“Having a positive mental attitude is asking how something can be done rather than saying it can’t be done.”
“To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.”
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
One of the very first things I started to work on consciously with my own personal development was to improve my outlook on life.
It was over 15 years ago that I started to delve into this topic and to step by step – and while sometimes tumbling backwards – build a more optimistic outlook.
An attitude that would over time become more and more stable so that I could not only look at the world in a positive way during good days.
But also so I could stay positive and constructive even during tough times and keep working towards something better.
In this article I’d like to share 19 of the best, smartest and most effective habits for doing so that I have learned during over more than a decade.
I hope you will find something helpful here to stay positive.
Bonus: Download a free step-by-step checklist that will show you how to stay positive. It’s easy to save as a PDF or print out for whenever you need it during your day or week
1. Find the optimistic viewpoint in a negative situation.
One of the simplest but most effective ways to build a more positive outlook has in my experience been to ask more helpful questions as often as possible.
When I am in what seems like a negative situation – maybe I have been lazy, made a mistake, failed or stumbled in some kind of way – then I like to ask myself questions like:
- What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation?
- What is one opportunity within this situation?
Doing so is a whole lot better than what I used to do in such situations. Because back then I usually asked myself how much I sucked and how things could get even worse now.
I do however not always use these questions right away.
Oftentimes I need a bit of time to process the thoughts and feelings that arise in situation before I can do that.
Trying to force positive thinking when you are still in an emotional turmoil or a bit shocked usually don’t work that well.
2. Cultivate and live in a positive environment.
Who you choose to spend your time with and the input you get from further away like the TV, the internet and magazines will have a huge effect on your outlook.
To be able to stay positive it is essential to have influences in your life that support you and lift you up instead of dragging you down.
So carefully consider what you let into your mind.
You can for example ask yourself:
- Who are the 3 most negative people I spend time with?
- What are the 3 of most negative sources of information I spend time on?
Consider the answers. Then think about how you can start spending less time with one of those people or information sources that bring too much negative energy this week.
And how you can spend more of the time you have now freed up with one of the most positive people and other sources in your life.
3. Go slowly.
I have found that when I go too fast, when I try to think, talk, eat and move around in my world really quickly then things don’t go too well.
Stress builds up. Negative thoughts about just about anything start to well up and I feel like my own personal power decreases.
But if I slow down just for a few minutes – even if I have to force it by walking, talking and eating slower – then my mind and body calms down too. It becomes easier to think things through clearly again and easier to find the optimistic and constructive perspective.
4. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
It’s very easy to lose perspective, especially if you are stressed and you are going too fast.
And so a molehill can become a big and terrifying mountain in your mind.
A simple three step way to handle these situations so they don’t get out of hand is to:
In your mind, shout “STOP!” or “NOPE, we are not going down that path again!” as soon as thoughts of this kind starts to spin in your head.
After you have disrupted the thoughts by shouting stop sit down and just be still.
Breathe with your belly and focus on just your in-breaths and out-breaths for a minute or two to calm your mind and body down.
Question your mountain building thoughts by talking to someone close to you and getting a more grounded perspective on the situation by just venting or by getting his or her input.
Or simply ask yourself this to widen your perspective and to chill out:
Will this matter in 5 years? Or even 5 weeks?
5. Don’t let vague fears hold you back from doing what you want.
Sometimes you may want to take a chance in life. Start a new habit that feels unfamiliar, your own business on the side or ask someone out for a date.
A common trap when you want to do one of those things is to get lost in vague fears and about what could happen if you actually took action.
And so the mind runs wild fueled by fear and it creates nightmare scenarios and plenty of self-doubt.
I know. I have been there many times.
So I have learned to ask myself this: honestly, what is the worst that could happen?
When I have figured that out I also spend a bit of time on trying to figure out what I could do if that that often pretty unlikely thing happens.
I have over the years discovered that the worst thing that could realistically happen is usually not as scary as the nightmare my fear-fueled mind could produce.
Finding clarity in this way doesn’t take much time or effort and it can help you to reduce stress and avoid much mind made suffering. And help you to get going, step outside of your comfort zone and take that chance.
6. Add value and positivity to someone else’s life.
What you send out you tend to get back from the world and the people in it.
Not from everyone. And not every time.
But what you send out there matters a whole lot.
What you give them and how you treat them is what you’ll get back. And they way you treat others and how you think of them also tend to have a big effect on how you treat and think about yourself.
So give value and spread the positivity by for example:
Lend a hand when moving. Give a friend a ride in your car.
If he or she needs information then help out by checking it up on Google or asking a friend of yours.
Or start a blog or a podcast and share what's helped you out in life.
Sometimes people don’t want any direct help.
They just want someone to be there fully and listening as they vent for a little while.
Boosting the mood.
Smile. Give hugs when appropriate. Play uplifting music when hanging out with a friend or suggest an inspiring movie for your movie night.
Or encourage when someone has had a bad day or are going through a tough time.
7. Exercise regularly and eat and sleep well.
This is very obvious of course.
