Having a positive outlook is a choice. You can choose to think thoughts that elevate your mood, throw a more constructive light on difficult situations, and generally color your day with brighter, more hopeful approaches to the things you do. By choosing to take a positive outlook on life, you can begin to shift out of a negative frame of mind and see life as filled with possibilities and solutions instead of worries and obstacles. If you want to know how to think more positively, just follow these tips.
1. Identify your automatic negative thoughts. In order to shift away from the negative thinking that is holding you back from having a positive outlook, you’ll need to become more aware of your “automatic negative thoughts”. When you recognize them, you’re in a position to challenge them and give them their marching orders to move right out of your head.
- Once you identify the negative thought, knowing what type of negative thought it is can help you further battle this kind of thinking and counteract this thought with positive thoughts in the opposite direction.
2. Avoid “black and white thinking.” In this type of thinking, everything you encounter either is or it isn’t; there are no shades of gray. Therefore, if something doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, everything must be bad because nothing can be salvaged unless there are gray areas. It’s a great one for procrastinators who say things like, “Since I’m not likely to get this paper done in time, why bother trying at all?”
- To avoid this type of thinking, embrace the shades of gray in life. Instead of thinking in terms of two outcomes, one positive, and one negative, make a list of all of the outcomes in between to see that things aren’t as dire as they seem.
- For example, if you get a late start on a paper and think you shouldn’t bother because you won’t finish it in time, consider the other possibilities. You could finish half the paper and still get a better grade than if you don’t turn it in; you could finish the whole paper but have it be a bit more rough that you hoped; you could even talk to your teacher to see if you could get an extension.
- “Black and white thinking” is a form of “over-generalizing.” This is thinking that things are never or always a certain way. This is a way of scolding yourself into permanent inability, such as when you say something like: “I always botch these tests. Why would today be any different?” or “She is never wrong, therefore it must be me who is wrong.”
- Seeing the shades of gray in any situation will help you see that it’s almost never the end of the world when you feel like your back is pushed up against the wall.
3. Avoid “personalizing.” Personalizing is thinking that anything that goes wrong is automatically your fault. Not only is this a form of narcissism, but it’s liable to make you feel terrible in almost any situation. If you take this type of thinking too far, you can get paranoid and think that no one likes you or wants to hang out with you, and that every little move you make is going to disappoint someone.
- This is the way someone who is used to absorbing people’s feelings thinks. You may think, “Betty didn’t smile at me this morning. I must have done something to upset her.” However, it’s most likely that Betty was just having a bad day; you’ll only get frustrated if you think of what you could have done to hurt her.
- To avoid this kind of thinking, be rational. Slow down and think of all the other reasons a negative situation might happen. For example, think about Betty as an individual outside of yourself — you may remember that Betty’s favorite pet died over the weekend or that she’s going through a tough breakup. This will make you see that her reaction had nothing to do with you.
4. Avoid “filter thinking.” This is when you choose to only hear the negative message in something communicated to you. For example, your boss might have praised you on a job well done, but mentioned a small area where you might make a few changes next time. Your poor boss is trying to help you identify where you could fix just a few minor issues, and you’re too busy turning this feedback into a damning criticism, failing to see the gigantic praise that came your way. If you think this way, then you’ll never see the positive in any situation.
- To avoid filter thinking, reflect on the entire situation and even take notes. Make a list of all of the things that were said, positive and negative. If you write down everything your boss said to you during a generally positive meeting, then you’ll have visual confirmation that the positive comments greatly outweigh the negative ones.
5. Avoid “catastrophizing.” This is when you can’t think of anything without assuming it’s all going to end in doom and gloom. For example, you might think that your entire family will be hit by a bus during the day, all because you didn’t kiss them goodbye. It’s unrealistic, and it is very exhausting to keep thinking this way. Here’s how you can avoid catastrophe thinking:
- Be practical. Think of the likelihood of something completely devastating happening. For example, if you fall into a negative panic every time a loved one is on an airplane, remember that a person has a better chance of dying by getting hit over the head with a coconut than in a plane crash.
- Think of all the catastrophes that happened to you and the people around you. Sure, some people get tough breaks, but how many people do you actually know who were murdered, had their house broken into and all of their possessions stolen, or whose cars exploded? Chances are, the number is close to zero.
- To minimize catastrophic thinking, avoid television shows that promote the idea that gruesome murder or tragic accidents are an every day occurrence. They may seem like an everyday occurrence when you take the general population into account, but the chances of them happening to one person are very low.
6. Avoid “fortune-telling thinking.” If you spend your time gazing into your crystal ball that actually looks backwards and decides the future according to what you’ve experienced in the past, you will be convinced that things aren’t going to work. For example, you might say to yourself, “This friendship is bound to fail, just like my previous ones.” It probably will, because you’ve just rubber-stamped the outcome in your mind, and your subconscious will do its best to make you fail so you’ll be right.
- Instead, learn to take things on a case-by-case basis. Just because you had a bad breakup with your previous boyfriend doesn’t mean that the same will happen with your new boyfriend. If you keep having the same bad breakup for the same reason, then it’s time to do some soul-searching, but if it was a completely different situation, then don’t lose hope in your current situation or it will show.
7. Challenge all of your negative thoughts. Just because you may have spent most of your life thinking negatively, that doesn’t make this behavior right or healthy. Initially, it can feel very confronting to keep reminding yourself that the negative thoughts deserve challenging when they distress or disrupt you. Here are some great ways to start challenging those negative thoughts:
- Begin by asking simple questions when the automatic negative thoughts pop up, particularly questions like, “Did I just make that up because it sounded reasonable but I lacked the facts?” or “How does it help me to think negatively like this?” and “Is this situation as bad as I’m making it out to be?”
8. Replace the negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Once you’re feeling confident that you can spot and challenge negative thoughts, you’re ready to make active choices about replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. This doesn’t mean that everything in your life will always be positive ––sometimes bad things happen and you’ll feel genuinely bad –– and that’s normal. Aiming for a positive outlook means replacing the daily unhelpful thinking patterns with thoughts that actually help you to flourish. Here are some great ways to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones:
- Find the good in events, people and things around you, all of the time. Find at least one thing you like about every person you meet and every place you go.
- Make a list of all the things you’re thankful for every night.
- Recognize challenging situations and people as opportunities rather than as setbacks. A challenge is a chance to grow and learn.
- Tell yourself that the future is filled with possibilities and the potential for good things. Make a list of all the good things you’re looking forward to in the future.