Ever find yourself pointing out all that could go wrong—or has already gone wrong—and struggling to break out of it? The negativity cycle, or the negative Nancy state, as we call it around here, can be a tough one to interrupt once you get started. But it doesn’t have to be. There are some easy ways to pursue a positive mindset before your negative vibes get the best of you. And everyone around you. Luckily for you, we’re going to show you how.
Let’s dig into what a positive mindset is, why it’s totally worth it to build one, and seven research-backed ways to tap into a more positive attitude.
What is a Positive Mindset?
So what exactly is a positive mindset?
Dr. Gary Klein, a senior scientist at MacroCognition LLC, describes “mindset” as the lens through which we both see and handle particular situations.
“Our mindsets help us spot opportunities but they can trap us in self-defeating cycles,” he says in a blog post for Psychology Today. Therefore, having a positive mindset simply suggests that you’re viewing the world and your experiences through a positive lens. (“Your glass is half full,” so to speak).
Why is a Positive Mindset Important?
While having a positive mindset may seem inconsequential, in fact, studies show that maintaining a positive outlook can improve your overall health.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that participants who exhibited a “positive” outlook (determined by a survey that assessed cheerfulness, energy level, anxiety levels, and satisfaction levels) were “one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.”
7 Research-Backed Ways to Create a Positive Mindset
So we know that a positive outlook is important. But if you’re someone who finds it increasingly difficult to stay positive (no judgment—we’ve all been there), shifting your focus away from the negative may seem like a daunting task.
Fear not, it’s easier than you think: Here are seven, easy research-backed steps to a positive mindset.
1. Practice gratitude
One surefire way to shift your mindset in a positive direction is through the simple act of practicing gratitude. We’re big fans of gratitude around here and for good reason—it works. Making a conscious effort to appreciate what’s yours can cause an immediate shift in your perspective, explains Dr. Gregory Jantz in Psychology Today.
That’s not to say this process is an easy one. Being thankful for what you have is a notoriously absent practice in American culture. But there are ways to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine. Here are some of our favorites:
- Keep a gratitude journal, in which you can jot down people or experiences for which you’re thankful. You can do this weekly or daily, and research suggests there are benefits to both, including increased happiness levels and well-being.
- Find a gratitude partner to whom you can relay your thoughts. “Think of this person as your accountability partner for your path to healthy thinking,” Dr. Jantz says. Each day, text, email, or call this person and name three things for which you are grateful. (And ask him or her to do the same). This will give you a trail of happy thoughts you can relate back to on days you’re feeling down.
2. Focus on your posture
Before you roll your eyes: Hear us out. For years, scientists have debated the direct correlation between body and mind when it comes to physiological wellness. And while the connection’s validity is still being argued today, according to social psychologist and acclaimed speaker Amy Cuddy, the correlation not only exists—but its influence is significant.
In a TED Talk from 2012, Cuddy discusses a theory she calls “power posing,” which states that standing or sitting more confidently (think: head held high, back straight, eye contact) can make you feel more confident. And that sets off a chain reaction. When you feel more confident, you act more confidently, which then ultimately increases your chance of success. According to Dr. Jantz, the same goes for building a more positive mindset. Carrying yourself more confidently will help you think more positively overall.
So throw back your shoulders and perk up your posture. You might just find yourself in a more positive mindset just by changing your body positioning.
According to Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, people who meditate daily tend to display more positive emotions (and in turn a more positive mindset) than those who don’t.
In fact, in a recent study, Fredrickson examined the impact of mindful meditation on participants and found that those who invested an hour or so each week “enhanced a wide range of positive emotions in a wide range of situations, especially when interacting with others.” What’s more, Frederickson discovered that even three months after the experiment had concluded, those participants who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness and positivity.
But weaving an hour of meditation into a busy schedule can often feel, well, challenging. So start with 10 or 15 minutes and pencil it into your schedule. That way you’ll be more likely to hold yourself accountable. Not sure where to start? Apps like Headspace and Calm offer easy-to-follow, guided steps for kickstarting your meditation practice.
4. Surround yourself with positive people
If you begin to find that your friends, colleagues, and family members aren’t forces of positivity, it may be time to reevaluate their place in your circle. Studies show that negative feelings and temperaments spread fluidly among groups of people. Luckily for us, the same goes for positivity.
By surrounding yourself with people who exhibit positive behaviors and have positive mindsets, you’re more likely to have one yourself. So while it may not be realistic to Marie Kondo all of your negative relationships, a great way to weed out toxic people is to set limits with negative talk in conversations.
If your friends are on a complaint bender, ask them how they intend to fix the problem. This will give them the opportunity to find a positive solution, or redirect the conversation altogether.
5. Be kind to others
Interestingly, science has found that performing small acts of kindness can have larger effects on the human body.
In most cases, kindness causes the release of neurochemicals, like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, in the brain that results in an overall sense of well-being—a “helper’s high,” as some have described it. Doctors Shoba Sreenivasan and Linda E. Weinberger tell Psychology Today that in being kind to others, “we feel better and the recipients of our acts feel better.”
So make a more conscious effort to be kind. Start by dishing out a few compliments, or smile at a passerby. You’ll likely find that you feel happier and more positive overall.
6. Quiet your inner critic
This may be one of the more difficult aspects of building a more positive mindset.
As human beings, we’re often critical of ourselves without even realizing it. In fact, psychotherapist and author Amy Morin explains that self-doubt and looking critically at yourself is pretty common. We tend to “catastrophize” our realities, making them skew negatively. “We get so used to hearing our own narrations that it’s easy to become oblivious to the messages that we’re sending ourselves,” she tells Forbes.
To combat this, realize instead that our thoughts are often exaggerations of the truth, not a highlight reel of moments or the way they actually played out. Morin says to replace critical thoughts with more accurate statements: “When you find yourself thinking, ‘I never do anything right,’ replace it with a balanced statement like: ‘Sometimes I do things really well and sometimes I don’t.’”
This will allow you to draw a line in the sand between what’s true, and what’s an exaggeratedly negative perception.
7. Don’t downplay your successes
Raise your hand if you tend to minimize your successes for fear of being perceived as overly confident? Yeah, you’re not alone. But doing this frequently has an adverse effect, leading us to, instead, not fully appreciate our wins. By doing this, we fail to celebrate the effort that we put in to achieve our goals. And ultimately, something that could have brought us joy and positivity now has only made us more critical of ourselves.
Instead, Dr. Tchiki Davis says to savor the good moments and give yourself credit when it’s due. “Take note of your wins,” Dr. Davis writes in Psychology Today. “For every small win, celebrate a little bit.” That way, you’ll end up feeling more positive about your achievements—and yourself—overall.
Bonus: Use a tool to help your positive habits—and mindset—stick
Putting all of these tips into practice can take a little time and a lot of work. To make it easier on yourself, grab a tool that makes your positive mindset automatic. The best ones will remind you to keep up your positive habits every day.
We’re big fans of Panda Planner, which builds things like gratitude, focusing on the good, and celebrating your wins into your everyday routine.
To sum it all up…
Whether you’re just having a down day or you’re hoping to permanently shape your mindset into a more positive one: practicing gratitude, improving your posture, meditating, being kind, quieting self-deprecating thoughts, owning your successes, and surrounding yourself with positive people are steps on the road to giving yourself the positive perspective you both want, and deserve.
Author: Jennifer Lance
Jennifer Lance is a writer living in New York City. A former editor at Glamour, she’s written about everything from the Oscars to Marie Kondo-ing her love life. Her pastimes include watching The Bachelor, filing her taxes at the 11th hour, long walks on the beach and also short walks to her neighborhood Dunkin’.