You just got dumped. Your company is going through a merge and it looks like you will be lose your job. Your mortgage payment is due tomorrow but you don’t have the money. You just got diagnosed with diabetes, or cancer, or heart disease. Sometimes when life gets tough, it’s hard to feel optimistic. Being positive is like flexing a muscle; the more you work it out the easier it gets. Here are a few quick hacks that can actually change the way your brain deals with negative situations.
1. Step Back And Assess Your Situation
Put distance between you and positivity zappers like fear and anger. Try to look at your situation without emotion attached. In order to stay positive you need clarity. Just like sitting in the front row at the movies can make it hard to see the whole screen, when you are too close to the situation it can be a challenge to see it clearly. Describe your sitaution devoid of emotion in the simplest terms. For example, if you have lost your job you can get caught up in the emotion of feeling wronged or inadeqaute. Your worry can take over and lead you to imagine the worse case scenario like losing your home and your family. Before you let this downward spiral begin make a simple assessment. “I have lost my job. I need a plan to find a new job.”
2. Remember Everything Can Be a Miraculous Opportunity
Everything can be an opportunity. When I speak to people who have cancer, it is amazing the number of stories where people, in hindsight, are grateful for their illness and even their losses. We do the most personal growth and change when we have had to dig deep. Recognizing this can release some of that fight-or-flight reaction. Remind yourself that people overcome negative things to be better versions of themselves. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, recognize that although you wouldn’t invite or celebrate what you are dealing with, you can accept it and move on.
3. Move Your Body, It Calms Your Mind
Exercise releases chemicals that calm and heal. It also provides a momentary escape from your thoughts. When you choose an activity like Zumba or tennis that requires focus and concentration, you give yourself a little time-out from thinking about your situation. When you finish whatever exercise you have chosen, your body will have released some calming chemicals and your mind will be refreshed. This can feel like coming at your problem from a new perspective.
4. Wait and Breathe
When our body starts its fight-or-flight reaction the natural chemicals that are released impede our ability to make good decisions. Taking time to breathe deeply or to meditate couteracts the stress process that your body has started and enables you to use better judgement on how to proceed. This is one time when less is not more. Take as much time as you need to calm yourself before your begin planning or decision making.
5. Be Self-Compassionate
In a class I was recently teaching, I asked the participants to rate their compassion on a scale of one to ten. Most participants rated themselves as a seven or eight. But when I asked them to rate their self-compassion, many dipped down to a two or three. We truly can be our own harshest critic and worst enemy. Practice treating yourself the way you would a small child. Speak kindly to yourself. I like to imagine that everything I think about myself is immediately printed on my forehead. If I don’t want others to think I am forgetful, incompetent, or not enough then I cannot have these thoughts myself.
6. Get Outside
David Suzuki recently studied the effects of spending 30 minutes outside everyday. Not surprisingly people were happier and less stressed out after they had spent time in nature. You don’t have to hike the Appalachians, just get on the roof and star gaze or feed the ducks in the park. The body relaxes and then releases chemicals that help lower blood pressure, heighten immunity and support emotional resilience.
7. Make a Plan
When the feeling of being overwhelmed hits, mapping out what your next steps are can be really useful. You cannot always solve the whole problem, but breaking what you need to do into manageable bites can stop the fight or flight reaction and allow you to take charge of your emotions.
8. Create an Affirmation
An affirmation is a positive phrase that moves you towards what you want by behaving as though you already have it. Simple affirmations that you repeat to yourself in your head may be:
- Right now, I am okay.
- I am resilient
- Things are getting better
- I am stable during life’s ups and downs.
Or you can create a more specific and advanced one like:
- I attract abundance and love
- My awareness is anchored in tranquility.
- I easily find a new job that I love.
- I fully accept myself and know that I am worthy of great things in life.
9. Move Towards What You Want
Part of moving towards what you want is knowing what that is. For example if you are ending a relationship instead of thinking “I don’t want to be with someone who treats me badly” you might think “I deserve a partner who treats me with kindness and love”. The difference might seem subtle but moving toward something is always more concrete than escaping something. The universe loves specificity!
10. Find Moments of Gratitude
There is always something to be thankful for. Even life seems to be kicking you when you are down, there is always something to be thankful for. When my daughter was diagnosed with autism and I was feeling very sorry for myself, I met a mom who had a daughter the same age who had autism and leukemia. My child was not dealing with fighting for her life alongside her new diagnosis. Comparison isn’t always the thief of joy. Sometimes it can remind us of the good things we have. As you practice gratitude for these things, your brain strengthens its ability to find things to be grateful for and soon you will be seeing good all around you. A great way to get started is with a joy journal where you make a daily list of 3 things you are thankful for. As you make a practice of acknowledging the good things in your life, you become more positive.