Use proven techniques for seeing the bright side—for a powerful effect on your psyche.
When you’re naturally a glass-half-empty kind of person, hearing slogans like “Think positive!” can make you feel like you’re an occasional jogger being told to run a marathon… tomorrow. Before you can implement positivity strategies—and reap their benefits of improved health, better relationships and more happiness—you have to start by decreasing negativity.
We collected the best negativity reduction tips from psychologists, coaches and authors to help you identify your look-on-the-gray-side habits and begin to chip away at them. There’s a shiny bright side waiting for you!
1. Set reasonable goals.
“A lot of people who see the negative side of things also tend to put themselves down because they set huge, intimidating goals that are difficult to attain,” says Lavinia Lumezanu, a marketing executive and leadership trainer. So instead of saying, “I’m going to write a book this year!” start with a goal of signing up for a writers’ class or completing three pages instead. The satisfaction in reaching these smaller goals will motivate you to reach the next one.
2. Turn “problems” into “challenges.”
Words are very powerful, says Kristi Ling, author of Empower Your Day: Keys to Creating More Happiness, Energy and Success Through Positive Mornings. “Try creating a list of negative words or phrases that you use often and replace them with ones that are a bit more positive.” If you regularly complain of problems, for example, start referring to them as challenges instead. Eliminate the phrase “I should…” from your self-talk, too, and replace it with “I could choose to…,” says licensed mental health counselor Carol Patterson, a therapist in Vancouver, Wash. “Should” carries obligation, dread and resentment. “Choose” puts you in the driver’s seat, as in “I could choose to do this laundry now so that I can relax tonight.” While it may seem like simple semantics, the words you use every day in your self-talk can have a real effect on your attitude.
3. Reset your default answer.
People who are naturally negative tend to use no as their first response to new ideas and experiences, says Lynette Louise, a neurofeedback therapist. “In part, they do this to buy time while actually making a decision, but then they end up defending the ‘no’ choice and sticking to it, even at times when they might not have.” Default instead to “I’m not sure; give me a minute,” she suggests. Then try to find a good reason to say yes before you say no.
4. Display that award.
“It can be important to have physical reminders of positivity in one’s environment,” says Frank Addonizio, Ph.D., vice president of Global Clinical Counseling Services for Workplace Options, an employee work-life services company in Raleigh, N.C. What works: anything that reminds you of past achievements (awards, published writing, a business card), satisfying relationships (photos, artwork by your kids) or positive personal attributes (maybe a gift or letter from an appreciative client or boss that details some of your talents). It’s hard to get down on yourself in the face of real proof of your abilities and full life.
5. Put your hands up!
Historically, humans and other animals have expressed power through large, open postures. Think of a peacock fanning his tail or a negotiator standing and straightening up while her opponent sits. Powerlessness is conveyed through body language, too; think of frightened children curled in the fetal position, or a shy person with slouched shoulders and downcast eyes. Standing up tall and spreading your arms might make you look bigger and more powerful, but can it actually convey power?
In 2012 researchers from Harvard asked study participants to hold either one of two “power poses” (one was leaning back in a chair with hands behind head, elbows out and legs raised on a table in front) or a low-power pose (standing with arms hugging chest and ankles crossed) for one minute each. Before-and-after heart rate and blood tests showed that those who held the high-power pose increased their levels of testosterone (a hormone involved with feelings and expressions of confidence and dominance) and lowered their levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). In interviews, they revealed feeling more powerful and open to risk. Low-power posers had the opposite results.
So the next time you need a confidence boost, strike a pose. Dana Santas, the yoga trainer for the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Lightning, instructs athletes to hold the “Mountain Pose with Arms Up” when they lose that eye of the tiger. It’s super-simple: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Inhale and raise your arms overhead at shoulder width. Close your eyes and take 10 long, deep breaths. On your last exhalation, draw your palms down and together in the middle of your chest and turn the corners of your mouth up in a smile. Take two or three more deep breaths, exhaling through your nose.
6. Be a critical thinker, not a critical person.
“I have a client who struggled with always seeing the negative in everything,” says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a life coach. “We figured out her brain was just wired as a critical thinker. She approaches everything critically, and that can be a good thing. She just had to work on reminding herself that an opportunity for improvement is not a criticism. Something can be not the way she imagined it and not be wrong.” If you’re a critical, analytical thinker, Taylor-Klaus says, recognize that you are likely to have the critical thought first, but practice redirecting those thoughts by asking yourself, What else is also true about this situation/dilemma/person?
7. Wake up on the right side of the bed.
When you first wake up, it’s easy to start thinking about all the stuff you have to get done that day or complain about how the kids kept you up all night. Instead of letting your head go to those negative places, Shawn Anderson, author of Extra Mile America: Stories of Inspiration, Possibility and Purpose, suggests asking yourself three “morning questions”: 1) What am I excited about doing today? 2) Who can I encourage or serve today? (Get the focus off yourself.) 3) What am I grateful for? Thinking about all that you have and are excited about can change your outlook and attitude for the whole day.
8. Detox from bad news.
We’re not suggesting that you live in a hole or pretend that strife and tragedy don’t exist, but until you can build up some immunity (through these tips and other strategies you’ll find at SUCCESS.com) to the negativity that the evening news can deliver, take a break from it, suggests Colene Elridge, a life coach in Lexington, Ky. If it’s Facebook that’s getting you down (Why does everyone else look so darn happy? Why is everyone posting articles I don’t agree with?), suspend your account. Resist the urge to read the terrible details of the latest crash or kidnapping.
9. Drop your distortions.
There are negative things in the world. Some “sky-is-gray” people are skeptical of focusing on the positive in fear of being “delusional” and not seeing those very real negatives, says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. But we all have cognitive thinking distortions that can alter our perceptions of reality, she says, perhaps causing the negatives to appear fun-house-mirror large.
A few common distortions include mindreading, when you assume you know what others think (someone asks you to lunch, for example, and you assume it’s because he feels bad for you); fortunetelling, when you predict the future negatively and then react as if that prediction is imminent (you assume an upcoming company meeting means you’re being let go and begin bad-mouthing your boss and ignoring work); or dichotomous thinking, in which everything is all or nothing (Everyone thinks I am a loser or no one can be trusted). Recognize what your distortions are and see whether you can view circumstances through a clearer, more helpful lens.