“Look on the bright side!”
Sure—in a perfect world.
You’ve heard all those mantras before, but welcome to the real world, where life is hard and stress makes it difficult to always whistle a happy tune.
So how can you carry a positive attitude every day, at work and at home? How do you actually do it?
We all know people who are unfailingly perky and optimistic, always looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. I used to look at people like that with a mixture of admiration and annoyance. Then one day I asked myself, what are they doing that is different?
Now, several years later, people are fascinated with my contagiously cheerful nature. So how did I do it? It wasn’t easy, but by internalizing the following five tips, I was able to turn my negative attitude into a positive one:
1. Switch gears.
I love to ballroom dance. It motivates and inspires me. I’m best at the flirtatious Rumba dance, but the lively Samba gives me a bit of trouble. During one practice, I was especially frustrated with a turn called the “Alemana” in a Samba routine. My professional dance partner, Dmitry Savchenko, suggested that I switch to the Rumba—my comfort zone. After taking a mental and physical break from the Samba and doing something with similar pattern movements that made me feel good, I was ready to again tackle the Samba and its version of the Alemana. I nailed it on the first try.
By stepping back and concentrating on my best skill, my mind switched from feeling frustrated to feeling fresh, alert and more willing to accept new information. Why is that? Because when you feel confident in your abilities, you’re able to think creatively and solve problems. Use that momentum to your advantage.
2. Press pause on frustration.
Do you ever feel like throwing your computer at the wall? Or feel like throwing everything on your desk away? In times of extreme frustration or feelings of failure, stop and pause.
Realize that the frustration you feel isn’t a flaw—it’s your determination to succeed. Then turn your focus to something you truly enjoy.
Consciously be aware of the enjoyment you feel. Watch a favorite video clip, listen to an upbeat song or play a little tennis—just do what you need to do to put yourself in the right mood. Don’t overthink it, just take action and do something that feels positive.
3. Identify patterns.
Once you are in your “happy” place, look at your problem with fresh eyes. You may find that a solution arises that you didn’t see before, or that you are better able to master a new skill now that you have changed your mindset. Do you notice any patterns in the times that you feel focused, alert and engaged?
Feel-good behaviors lead to more productive results. Look for a common thread of “wins” throughout the day, such as meetings that went well, key insights that were learned or performance metrics that were met. In times of frustration, push yourself to stop and do something that makes you feel good, then attack the problem anew.
4. Reward yourself.
It sounds obvious, but make a list of ways to reward yourself for a job well done (or a positive attitude maintained). It could be a coffee run, a guilty-pleasure TV show, a favorite dessert or simply quiet time to yourself. During a particularly hard dance practice, I pushed through in anticipation of the post-practice reward—a massage. Rewards are personal and should motivate, excite and stimulate a person. Whatever fits the bill for you, make sure to integrate it into your daily life.
Timing matters, too. Don’t postpone the reward until after achieving the big goal. Break the goal down into milestones by considering what it will take for you to get to that goal, and reward yourself at each accomplished milestone. If I am getting ready for a competition, I don’t wait until after the competition to reward myself. Rather, I build rewards into the process leading up to competition and after.
Every day is a new day and deserves a fresh approach, a chance to focus on those “good” patterns. You’ll find that trying to replicate your positive experiences throughout the day will provide lasting motivation and excitement.
At the end of your day, set aside 15 minutes to reflect on your “daily wins” and how they made you feel. How did they happen? Were they the result of good planning, strategy, interpersonal relationships or proper use of technology? When did you feel completely lost in the moment and truly engaged in what you were doing? Jot down some notes. Then look for ways to carry those feelings and positive behaviors during the following day.
Over time, accentuating the positive becomes a habit, not just an overly sunny expression. You will be able to easily identify when you feel the strongest and most effective.
Try seeking out a trusted colleague or mentor to take this challenge with you. Commit to taking a small amount of time each day for three weeks. At the end of each week, discuss your observations and your progress. Rather than having a gripe session, you’ll find yourselves focusing on the parts of the week that motivated and inspired you.
So instead of looking to crush the bad, seek to celebrate the good and accentuate the positive. This fresh outlook will brightly color your days and bring lasting, realistic change. People may even start to ask you how you stay so positive every day. You never know!
This article was published in June 2015 and has been updated. Photo by Shutterstock.