Learning how to be positive and optimistic has many benefits from productivity to longevity.
In 1938, Germany invaded Austria. During World War II, the entire globe knew about the horrors the Nazis could unleash on the innocent. Among those worried people was Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, and psychologist who lived in Austria with his family. Given the situation, getting out of the country was what any person would hope for. Viktor had applied for a US visa and if his name came up in the lottery list, he could get out of there.
After a long wait, he received the news that he was among the few lucky ones whose visa was approved. But, unfortunately, as per the visa, only he could enter the United States. Not his wife, not his mother, not his father. Viktor had to make the tough call of whether he wanted to leave his family behind or stay with them to go through the torture even though he had no power to change the situation.
Unlike most others, Viktor decided to stay back. Instead of saving himself, he decided to stand by his family and go through the suffering alongside.
In 1942, Viktor and all his family members were arrested and sent to Theresienstadt Ghetto, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic where the environment lacked any respect for life.
On a normal day in that camp, Nazis executed hundreds of people without any thought. Children and women queued up to walk as human beings into the gas chambers and exited as lifeless bodies after being forced to inhale poisonous gases. The so-called lucky ones who did not have to go through the chambers of death, went through excruciating labor in the intense cold environment with barely a few pieces of bread each day.
Viktor, his wife, and his mother managed to endure the initial torture, but his father couldn’t cope up. He died within the first 6 months. After tolerating the same horrific experience for 2 years, Viktor and his family were transported to Auschwitz, another concentration camp. The shed in which they lived was cramped with 1500 people despite having a capacity of only 250. Auschwitz had a reputation for sadism where prisoners were tortured and executed for the most trivial reasons. Out of the 1.3 million prisoners who entered the camp, 1.1 million died. Viktor’s mother was one of those who lost their lives in the gas chambers.
Viktor’s wife was eventually moved to a different camp called Bergen Belsen. As the daily torture continued, Viktor had no clue about her, if she was even dead or alive. In his book Man’s search for meaning, he mentions how he thought about her the entire time. The hope of meeting his wife one day helped him find a purpose to endure the suffering, though he didn’t know when that would be or if it would even happen.
In the April of 1945, Viktor noticed new soldiers in the camp. When he realized who they were, his joy knew no bounds. Those were American soldiers who had come to free prisoners from the concentration camps. The war was over and Viktor was no longer a prisoner after 3 gruesome years.
When he returned to the normal world, he realized that his wife had passed away in the other camp. So, when Viktor entered the concentration camp he had a happy family, but when he came out, he was all alone.
Despite the adversity he went through, Viktor’s spirit wasn’t broken. Soon after he was liberated, he wrote his entire experience in a book about how he found meaning amidst all the suffering and a purpose to stay alive despite the daily torture. His book Man’s Search For Meaning turned into an international bestseller and is today available in 24 languages.
So that brings us to the question, how do people like Viktor remain positive in such disturbing atrocities, while some others crack at the slightest hint of pressure?
In this article, we go through various ways to be positive so that you remain resilient towards the little obstacles you confront in life.
- How to be positive – 12 Tips
- 1. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen?
- 2. Is it hurting my ego or is it genuinely a concern?
- 3. Appreciate the little things
- 4. What’s the one good thing about the negative incident?
- 5. Surround yourself with positivity
- 6. Avoid the slippery slope fallacy
- 7. The satisfaction of service
- 8. Learn one lesson from failure
- 9. Practice gratitude and appreciation
- 10. Have a goal to chase
- 11. Eat healthy and exercise
- 12. Sleep enough
How to be positive – 12 Tips
If you learn how to be positive and happy, you will reap many of the obvious benefits. But, were you aware that positivity boosts your health too? As per science, people with higher optimism have shown a lower risk towards diseases such as heart attacks, cancer, and stroke.
If you want to climb higher and live longer, positivity is the way to go.
A word of caution before going through these 12 tips. You’re unique and therefore, some of these ideas might seem useless to you. That’s because your circumstances, personality, and mindset differ from the others. If you find any tip irrelevant, skip that one and implement only what you feel suits your situation best.
Even if you find 3 pointers that help you, the time spent on reading this article is worth your while.
So, let’s get started and uncover how to be positive
1. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen?
Negative emotions appear out of nowhere for the more trivial of reasons. Once you’re under their influence, you fail to think straight and fight a mental battle. But, take a moment to recall incidents where you felt low in the past. Those events hardly made a big difference a day or two later, yet, you lamented over the problem for hours or days.
To avoid falling into a self-made emotional trap, ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen due to the current event? Most of the time, the damage isn’t as bad as your emotions convince you it is.
For example, if your boss criticized you for a mistake, you feel disappointed and that’s natural. But, does it make sense to stress yourself to the point that you cannot work that day or hate your boss for the rest of your life? I doubt it.
Instead, ask yourself “What’s the worst that can happen due to my boss’s criticism?” Does that mean you’ll get a bad appraisal? Does that mean you’ll lose your job? Does that mean it’s the end of the world for you?
