleague is setting unfair expectations of himself.
But yet, we are probably doing the same.
All too often in life, we are our own worst critics, when really we should be our biggest cheerleaders.
I want to tell you what I once told an old friend many years ago:
“You always deserve to be on your own side in life”.
Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean you cannot hold yourself accountable, admit when you’ve got it wrong, or strive to do better.
But it does mean accepting that you are only human. That we’re all just trying our best, and that’s ok.
Rather than beat yourself up endlessly for every perceived misstep or mistake — cut yourself some slack.
Because the bottom line is it is hard to stay positive when you have a voice in your head that is constantly cutting you down.
2. Stay alert for negative thoughts creeping in
Not only do we have an inner critic that cuts us down.
We also have to contend with a stream of, largely unconscious, thoughts that can carry us off down the path of negative thinking.
The kicker of it is that in many ways, biology is stacked against us.
Researchers have found that we are more prone to use negative information than positive when shaping our view of the world.
It’s been argued that this so-called “negativity bias” is sort of hardwired into us as an evolutionary feature to try to keep us safe.
With that in mind, it makes sense that research by the National Science Foundation concluded around 80% of our thoughts are negative.
Not only that, but 95% of our thoughts are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
So if we want to get around this strange preference we seem to have to side with the negative, we need to stay vigilant.
Of course, we can’t get rid of negative thoughts. But we can become more mindful of them.
When we notice a negative thought arise we can choose to:
- Recognize it as a (potentially distorted) thought, not a fact
- Challenge it, and find reasons why it’s not true
- Try to separate ourself from it to see it is just a thought and not us
- Let go of judgment so we don’t beat ourselves up about it
- Consciously counteract it by reaching for a more positive thought.
3. Express your feelings
Like the river leads to the sea, our stream of thoughts feed into our emotions.
You can’t keep things locked inside. They only eat away at you.
It’s true what they say that a problem shared is a problem halved.
In fact, research has shown that just talking to people about how we’re feeling can make us feel better.
So too can writing about it, through things like journaling.
As highlighted by author and positive psychology coach Diane E Dreher Ph.D.:
“Psychologist James Pennebaker (1997) has found that writing about our emotional experiences improves our mental and physical health. The theory is that keeping painful secrets is stressful, increasing the risk of illness and that self-disclosure, whether spoken or written, relieves the long-term stress of inhibition, leading to better health”.
Finding healthy outlets for the perfectly normal wide range of emotions we all experience helps us to ultimately stay positive.
That way we can process negative feelings rather than run away from them.
4. Build your resilience over time
We learn and grow from our experiences.
And although we may not like it, bad times can be just as useful (if not more!) for doing just that.
Because when life throws something at you, and you survive it, it makes you stronger.
Through the process of failure, loss, and struggle — you create greater resilience.
That resilience is like a tough shell that then serves to protect us better going forward.
Rather than harden us to become more cynical, resilience can help us to cultivate a more optimistic outlook.
We’re less afraid because we know it will be ok.
Building your own resilience through pushing your comfort zone, being proactive, and learning lessons help you to remain positive.
5. Actively search for the silver lining in the bad
In many ways, positivity becomes a choice. One that we make with the habits we instil.
We may not always feel it’s possible to turn a bad situation into something good. But we can usually glean at least a few potential positives that could eventually come out of it.
I’ll level with you:
Sometimes you really have to go hunting around in the dirt to be able to find those hidden gems.
When your partner who you love unceremoniously dumps you, it can be understandably challenging to “look on the bright side”.
But positive people strive to find the rainbow that can result from all the rain.
They prefer to accept the things they have no control over and instead focus their attention on the things they can influence.
6. Focus on what you can control
So many of the things we can find ourselves worrying about we have zero control over. But positive people decide to put their energy into what they do have a say in.
You can’t control whether you’ll be accepted into college. You can control how much work you put into studying and getting good grades.
You can’t control whether people will like you or not. But you can control how you present yourself to the world and whether you’re being true to yourself.
Focusing on what we can control helps us to feel more proactive and powerful, rather than victims.
It’s this empowered action that gives you a better outlook.
7. Use mindfulness techniques to stay present and reduce stress
Inevitably the pressures of everyday life will build.
And when this happens, mindfulness techniques can provide welcome relief.
We’re talking about things like:
- Mindful movements like yoga, pilates, walking, and tai chi
- Specific exercises that help you to cultivate mindfulness
As pointed out by the National Institutes of Health:
“Studies suggest that mindfulness practices may help people manage stress, cope better with serious illness and reduce anxiety and depression. Many people who practice mindfulness report an increased ability to relax, a greater enthusiasm for life, and improved self-esteem.”
8. Build your self-belief and self-esteem
We can’t always rely on life to go the way we’d hoped. But we can learn to rely on ourselves.
The more trust and faith you have in yourself, the more comfortable you feel in tackling whatever may come your way.
There’s no getting away from it, research shows that higher self-esteem has long-term benefits.
One large research review published in the journal American Psychologist concluded that:
“High self-esteem helps individuals adapt to and succeed in a variety of life domains, including having more satisfying relationships, performing better at school and work, enjoying improved mental and physical health, and refraining from antisocial behavior.”
At the end of the day, how we feel about ourselves shapes how we feel about everything else in life too.
9. Remind yourself what you have to be thankful for
I think it’s impossible to talk about staying positive without discussing gratitude.
Because when our attention is drawn to the downsides of life, gratitude is what brings it back to the positive.
It’s been proven that gratitude helps us to experience more positive emotions.
Reminding ourselves of the things we already have to be thankful for is how we relish good experiences.
We can bring the benefits of gratitude into our lives by:
- Starting a gratitude journal
- Mentally listing what we feel grateful for
- Writing thank you notes and giving praise and gratitude freely to others
- Praying or meditating, if you are spiritually minded, to contemplate your blessings
10. Recognize your efforts and achievements in life rather than overlook them
Last but no means least:
It’s vital to remember to pat yourself on the back.
Because life never feels positive if we fail to pay enough attention to all the things we’re doing well.
Wanting more out of life is a very common feeling. One that there is nothing wrong with.
It’s good to welcome expansion and growth or to have goals.
But that can quickly lead to dissatisfaction when we fail to acknowledge how far we’ve already come.
We can end up feeling disheartened and negative about how far we still feel we’ve got left to go.
Counting your “wins” is just as useful as counting your blessings.
Give credit where credit is due.
Don’t only congratulate what you see as major life achievements.
Give as much attention to your small daily successes and the effort you put in.
To conclude: Nobody stays positive all the time
The reality is that we can’t keep it real and stay eternally positive.
Life is a journey, and there are bound to be down days along the way.
Forcing ourselves to try to always stay positive risks turning into toxic positivity.
It’s more about minimizing those bad days and teaching yourself to get back up again every time you fall.
And that’s what cultivating a positive attitude to life can help you with.