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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

How to Train Your Brain to Be Optimistic

How to Train Your Brain to Be Optimistic

Let’s be honest. When you’re going through a difficult time in life, doesn’t it drive you crazy when someone says, “just be optimistic”?

Everyone has that one overly-optimistic “Positive Pam” friend who sees the good in everything. Trying to find anything to be happy about when you’re struggling feels unrealistic.

The question remains: “Why is it difficult to pull upon happy thoughts when everything in life feels like it’s falling apart?”

Well, the root of the problem lies in the brain. Your brain isn’t designed for happiness because its focus has always been on promoting survival, it saves the happy chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin) for opportunities to meet a survival need.[1]

While all of this is true, it is still possible to train your brain to be optimistic so that you can find the silver lining amidst life’s greatest adversities.

You Can’t Be Positive All the Time

Before I talk about how you can do this, you must realize that you aren’t expected to be positive 100% of the time. You’re human and life happens.

Have you ever had a solid plan in place, and then life comes along and says, “Let’s explore rock bottom for a while instead?!” You’re allowed to feel sad, angry, or negative sometimes.

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However, the trick is making sure that you don’t live in this place for too long. Disempowering emotions serve their purpose in the short-term but can become destructive to your overall quality of life in the long-term.

When it comes to thinking positively, I think a lot of people have a skewed understanding of what positivity should look like. You don’t have to sing in the rain or smile 24/7 to be deemed a positive person.

Appreciating the smallest of things can work wonders for your mindset, such that, over time, you start wiring your brain to seek out and expect more positives. This speaks to the power of having an attitude of gratitude.

Research has shown that gratitude can improve general well-being, increase resilience, strengthen social relationships, and reduce stress and depression.[2]

The more grateful you are, the happier you are.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, happiness won’t always be your automatic response. Rather, it’s a choice that you have to make every single day.

3 Ways You Can Train Your Brain to Be Positive

Similar to any habit, your brain conditions itself to think and behave in certain ways through repetition. Thus, if you engage in daily rituals that enhance your positive thinking, over time you will rewire and train your brain to become more positive.

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Let’s talk about 3 ways that you can train your brain to be positive:

1. Challenge Negative Thoughts

Your mind is a powerful tool – you can either fill it with positive thoughts or negative ones. The average person has thousands of thoughts per day, 80% of which are negative, and 95% of which are exactly the same thoughts as the day before.[3]

If you’re like most people, you probably spend a lot of time in your head. This is where your inner critic loves to hang out and try to convince you of all the reasons why you’re not good enough or why things won’t work out.

Not surprisingly, if you play this disempowering record over and over again in your head, eventually you will start believing it.

People get into trouble when they define who they are based on how they think. You are not your thoughts, so don’t believe everything that you think. This is why it’s so important to practice challenging your negative thoughts.

The next time that you have a thought that doesn’t serve you, stop and reflect upon whether or not that thought is accurate. Once you determine where the fallacy is in your thinking lies, step back and ask yourself, “Is this thought building me up or tearing me down?” If it’s the latter, reframe the negative thought to a more empowering one.

The fastest way to change your life is to change your narrative. Small shifts in your mindset can trigger a massive shift in how you perceive yourself, others, and the world.

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2. Surround Yourself With Positive People

Your success in life is determined, in large part, by your environment. If you want to be an optimistic person, you have to surround yourself with optimistic people. End of story.

As Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Take a moment and think about your close circle of friends. Are they inspiring and driven people who uplift and empower you? Or are they lazy, negative, and toxic?

If it’s the latter, I hate to break it to you, but it’s time to find new friends.

When you surround yourself with positive people, you’re more likely to adopt empowering beliefs and see life as happening for you instead of to you.[4]

Decide who you want to be and find people who embody those traits. When you raise your standards, your circle will change and so, too, will your life.

3. Make Your Mental Health and Well-Being a Priority

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a drastic increase in mental health issues. The isolation, fear, uncertainty, and economic turmoil that people are facing around the world is a breeding ground for psychological distress.[5]

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Given the current state of our world, there has never been a more important time for us to make our mental health and well-being a priority.

The question remains, “How do you stay positive when everything sucks?”

It’s all a matter of perspective.

We know that the mind and body are connected. If you ignore one, the other one suffers equally as much. Research has found that taking care of ourselves physically and mentally can influence our happiness and train our brains over time to be more positive.[6]

Looking after your mind and body means creating a daily self-care ritual, consisting of eating healthy foods, exercising, meditating, doing yoga, staying connected with friends, journaling, reading, and practicing affirmations, to name a few.

Anything that helps you manage your stress and connect with the present moment is key. Even in the most challenging of times, it is always possible to find something to be grateful for. By choosing to focus on what is good in your life and what makes you happy, you will grow stronger in the face of adversity.

Now Is the Time to Train Your Brain to Be Optimistic

Your mindset is everything. Thinking positively is as important as your skills or talents. We cannot always control our outer world, which is why it’s imperative to cultivate a strong inner world.

How you respond to adversity will determine your success in life. Have faith, trust in yourself, and believe in what is possible. When you think positively, positive things will happen.

More Tips on How to Be Optimistic

Featured photo credit: Dayne Topkin via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ashley Elizabeth

Resilience Mastery Coach and Motivational Speaker

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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