But I know the big, big impact a good night’s sleep or good workout can have when my thoughts are pessimistic and I have a lot of tensions on the inside.
And I know how much simpler it is to think clearly and optimistically when my belly is not empty.
So I highly recommend being careful about these basic habits that may sound boring. Because they do have a huge effect either way depending on how you manage them. To me, there is a clear link between my physical and mental health.
8. Learn to take criticism in a healthy way.
One of the most common fears is the fear of criticism. It can hold people back from doing what they want in life.
Because having negativity flowing out of someone’s mouth or email and it being about you can hurt. And being rejected can sting quite a bit.
But if you want to take action on what you deep down want then criticism is pretty much unavoidable. So the key is learning to handle it in a healthier way.
By doing so your fear of it will lessen and it will hurt less if you do get criticized.
I usually use four steps when I get some criticism. Maybe they can help you out too:
Step 1: Don’t reply right away.
When you are angry, upset or riled up then is time to calm down a bit before you reply.
Take at least a couple of deep breaths or a little time to process the message before you respond.
Step 2: Really listen to the criticism.
Try to remain open and level-headed and figure out how this message can help you.
Is there one thing I can learn from this criticism? Is there something here that I may not want to hear but could help me?
Step 3: Remember that the criticism isn’t always about you.
Some criticism is helpful. Some is simply attacks or someone lashing out because they are having bad day, year or job.
To lessen the sting of such criticism – often really angry or overly critical in an unconstructive way – I try to be understanding. I think to myself that this person might not be feeling so good at the moment.
Step 4: Reply or let go.
No matter the content of for example an email I try to keep my reply level-headed and kind. I may add a question or two to get more specific feedback that is helpful.
And if they don’t reply or I have simply gotten a nasty attack then it is time to delete it and to let that situation go.
9. If something still gets under your skin then know what to do.
Sometimes something can still get under your skin and hurt you. Even if you use the steps above.
Two things that have helped me with that challenge are:
Let it out.
Just letting that issue out into the light talking it over with someone close can be very helpful to see it for what it actually is.
And to find a healthier perspective on the situation.
Improve your self-esteem.
I have found over the years that with a stronger self-esteem things drag me down less and they don’t ruin my day as much anymore.
Negativity from others bounces off me much more often instead. If you want to practical help with this then have a look at my 12-week, step-by-step Self-Esteem Course.
10. Start your day in a positive way.
How you start your day usually sets the tone for the rest of your day.
So be careful about how you spend your mornings.
If you get going at full speed, lost in future troubles in your mind then the stress, perceived loss of power of over your life and negative thoughts will ramp up quickly.
If you on the other hand start your day by moving slowly, by having an uplifting conversation with your family or friend or you spend some time with reading or listening to inspiring and helpful articles or podcasts over breakfast or during your bus ride to work then that can make a big difference for how your whole day will go.
11. Mindfully move through your day.
When you spend your time in the present moment then it becomes so much easier to access positive emotions and to stay practical about what you can actually do about something in your life.
When you get lost in the past or future like so many of us have spent a lot of time on doing then worries very easily become bigger.
And failures and mistakes from the past being replayed over and over in your mind drag you down into pessimism and into stress.
By moving slowly through your morning and hopefully through much of the rest of your day it becomes easier to mindfully stay in the moment you are in.
Another simple way to reconnect with the moment in you are in and to put your full attention there again is to focus just on what is going on around you right now for a minute or two with all your senses.
See it. Hear it. Smell it. Feel the sun, rain or cold wind on your skin.
It might sound like a small and insignificant thing to do. But this simplifying reconnection with the moment can have a very positive effect on the rest of your day.
12. Create a reminder.
Being aware of your challenge is important to make a real change. But if you’re thinking that you’ll just remember to stay positive each day and week then you may be disappointed.
So create a reminder on paper or on your smart phone (I use the Google Keep app) with 1-3 of the ideas in this article that you like the most.
13. Say stop if you can’t think straight.
Sometimes when I’m lying in bed and I’m about to go to sleep negative thoughts start buzzing in my mind.
Then I say to myself: No, no, we are not going to think about this now (let’s do it later on instead).
For example, in the morning after I have gotten some sleep. When I revisit a situation with some level-headed thinking then in 80% of the cases the issue is very small to nonexistent.
14. Be grateful for the things you often take for granted.
Take a minute as you get out of bed in the morning or get into it in the evening and put your attention on a few things that many in the world do not have or things you may take for granted.
A few of my favorites:
- Three steady meals a day.
- A roof over my head during the long, cold seasons here in Sweden.
- As much clean water as I want.
This is a very easy way to shift your attention away from a negative issue that may be bouncing around in your head and snowballing. Or to just start the day on the right foot and set a positive tone of thankfulness for the rest of it.
15. Take 3-5 minutes to use a gratitude journal.
If you want to expand on the thankfulness habit then consider creating a gratitude journal where you, for example, write answers to questions like these for 3-5 minutes in the morning or evening:
- What are 3 things I can be grateful for in my life today?
- Who are 3 people that I can be grateful to have in my life and why?
- What are 3 things I can be grateful for about myself?
