There is a never-ending torrent of negative information infiltrating our lives, be it the news, gossip, or even our families. This can make it hard to focus on the positive. In fact, our brains have evolved to process and store negative information easier than positive. Being able to quickly retrieve important – and usually negative – information from our brains has helped humans survive.
It’s worth learning to resist that tendency. In the Personal Fitness Trainer program, we teach this to NAIT students so they can produce positive health changes within their clients. Research has shown that positive people live longer, have better mental well-being, and a healthier immune system. That is, they’re not only happier, they’re healthier.
Here are six steps to help you change your outlook on the world, and maybe even your quality of life.
Spend some time with yourself. Reflect on the words you use, thoughts you have, and your body language. If you start most of your sentences with “No,” “I can’t,” “That’s awful,” “I can’t believe they just did that,” or have ever thought “I hate going to meetings,” your attitude needs a tune up – which we address in point 3.
Figure out what triggers your negative attitude and decrease its presence in your life. If the world’s problems are causing anxiety, irritability, hopelessness or negativity, consider lessening or eliminating your exposure to bad news.
Treat negative people the same way. Don’t be scared to limit time with those who speak badly about others or about work, are always playing the victim, or who tell you how you can be better. Attitude is contagious.
Now that you are aware of your behaviours and what draws you into negative thinking, let’s work on building a positive outlook by changing negative thoughts to positive. I like to call this “reframing.”
Reframing redirects harmful or unproductive negative thoughts to beneficial or positive ones. For example, “I don’t want to go to that boring meeting this morning” is a negative thought that can ruin your day. Reframe to, “It will be nice to chat with Jane today. I haven’t seen her for a while and she always has funny stories about her daughter.”
4. Manage stress
Stress can cause muscle tension and pains, digestive problems and headaches. Emotionally and cognitively, stress can leave us irritable, overwhelmed, anxious, moody, prone to worry, and depressed. In addition, all these symptoms make us even more vulnerable to negative thoughts and feelings.
Learn to manage your stress by adding regular movement breaks to your day, such as a few minutes of brisk walking, and by decreasing caffeine, alcohol and junk foods.
5. Let go and be you
Pop culture can’t wait to tell us how we should look and feel, who we should love, and what we should buy. This can cause negative self-talk and judgment of ourselves and others, so work on ignoring the damaging chatter by reducing exposure and reframing your thinking.
Fighting to be who you want is important. Trying to be someone you are not can cause anxiety and low self-esteem and invite a continuous flow of negative thoughts. Avoid this by accepting yourself.
Everyone is different and has had unique life experiences that have shaped beliefs and, in turn, attitude. This means it may be a little easier for some people to focus on the positive than for others. In any case, though, attitude can be worked on.
We may bounce back and forth from negative to positive and back again. Working to be a more positive person takes practice. Try these steps. It’s an incremental process of small gains each day that will accumulate and create positive, affirming habits. The mind is like a muscle and it too needs exercise daily.