Its amazing the impact that positivity can have on your life. Thinking positive can make every moment worth experiencing and every goal worth shooting for. By thinking positive, you just can't help but be optimistic, even when everyone around you is miserable. As a result, you are happier, less depressed, and more satisfied with your life. The benefits of positive thinking are vast. So how do you train your brain to think positive?
1. Take The Quiz
Not sure whether you're a negative nelly? Take this well-being quiz, which not only gives you a score on "positivity", it can help you identify the other skills that can most help you improve your happiness and well-being. If you're someone who needs to work on your positivity, keep reading.
2. Strengthen your positive memory.
Start increasing your positivity by memorizing lists of positive words. This practice forces your brain to use positive words more often, making these words (and their basic meaning) more accessible and easily activated in your brain. So when you go to retrieve a word or idea from your memory, positive words come to the top more easily.
Not sure which words are positive? Psychologists have painstakingly measured thousands of words to determine how positive and negative they are. I've compiled only the most positive of the positive words into a positive word workbook for adults, and a positive word workbook for kids. If you're struggling to think positive, try this strategy first. It can help develop your brain in ways that may make the other positive thinking strategies easier to implement.
3. Strengthen your neural networks.
Once your brain has built strong neural networks for positive words, try to extend these networks by asking your brain to use positive information in new ways. For example, you could memorize positive words and set an alarm that reminds you to recall these words, in reverse order, an hour later.
Or, you could print out these words on cards, cut them into 2 pieces, shuffle them all together and then find each card's match. For example, the word "laughter" would be cut into "laug" and "hter". To match the word pieces, your brain has to search through lots of positive information to find what it's looking for. This positive memory recall task may make it easier when you try to think positive.
Check out this Positivity workbook to get you started.
4. Strengthen your ability to pay attention to the positive things.
Are you one of those people who notices the bad stuff—like when someone cuts you off in traffic or your food doesn't taste quite as good as you wanted it too? Then you likely have trained your brain to focus on the negative, and your brain has gotten really good at it. It can be really challenging to undo this training and think positive.
Just routinely focus on positive information and direct your attention away from the negative. Need help paying attention to the positive? Check out this article about positivity games (the games in point 2 are designed to increase attention to positive things).
5. Think positive, but not too much, and think negative when you need to.
Of course, thinking positive has its benefits. But thinking positive isn't always the best response. Negative thoughts sometimes have benefits too.
When we are sad or grieving, thinking negative thoughts and showing negative emotions helps us communicate to others that we need their support. When we get angry, our thoughts can help motivate us to take action, make changes in our lives, and change the world. Casually pushing these negative emotions aside without seriously considering what they are trying to motivate us to do can have consequences. So when you focus on the negative, ask yourself, is this negative emotion resulting in action that improves your life? If so, then keep it. If not, then work on changing it to be more positive.
Need more help figuring out if your negative emotions are serving a purpose or just dragging you down? Explore your negative emotional habits.
6. Practice gratitude
I'll be the first to admit that there is an infinite number of things to be angry, sad, or anxious about. But the truth is that there is also an infinite number of things to feel passionate, joyful, and excited about. It's up to us to decide which things, the positive or the negative, we want to focus on.
One way to train your brain to focus on the positive it to practice gratitude. Gratitude is when we feel or express thankfulness for the people, things, and experiences we have. When we express gratitude at work, we can more easily gain the respect and camaraderie of those we work with. When we are grateful for our partners or friends, they are more generous and kind to us. When we are grateful for the little things in our day-to-day lives, we find more meaning and satisfaction in our lives.
Need to build a gratitude habit? Try these 5 ways to practice gratitude.
7. Savor the good moments
Too often we let the good moments pass, without truly celebrating them. Maybe your friend gives you a small gift or a colleague makes you laugh. Do you stop to notice and appreciate these small pleasures that life has to offer? If not, then you could benefit from savoring.
Savoring just means holding onto the good thoughts and emotions for as long as we can. You can savor by holding onto the emotions you're feeling in positive moments. Or you can savor by thinking about positive experiences from long ago. Savoring is a great way to develop a long-lasting stream of positive thoughts and emotions.
Need some help practicing savoring? Try this savoring activity.
8. Generate positive emotions by watching fun videos
The broaden-and-build theory suggests that experiencing positive emotions builds our psychological, intellectual, and social resources, allowing us to benefit more from our experiences. So how do we infuse our lives with small bursts of positive emotion?
One way is to watch positive or fun videos. Watching cat videos or inspirational videos can generate a quick boost of positive emotions that can help fuel an upward spiral of positive emotions. Just be sure to mentally hang onto the positive emotions that emerge (with strategies like savoring) so that you take your good mood with you when you leave the couch. And be careful not to get sucked in for too long or you may end up feeling guilty for not getting more done.
Check out this podcast to learn more.
9. Stop minimizing your successes
We have this bad habit of continually downplaying our successes. For example, we may say, “Anyone could memorize positive words,” or “I didn’t increase my happiness as much I wanted to.” But this fails to recognize the effort that you put in—effort that not everyone would put in. These phrases minimize your small successes instead of celebrating them.
The same is true for you. Even reading this article all the way to this point means you are putting effort in to improve your ability to think positive. Give yourself some credit for that! As you pursue positive thinking, happiness, or well-being—whatever your goal is—take note of your wins. For every small win, celebrate a little bit.
10. Stop all-or-nothing thinking
All-or-nothing thinking is when we view a situation as all good or all bad. This is another tough negative thinking habit to overcome. For example, I might think I’m a failure because I have not been particularly successful at helping kids cultivate the skills that help them think positive and increase happiness. I even had to shut down my first business which aimed to cultivate well-being in kids.
On the other hand, I have had great success in working with businesses to help them develop their happiness apps, writing content for these products and courses, and selling workbooks to help people learn happiness skills. What do you think? Does this make me a failure or success? If I was prone to all-or-nothing thinking, then I'd have to choose one or the other. By thinking positive, I can focus on what I do well and accept that I am not perfect and good at everything. You win some; you lose some. That’s life.