You can use a notebook, a simple notepad or simply a note taking app on your phone for your journal.
16. Practice positive self talk as best you can.
How you talk to yourself makes a big difference.
We all have an inner critic that can often pop up and start to criticize you for what you are doing (or what you did not do yesterday).
A quick way to reduce the influence of that inner critic to stay stop, as I mentioned in tip #4 and #13. A few stop phrases that have been the most effective for me are, for instance:
- Nope! Nope! Nope!
- Nope, we are not going down that path again!
This also works well when a negative thought of any kind that you know can easily grow into a big snowball pops up in your head.
So stop negative self-talk quickly and you’ll have more space, time and energy to spare to focus on the positive thoughts and taking positive steps forward in your life.
But also be kind to yourself and talk to yourself in a positive way:
- Encourage yourself to take a small step forward.
- Tell yourself that you can take the next step forward and that you’re a smart and capable person.
- Pat yourself on your back for something you got done.
- Be kind and helpful – as mentioned earlier – when you have a setback.
You’ll not only feel a lot better if you focus as best you can on positive self talk but also perform a lot better in my experience.
17. Spend 80% of your time focusing on solutions.
It’s easy to get dragged away into making a mountain out of molehill, to feel powerless or like a victim if you dwell too much on your problems or challenges in life.
So a good rule of thumb is to spend just 20% of your time on that and 80% of your time on focusing on a solution to what troubles you.
You may not be able to find a complete solution to every challenge you face, at least not right now. But you can most often do something or a few things to reduce that issue in your life or make it easier to deal with.
18. Remember: a bad day will sometimes just be a bad day.
Sometimes, even if you use a handful of the powerful tips and habits in this article your day or week will still be kind of bad.
That’s OK. It’s normal. Life simply has its natural peaks and valleys.
Things will not be great all the time.
But here’s two interesting things:
Reminding yourself of this simple fact of life can help you to also remember that you’re not alone in this. Every human on this Earth has ups and downs in life (even if they try to claim otherwise on for example special media).
If you accept that life is just like this sometimes and you let go off that dream of perfection and of everything being awesome all the time you’ll create less suffering for yourself and your life be lighter and happier.
19. Celebrate small and bigger successes.
If you only celebrate when you’ve had a big win or overcome some huge challenge then it becomes very easy to lose that motivation and positive attitude that you know helps out a lot in many areas of your life.
But you can replenish it more often by simply celebrating both small and bigger successes.
You can for example celebrate:
- Taking that first step forward with something you’ve procrastinated on for some time.
- Getting a good grade on your most recent test in school.
- Signed a new client at work.
- Having gone for a 3 minute jog for the first time in a long time.
- Flossed every day this week.
And you can for instance celebrate that by:
- Having your favorite food for lunch.
- Eating a tasty snack.
- Spending a bit of time on your favorite hobby.
- Going to the movies tonight or this weekend.
- Buying yourself something you have wanted for weeks now.
I know, it might seem a bit silly to celebrate small victories – it did to me, at least – but you’ll really be helping and strengthening yourself, your motivation levels and your positive mindset if you do.
Here’s the next step…
Now, you may think to yourself:
“This is really helpful information. But what’s the easiest way to put this into practice, actually stick with it and stay positive even on tough days?”.
Well, I’ve got something special for you.
A free step-by-step checklist that includes the top steps in this article. Save it or print it out so you have it for your daily life and for the next time when you get stuck in negative thinking.
Click the image below to download the free checklist:
Image at the start of the article by Sterlic (license).
I always look gorward to reading your inspiring messages. Thank you so much for your insight and your willingness to share with so many of us that need it.
May peace be yours.
Thanks for this inspiring article! I always try to be possitive and this will help for sure!
I AM REALY APPRICIENTING ON THESE WORDS WOW!
I too have been studying how to change my outlook, through teachers like Richard Boyatzis (emotional intelligence) and Shaun Achor (positive psychology). Even though I am a positive, enthusiastic and bubbly person; I am also intense and easily stressed out, finding it hard to let go of negative situations not realising the true potential. I also always “struggle” with those fears of meeting my goals because taking those steps seems the scariest part. And as you can tell, I over-complicate things. The opening quote by Peter McWilliams and your article has encouraged me to stop correlating professional vulnerability with negativity.
Difference maker….. :)
I really appreciate this article! The points you make about learning to take criticism in a positive way and also starting the day with a positive outlook was really helpful. Keep up the great work!
Adding on to this great post about how to stay positive, what’s helped me most through trying times is to take a step back from situations where I think I won’t succeed and say to myself “I know that it isn’t easy but it will be worth it “. Building positivity in life is not a one day process and requires a lot of effort and work. Even if today you felt like you could have done better but didn’t, don’t let it stop or discourage you. Every inch of the mile counts, and all the little steps will take you to the place and person you need to be. This site is a great reminder of the importance of attitude in life and how we should never stop working on ourselves, inside and out.
I really have faith in sure collaboration, that your positive mentality gives you a more confident viewpoint and conviction that you can accomplish something extraordinary means you will accomplish something incredible.