Robin has her Bachelor's degree in Psychology, and personal experience in applying psychological principles to every day life.
How to Start Thinking Positive
Positive thinking gurus and self-help articles often tell you that you need to develop a positive mindset, but for some people this is either a foreign concept, or they don't realize they haven't got one.
"Think positive" is a common battle cry, as is, "Put on your Positive Pants" or something of that nature. If you are reading this, it is probably because you have heard these words of encouragement, but are thinking to yourself, "Ok but HOW can I do that in my circumstances?!" I truly feel for you, because I have been there, and thought that it is not as simple as it sounds.
But I promise you there is hope, there are ways to increase happiness, and it is possible to achieve greater success in whatever area of life it is you want to improve. So stay with me and I'll give you at least three concrete steps you can take towards gaining more of a sense of well-being and happiness, and learning to think more positively.
How to be More Hopeful - Step One
Thinking positive and being happy starts with having an underlying sense that there is hope. A lot of people experience great conflict with this concept because they secretly fear that if they admit they are not hopeful, or positive, or happy, it will mean that they are not devoted enough to their particular religious faith. But that simply is not true.
I have known many people who are very devout, yet are very unhappy, and even feel hopeless. So while it is thought that a life of true faith will bring happiness, this is not always the case. Sometimes happiness is just elusive because of a particular event in someone's lifetime, or a series of events, or because of their personality, quirks or predisposition. There can also be underlying mental health issues, but that is a topic for another day.
So for now, let's start with positivity. First, let go of any self-judgement for a moment, and just pretend you are an objective onlooker seeking solutions. You need a starting point for positivity, and without this one thing, all will seem lost.
It is a seemingly simple concept, but may not be something you truly have, and that is - hope. Just plain, simple hope. Some confuse this with faith but there is a difference, and faith is nigh unto impossible without the ability to hope.
Being able to have hope is simply being able to wrap your head around a possibility that may not be obvious to you at this moment. Right now, I am giving you permission, and you need to give yourself permission to grasp this one concept.
Imagine there are no barriers to your success, no money issues, no people issues, no personal issues. Imagine your best possible life-scenario, your dream life, and imagine that you have the magic wand, or whatever it takes to obtain that scenario. Now that you have that picture clear in your mind, allow yourself to hope, and believe that this outcome truly possible for you. Remember that all possibilities remain possible always. All accomplishments start with someone who has a little glimmer of hope, who then acts on that hope.
Now there may be very good reasons why hope is difficult for you. You may not have been raised in the lap of luxury, may not have had many advantages, may not have had the best of luck, or health, or a supportive family. You could have had a series of things happen to you, terrible things, that have caused you to have much unhappiness. But that does not have to define your future. Your future success and happiness are for you to define by the actions you take today, however small, to move towards that future. Remember that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and empowerment begins with taking responsibility. Whatever element of your situation you can take responsibility for, do so, and work out from there.
So start with hope, then later that can morph into faith, but in the meantime you can at least start to believe the best is possible for your life, good things can happen, and that you deserve that just as much as the next person.
Here is an exercise that will help:
Imagine that you are a small, wide-eyed child who got upset about something relatively minor, but still you are very upset - something children are prone to doing. To children, small things can sometimes mean the world to them in the moment.
Now, also imagine yourself as a loving adult charged with reassuring that small child that everything is going to be alright. What would you say to give them hope? How would you comfort them?
Now, imagine yourself being comforted in that same, loving way. Imagine allowing yourself that little glimmer of hope, and just relish that moment, hold on to it, and explore how it makes you think and feel.
Now that you have that experience in mind, take things a step further. Observe your thoughts and start 'catching' yourself thinking in either hopeful, or hopeless ways. If you have hopeless thoughts, don't judge, just start turning that around by using this thought process, or by journaling negative thoughts and re-writing them as positive thoughts.
Practice doing this more and more, for at least a month, and you will learn to allow yourself to have hope, which is the first step in learning to think in a more positive way.
How Can I Stop Feeling Hopeless?