The answer in most cases is nothing spectacular. A week later, neither you nor your boss remembers what happened. You experience an influx of negativity because your mind and your ego teamed up together and fed you with unnecessary ideas.
In most cases, things aren’t as negative as you perceive them to be.
2. Is it hurting my ego or is it genuinely a concern?
When things go wrong, you start thinking that nothing is going your way. You even question “Why me?” You find reasons to explain the situation.
If the negative incident involves another person, you point out flaws in his/her characteristics. For example, if your partner dumped you, your mind finds reasons to justify how your partner had more to lose from the breakup.
You can observe such thoughts with simpler incidents too. For example, when people make an unnecessary comment or a coworker ignores your email you enter a negative mindset. Do you know why? That’s because your ego took a beating, not because the event had any major consequences.
Next time you find your brain filled with negative thoughts, ask yourself, “Am I feeling low because it hurt my ego, or does the incident have any consequences?” If your negativity stems from your ego, you should learn to brush off such incidents.
3. Appreciate the little things
As human beings, we’re greedy and ambitious. Our thirst takes us on a neverending hunt because we want more and more. The saying “We want what we can’t have” sums up how the human mind thinks.
Whether it’s an expensive watch that you cannot afford or the person of the opposite sex who fails to reciprocate, you seek what’s elusive to you. In the process, you overlook all the good things in your life.
If I asked you, “What do you wish you had today?” I bet you can list down 5 things without much of a thought. But if I asked you, “What are the 5 things you’re thankful for having today?”, you’d scamper for answers.
No matter who you are, no matter what you do, you have very many things to be thankful for. Heck, if you’re reading this article, you’re more privileged than 40% of the world population.
No doubt, you must look forward to a brighter future to achieve grand goals in life. No doubt, you must dream big and strive for more. No doubt, you should work hard for what you want.
But while you’re at it, don’t forget to take a look around you and appreciate what you already have. Thankfulness breeds positive thoughts and kills negative emotions.
4. What’s the one good thing about the negative incident?
In English, we use, “but on the brighter side, ….” The purpose of the phrase is to find a positive element in a negative or neutral incident. For example,
- We missed the flight, but on the brighter side, we have another one leaving in the next 2 hours
- I did not crack the exam, but on the brighter side, I’m a lot less stressed now
Cultivate a habit of finding the brighter side when things go wrong. If that’s not your natural thought process, force yourself at first. If you think hard enough, you will find one positive element in every incident. If not anything, you’d have learned a life lesson.
Two pointers to keep in mind here though:
- If the incident is negative, ask yourself how can you avoid repeating it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger only if you learn from it.
- Don’t go to the other extreme and only find positive elements in every scenario. You must spot what went wrong and why. Seeking positivity is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to your mistakes.
5. Surround yourself with positivity
When you have 30 min to an hour to spare, sit down in isolation and think about the situations when you encounter negative thoughts the most. Some examples are:
- When I’m idle and have nothing to do
- When I hear or see my friends enjoying life
- When I speak or meet
As per the habit loop, many of our daily thoughts and actions originate from triggers and cues. One way to break free from them is to eliminate the source itself. If you have negative thoughts whenever you’re idle, go for a walk instead of spiraling into a mental trap. If watching your friends have fun on social media leads you to question your fulfillment in life, limit your usage of the apps themselves.
Many a time, your negative triggers are due to the choices you make. Stop listening to depressing songs. Stay away from people who think low about themselves and influence you into the same thinking.
Both negative and positive thinking is as contagious as a deadly virus. If you mingle with negative people you’ll feel terrible about yourself. Likewise, positive people not only lift your mood but also unconsciously alter your thought process in the right direction.
Find positive people to surround yourself with and cut contact from the people who pull you down.
6. Avoid the slippery slope fallacy
Slippery slope fallacy is the error of making a series of small claims without enough proof thereby ending with a significant outcome(usually a bad one).
For example, take the TV ad that begins with a guy with an acne-filled face. He applies the cream ‘Handsome Hunk’ and voila, the magic happens. The ad narrative flows as follows:
“If your face is filled with acne, try the Handsome Hunk cream. You’ll have glowing skin in a few weeks. Soon, you’ll turn into a chic magnet. In no time, you’ll date the most gorgeous women around you.”
The sequence gives the impression that one thing leads to another, but in reality, it doesn’t.
When you’re under the influence of negativity, a similar slippery slope follows. You start with one minor thought which snowballs into a downward spiral as your mind wanders through different possible scenarios.
“My boss criticized my work today. I’m sure I’ll receive a poor rating this year. Next, I’ll receive a pay cut for poor performance. Soon, I will lose my job too.”
You grow anxious about various “what if ….?” scenarios, even though the chances of such events are close to none.
When you observe yourself making a series of small claims based on assumption, apply the brakes to prevent yourself from slipping further.
7. The satisfaction of service
Alcoholics anonymous is one of the most well-known community-based programs to help alcoholics get over their addiction. The method involves 12 steps which range from accepting helplessness over alcohol to taking ownership for one’s actions. As per the program, even if a person masters the 11 steps without completing the 12th, he/she can still fail.
