Everyone has ups and downs but how do you stay positive in difficult times?
You know that sinking feeling when something has gone badly wrong in your life. You didn’t get the job; someone is being unpleasant or difficult; you dented the car; someone got sick; or things just generally aren’t going to plan. Sadly, no one is exempt! The inevitable sad times, disappointments, frustrations and setbacks can leave you feeling unhappy, worried and afraid.
If it is not kept in check, negativity can ‘infect’ your other thoughts and deeds and your wellbeing. Dealing with bad times is only half the story. The main difference between positive and negative people is that positive people don’t allow bad experiences to colour how they see and feel about everything else. Somehow, they are able to compartmentalise and process bad things while still feeling optimistic about other aspects of their life. Their cheerful sense of optimism helps them feel happy and positive about the future and instils confidence, calmness, and positivity.
positive people don’t allow bad experiences to colour how they see and feel about everything else.
If you are not naturally a positive person, the good news is, you can change this! After a short while of training your brain to be more positive, you will start to feel happier and have a sunnier disposition. The 7 habits below are based on positive psychology and, with practice, will set you on your way to feeling more positive and appreciative of your life.
1. Expect good things to happen
The power of positive expectation is a well-documented phenomenon. A quick check of how positive you are is to ask yourself – when you receive an unmarked envelope in the post, do you expect it to be good news or bad?
Whatever you are doing, even if it is something scary and new, expect it to go well. When you do, astonishingly, the likelihood of it going well is increased! The converse is also true. Sports professionals know this – if they expect to lose, they are more likely to lose.
Remember that trying something that you could potentially fail is scary, but not trying at all can create the even worse feelings of regret.
2. Recall positive moments from the past
Keeping mementos around you will help remind you of happy positive times. Everything counts if it brings to mind a moment in time when you felt happy and well, and recalling it makes you feel good. Photos, cards, celebratory trophies, wedding albums etc. will help you to re-conjure the moment. I keep a few things on my desk – a glass award paper weight, a lovely card from my husband, a gift pen from a friend. They help me create a happy place to escape to for just a few moments when I need to.
3. Plan something nice or exciting
Even small things will have a positive effect on your brain, such as planning to watch your favourite box set, meeting someone for coffee, going out for a walk. This doesn’t mean doing the nice thing right now. It is more about triggering the brains ‘happy’ hormones by spending time throughout the day, the week or year thinking about the event – whatever it is – and looking forward to it.
It works for longer-term yearning too, such as planning a holiday, looking forward to Christmas, an upcoming birthday, a new baby’s arrival or a wedding.
4. Be appreciative and grateful
There is a large body of support these days for gratitude journals and notebooks. I admit it! I was a little sceptical at first but, trust me, it works! Even something as simple as recording 3 positive things from your day before you go to bed works. The spin-off benefit is that you will probably get a better night’s sleep too!
5. Celebrate more than you normally do
Find things to celebrate. It’s not hard once you get the knack. The best example of this is my husband who does this with consummate ease! He is always finding something to celebrate. His birthday is February 11th. From early August he starts to get very excited about his upcoming “half birthday” which occurs on August 11th! Initially I regarded his half-birthday concept as quite amusing (if a little childish!). However, since learning more about how the brain works in relation to optimism and positivity, I’ve come to realise that he is creating things to celebrate so that his brain can produce positive hormones. He has unwittingly been practicing these habits all his life which is how he has become an exceptionally positive, happy person.
6. Reframe your mindset
When your mindset is negative it ‘infects’ your other thoughts. You begin to frame everything around you as negative. Bizarrely, you collude with this negativity and start to attract more negative things. The opposite is also true. When you think positively, you notice and attract more positive things in your life. The key here is that although it may not always feel this way, you do have choice. You can choose to think positively by blocking and overwriting negative thoughts with positive ones. Try it! Do a deal with yourself that for the next 20 minutes you will not accept negative thoughts.
7. Notice positive things
To help reframe your mindset, start to proactively notice and acknowledge positive things. Positive things happen all the time, we just don’t always register them. It could be a positive email, a nice comment from a friend or loved one, a lovely sun rise, a waggy tailed dog or purring cat. They all count and serve to feed your brain with good thoughts.
Life is full of ups and downs. Sad and distressing things happen. Negative emotions such as anger, stress, fear, sadness, and disappointment have their place in helping us work through difficult and distressing times. The point of this article is not to dismiss these emotions. Acknowledging how you feel is a big part of working through challenging situations and moving on. Instead my message is that we can learn to reserve negative emotions for when life is tough.
When I was being overly negative, my wonderful mentor (the late Professor Aidan Halligan, an obstetrician) asked me “how many babies died today Karen”? In his world, a baby dying was the worst thing that could possibly happen. Of course, my answer was “none” which helped me realise that I was overreacting to my situation.
As humans our primeval instincts often evoke fear and stress when we don’t necessarily need to. If we train ourselves to think and feel more positive, we are more able to reserve negativity and the associated negative emotions for the times when they are warranted. The result is that we will feel happier and more grateful for the wonderful life that we have.