How to Be Happier - Step Two
Please don't let this be the last thing you read in this article, it is only one part of the process. You may or may not agree with this, but stay with me because I will tell you from personal experience - this works! You've heard the term "fake it 'till you make it", right? Well I am not advocating faking anything. If you are unhappy about something, you don't have to fake being happy about it. If you are having a hard time with something, it is what it is, and no amount of faking will change that. Sometimes there are just things we can't control about certain situations. But that doesn't mean we have to be miserable because there IS something we CAN control, and that is our reaction or response to a situation. More on that in a moment.
For right now, this prescription is for overall happiness - which is separate from situational happiness. If you could rank personal happiness overall on a scale of zero to ten, with ten being the happiest ever, where would you rank yours? And wherever that is, if you want to increase your happiness factor, you have to practice happiness just like a ball player or ballet dancer practicing for the big night.
So start by smiling. Not just a little smirk, and not just a lopsided grin, but a nice, big, fat, toothy smile. Think about something pleasant, and let yourself smile - or make yourself smile if necessary.
Smile in your car, smile in the mirror at yourself, smile before you go to bed and smile when you wake up - even if you don't feel like it, just practice. Look at funny things, or kittens, or babies laughing, and just enjoy the purity of that single moment, and smile. It may feel a little awkward at first, especially if you have been very unhappy for a long time, but I promise you that if you do this faithfully, every day for one month, you will start to feel a little happier. You might even find yourself smiling without trying! Start keeping track of how much you are smiling, and noticing how often other people smile back at you - you will be amazed and the improvements!
How to Work at Being More Positive - Step Three
I chose the photo of the red cardinal because to me he looks like a superhero, and once in a while we all need a superhero. Some of us spend a lot of time trying to be a superhero for those we love, and in the end may feel like a failure because we don't see the results we hoped for. But more often, we forget to take care of ourselves because we are busy with work, family, hobbies, volunteering or other activities.
And that being said, I will tell you now that having a positive mental attitude is going to take a little effort, but don't let that scare you off. The final step in this discussion of how to learn to think more positively, is learn to take charge, to become your own superhero. For this, you will simply need a piece of paper and a pencil, so go grab that real quick and come back, I'll wait.
Ready? Good. Now draw a line down the middle of the page, and on the left side of the page list the top 5 things that must be different, and how they would have to change in order for you to have a more positive mental attitude. Now on the right side of the page, opposite each problem, write down just one thing, even one small thing, that you can do to get started resolving the issue immediately.
If your problems are people-centered, keep in mind that the only people we can truly change are ourselves, but this doesn't mean that situations involving others can't be changed. It may just be that you need to look at it a little differently. It may also be that the changes you make to yourself can be a catalyst for change in others. And it may be that the person in question may never change, so you have to adapt or move on.
In the end, your motive needs to be your own sense of health and well-being, because that is really what this is about. You may think you are essential to the lives and welfare of others, and that may be true, but if you are not taking care of yourself I can promise you that you will be worthless to the people you are trying to help - and you may end up doing more harm than good.
Going back to the previous exercise, if you were the loving adult taking care of the small child, would you treat yourself the way you do? Would you allow people to treat you the way they do, or would you choose other companions? Would you allow the unhealthy behaviors? Would you implement a plan to take better care of this child, move them out of harm's way?
Self-care is not selfish, nor does it have to be all-encompassing. Take a few minutes out of your day, treat yourself in some way, spend some time in thoughtful meditation, and clear your head.
Do some journaling as mentioned above. Start with what you want to change, jot down what it will take for that change to happen, how long it will take, and what the pieces to the puzzle are. Don't expect it to all be clear in an instant. It can take some time for your brain to catch up with your renewed sense of hope, but if you stay solution-oriented, new ideas will come to you.
But most of all, remember that Rome was not built in a day. This is your future we are talking about. Isn't it worth taking a few minutes to figure out? Isn't it worth spending a little time to figure out how you can achieve the life you wish to have, and then begin working towards that goal?
How to Start Thinking Positive Thoughts
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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