Take a guess what the final step is? I’ll tell you. The 12th step is helping another alcoholic overcome the habit. Once an addict provides service, the positivity sinks in stronger and remains within longer.
Likewise, if you involve yourself in giving, you feel positive about yourself and your negative thoughts evaporate. Take any skill you’re good at. It could be playing the guitar, the art of negotiation, creating powerful presentations, or writing effective code. Using your expertise helps another person improve at that skill. You’ll feel your inner conscience rejoice. Try it out.
Please note that the satisfaction you experience can reduce if you accept payment for your service. But, either way, you’ll experience positivity by helping others.
8. Learn one lesson from failure
Any failure or negative incident serves as an opportunity to learn a lesson.
- Did your plan go haywire? In addition to being disappointed, identify what did you miss.
- Heard some harsh criticism about your behavior or actions? Instead of getting offended, try to spot one attribute to change in yourself.
- Did an event occur which impacted you negatively despite having no control over the situation? Cultivate a habit of not blaming yourself.
If you want to notch it up further, write down what you’ve learned. It doesn’t matter if you quickly scribble a note on your phone and never look at it again. Writing down helps your brain remember the point in the future.
9. Practice gratitude and appreciation
Cultivate a habit of saying thank you, no matter how obvious or trivial the act was. Appreciate any act which a person did out of goodwill even if it’s a part of your routine.
- Thank the Uber driver who dropped you
- Reply to your coworker’s email and say thanks
- Appreciate your spouse for the daily things he/she does
My wife and I have a habit of thanking each other for small deeds. For example, she gets green tea for me every morning and I make sure I thank her every day with a simple “Thank you.” These little deeds have not only made our bond stronger but also boosted our positivity.
10. Have a goal to chase
You’d have heard “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop” from the time you were a kid because your teachers, parents, or relatives recited it out loud. Learning from that saying is one of the ways you can develop positivity.
Your mind cannot remain idle because by nature it is wired to work non-stop. When you’re doing nothing, evil ideas prevail and negative thoughts loom large.
To steer clear of such a mindset, chase a goal that challenges you to do better all the time. If you’re on your toes working on your dreams, you’ll not have the time or the attention span to dwell on negativity. You’ll brush things off and move on because your bigger focus is on the goal.
Bad things happen to me now and then, but right now I don’t have the time to sulk over them. Though I feel dejected momentarily, the moment I start working on my goals, I’m in the zone and I forget what happened.
Having a goal to look forward to is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body agile all the time.
11. Eat healthy and exercise
Have you struggled to think straight when you were hungry? I have. Many times.
Research has shown the relationship between hunger and your mood. When you’re on an empty stomach, your blood sugar levels drop. As a result, you make impulse decisions and little incidents irritate you.
Have you felt annoyed when you were hungry, had a sandwich, and felt better? That’s because the food you ate replenished your blood sugar and caused your brain to function normally.
But just any food doesn’t help you work efficiently. Food that is sugary or high in carbohydrates floods the brain with melatonin, the sleep hormone. So if you consume the wrong food, you’ll feel lethargic instead of energized.
Cultivate a lifestyle of eating healthy to boost your mood and productivity.
Exercise has a similar effect on your positivity. When you workout, your body secretes serotonin which helps your brain regulate your mood. They also increase the level of endorphins within your body which make you feel better.
Have you felt awesome after a morning run? What people call “the runners high” is endorphins at work. Exercise also helps you sleep better which helps you stay in a better mood and maintain a positive mindset next day.
12. Sleep enough
Your sleeping routine influences how you feel each day.
Research has shown that when you sleep fewer hours at night, your mood deteriorates the next day. If you have a habit of sleeping less than 7 hours a day, that could be the reason for the negative thoughts lingering in your head.
When you sleep for 7.5 – 8 hours your body gets the rest it deserves. Jeff Bezos spoke about how 8 hours of sleep improves his decision-making. If one of the richest men in the world can make time to sleep, what’s your excuse?
On the other side, sleeping more than 9 hours a day can cause adverse effects like depression, obesity, headaches, and heart disease.
To remain productive and motivated throughout the day aim for the magic figure – 8 hours of sleep.
Positivity is a state of mind. It has less to do with the events around you and more to do with your response towards them. One person can spot a whole lot of negativity from an incident, while another person can see the same event in bright light.
Next time you find yourself anxious and stressed over a, “Why me?” situation, remind yourself that how much you let an event influence you is a choice you make.
So what will you choose?
Robinson, L. (n.d.). The mental health benefits of exercise. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
Are you really you when you’re hungry? (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/06/hungry
Oversleeping side effects: Is too much sleep harmful? (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/physical-side-effects-oversleeping
Viktor Frankl Biography: A life in search of meaning. (2018, January 25). Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://biographics.org/viktor-frankl-biography-life-search-meaning/
Triantafillou, S., Saeb, S., Lattie, E., Mohr, D., & Kording, K. (2019, March 27). Relationship between sleep quality and mood: Ecological momentary assessment study. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6456824/
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.