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Last Updated on November 27, 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 January 15, 2021

How To Focus on the Positive To Achieve Your Goal In Life

How To Focus on the Positive To Achieve Your Goal In Life

Focusing on the positive seems harder than ever. A global pandemic, civil unrest, and political tensions galore have made thies year tough.

In spite of all the challenges this year has thrown at you, there are ways you can stay positive and continue to pursue your life’s goals. Remember, more trials are yet to come. You need to be able to overcome them all in order to turn your dreams into realities.

Motivation can be tough to come by in times like these. Here’s how you can keep your head up and keep moving forward:

1. Perform an Attitude Check

Whenever you hit a snag in your life, take a step back. Think about how you’re reacting to the situation. Are you thinking rationally? Is your behavior warranted? Are your actions helping or hurting your cause?

If you take the time to evaluate yourself, you’ll be able to stop negativity in its tracks. With a little practice, you’ll learn to reframe pessimistic thoughts into more positive, realistic ones.

2. Keep a Journal

Even on the bleakest of days, you can come up with one shred of silver lining. All it takes is a little reflection.

At least once a day, make a point to jot down something good about your day in your journal. By focusing on your blessings, you’ll start to see more and more of them.

Also, use this journal to record progress you make toward your life goals. If you want to become a professional athlete, write down your day’s workout routine. Day by day, you’ll see just how much progress you’ve made. Look back at your journal entries on tough days, and they will remind you of how far you’ve come.

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3. Surround Yourself With Similar People

When you’re on your own, it’s much easier to get discouraged. The solution is to find a support group.

Communities exist for every conceivable interest. If you’re a freelance writer, Writers Guild of America can help you hone your skills. If you’re a combat veteran, All the Way Home can get you outdoors with other wounded warriors. If you like trivia, join a local quiz bowl team.

Don’t underestimate The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You.

4. Quantify Your Goals

Pursuing your goals will get frustrating if you don’t give yourself specific markers of success. The solution is to put hard numbers to your goals.

For example, if your life goal is to become wealthy, how rich is rich enough? Will you be satisfied with $1 million? What about $10 million? Unless you have a figure in mind, you’ll never feel like you have enough.

Even more ambiguous goals can be quantified. Maybe being happy for you means getting out of debt and spending at least 10 hours per week with family and friends.

Learn about how to set goals in this article: How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully

2. Remember Your ‘Why’

While reaching for your goals, you can’t lose sight of your “why.” This is what pushes you through the bad days and motivates you to keep going. Without a “why,” your goals might start to seem arbitrary.

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If you have a goal to run a marathon, what gets you on your feet every morning? Is it to get in shape? Perhaps it’s to feel a sense of accomplishment as you cross the finish line. Keeping your “why” top of mind will get you out the door when you don’t feel like training.

3. Tell Others About Your Progress

Public recognition is a powerful thing. When you hit a new milestone, share it publicly. Not only will you feel good doing so, but you’ll be more motivated to reach the next one.

Say you have a sales quota at work. Announce when you’ve hit 50%, 75%, and 100% of your goal, and encourage others to do the same. Celebrating together encourages the whole team to stay positive and to reach higher.

4. Develop a Mantra

“Just do it.” Sound familiar? Nike’s motto is also an excellent example of a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase you repeat to yourself for motivation when times get tough.

Mantras are commonly used by professional athletes who need to keep a level head while performing under extreme physical stress.[1] But mantras work just as well to get people through mentally or emotionally taxing periods.

Make your mantra meaningful and easy to remember. When you need a boost, you can say it out loud or simply think it to yourself. You can get some inspirations from these 50 Self-Affirmations to Help You Stay Motivated Every Day.

5. Try Meditation

When you get too wrapped up in the negative, it can be tough to think your way out of it. When that happens, turn to meditation. Meditation helps you calm your mind and see problems with fresh eyes.

The best part is, there’s no “wrong” way to meditate. You can do a guided meditation, or simply shut yourself away in a quiet place and listen to your breathing.

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If you’re not sure where to start, download a meditation app. Popular options include Headspace, Calm, and Sattva. After a few sessions, you’ll feel the difference.

6. Make Time for Yourself

Pursuing your goals and fighting off the worries of the world can take a toll on your wellbeing. A little “me time” can get you back on track.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a day off. Use this day to indulge in a hobby, a favorite TV show, or even just a nap. When you get back to the grind, you’ll be that much more productive.

Learn How to Take Time for Yourself and Restore Your Energy.

7. Get Enough Sleep

How many people do you know who do their best work when they don’t get enough sleep? Chances are, it’s the same as the number of Super Bowl rings in the Cleveland Browns’ trophy case (hint: zero).

When you’re sleep deprived, a positive outlook can be elusive.[2] Develop a night routine that helps you put your devices away and get to bed on time.

If you still struggle to get the sleep you need, try supplements like melatonin. Speak with your doctor if conditions like sleep apnea are interrupting your rest.

8. Exercise Regularly

No doubt: Exercise is important for your physical health. But did you know it can also lift you up mentally and emotionally? Exercise releases endorphins in your brain. These chemicals combat pain, stress, and even depression.

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Unless you live on a farm an hour outside the nearest city, you’ll find a gym nearby. If a gym membership isn’t in your budget, you can do calisthenic exercises at home or take up running. Another good option is yoga, which can also improve your balance and focus.

9. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

What you put into your body is just as important as what you do with it. A healthy diet coupled with plenty of water is key if you want to function at your peak. Junk foods, sugary drinks, and alcohol can sap your energy and harm your self-esteem.

If you have trouble sticking with your diet, set up a meal plan. Portion out meals for yourself so you don’t eat too much or too little. Set reminders in your calendar to ensure you sip water throughout the day. Here’s How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You.

10. Switch Up Your Routine

Doing the same thing day in and day out can get old. And when your life gets stale, you may struggle for motivation or a positive outlook.

Don’t let yourself fall into a rut. When you do, try a different approach. Changing course even slightly can help you see things in a new light. Instead of taking a walk at noon, for instance, could you go on one before work?

Take this same approach to your professional development. If you’re sick of learning about physics, it’s going to be tough to become the next Albert Einstein. What about a dose of math or chemistry?

Final Thoughts

Despite all these tactics you can use to stay positive and accomplish what you want in life, the most important one can be summed up in three words: Don’t give up!

Quitting won’t get you any closer to your goals, nor will it put you in a positive headspace. Use this guide to keep moving forward no matter how difficult life can be.

More on How To Think Positive

Featured photo credit: Sander Crombach via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Built For Athletes: 6 Real Mantras Used By Elite Athletes
[2] Harvard: Sleep and Mental Health

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