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Doable ways to cultivate a positive mindset
Positive thinking helps reduce stress and can even improve your health. It requires a bit of practice, but with persistence and these five strategies, you can get there.
A positive mindset doesn’t just improve your mood. It brings physical health benefits as well. Increased lifespan.1 Reduced risk of illness. Better heart health. And that’s just the beginning. But having a sunny outlook isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Positive thinking is a skill you have to learn.1,2
What’s also important? Understanding what a positive mindset isn’t. It doesn’t mean ignoring unpleasant things. Instead, a positive mindset helps you deal with both good and bad in a more productive way. (Learn more about what it means to have good mental health.)
It’s possible to shift your mindset, but it’s not something you do overnight. You commit to taking lots of small steps. And over time, you’ll be able to find the positive more and more. Try working these easy tips into your day to get started.
Practice positive self-talk
We all have an inner voice. It’s an endless stream of unspoken thoughts. This “self-talk” can be negative or positive.3 To see which way you lean, check in with yourself during the day. If you tend to be positive, keep it up. If you tend to judge yourself negatively, try to soften your approach. Talk to yourself in the same way you would talk to a dear friend. Show kindness, gentleness and encouragement.
Reframe your negative thoughts
When you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, pause. See if you can spin what you’re thinking in a positive way. Here are a couple of examples:
If you’re thinking: “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’ll probably fail.”
Reframe it: Say to yourself, “This is a chance to learn something new.”
If you’re thinking: “There’s no way I’ll get this job.”
Reframe it: Say to yourself, “I have the skillset for this job.”
You’re not ignoring reality. These things could indeed be hard to do. And it’s possible you won’t succeed. But that’s OK. You’re going to give it a shot anyway.
When you’re curious, you’re open to new experiences. You take an interest in those experiences. You also spend a lot of time asking questions, rather than mulling over negative thoughts.4
“People who really explore things are able to have a more positive take on the world,” says Robert McGrath, PhD. He’s a professor at the School of Psychology and Counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey.
For instance, if something goes wrong, it’s easy to dwell on what happened. Curiosity helps refocus your attention. You can look at why it happened and what you can learn from the experience. Say your partner says something that hurts your feelings. Rather than focusing on what they said, explore why they said it. Then think about whether that can teach you something about how you can be better partners to each other.
Start each day with hope
Hope is expecting the best in the future and working toward it.5 “Hope is one of the best predictors of well-being,” says McGrath.
He recommends starting each day by stating three realistic hopes for the day. Think of these by filling in the blank, “Today I hope to …” It’s OK if you don’t achieve them. And it’s helpful to consider the obstacles you may face. The idea, though, is to start the day looking to your best possible future. “It breaks the cycle of negativity,” says McGrath.
End each day with gratitude
Gratitude is being aware of and thankful for good things happening. And practicing gratitude helps you feel happier.6 Here’s a popular gratitude exercise. Before bed, simply think of three things you’re grateful for that day.
“Thinking back on your day and what was good about it really does help people,” says McGrath. “It could be a pretty sunset or praise from your boss,” he says. “Celebrate the small wins, not perfection.” This might be hard to do at first. “Even something as simple as that actually takes some practice,” he says. “You have to get in the groove.”
So take your time. Give yourself space. And little by little, you’ll start to feel brighter inside and out.
- Biological Sciences. Optimism is associated with exceptional longevity in 2 epidemiologic cohorts of men and women. Published August 26, 2019. Accessed July 25, 2022.
- The American Psychologist. Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. Published 2005. Accessed July 25, 2022.
- Neuroimage. Differences in the modulation of functional connectivity by self-talk tasks between people with low and high life satisfaction. Published August 15, 2022. Accessed July 25, 2022.
- The American Journal of Medicine. The importance of being curious. Published December 17, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2022.
- Global Epidemiology. The role of hope in subsequent health and well-being for older adults: An outcome-wide longitudinal approach. Published November 2022. Accessed July 25, 2022.
- Greater Good Science Center. The Science of Gratitude. Published May 2018. Accessed July 25, 2022.
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