Having a positive mental attitude comes easier to some than it does to others when faced with disappointment.
We all have tendencies to react more positively or negatively depending on the situation and based on our life experiences. Think of the last time you were faced with a setback. Did you try to look on the bright side, or did it ruin your day or make you doubt yourself? How does that compare to your usual reaction to problems?
Of course life is rarely black and white. Our reactions will always be a mix of positive and negative. And there are times it takes work (hard work) to stay positive and look on the bright side of a daunting situation, an unexpected challenge, or set back.
But every day you have a chance to do better and be better, and having a positive mental attitude can help you feel better too.
What is a positive mental attitude?
So what exactly is a positive mental attitude and why should you care about cultivating it in yourself? Synonymous with “positive thinking” and a “positive mindset:”
“[P]ositive thinking actually means approaching life’s challenges with a positive outlook. It does not necessarily mean avoiding or ignoring the bad things; instead, it involves making the most of the potentially bad situations, trying to see the best in other people, and viewing yourself and your abilities in a positive light.”
A positive mental attitude is powerful (and makes you powerful) and it’s more than just sticking a smile on your face. A positive mental attitude:
- Is motivational to yourself and those around you
- Makes it easier to tackle a project or problem with enthusiasm, making it more likely you’ll progress and succeed
- Helps you more easily identify what’s good in a bad situation, focusing on that instead
- Can encourage you to feel powerful and confident, carrying over into other situations and areas of your life
A positive mental attitude is not:
- Ignoring and avoiding problems
- Being unrealistic about what is wrong or what the problem actually is
- Blindly deciding to go forward with something without fully thinking it through
- Being reckless, “hoping” that everything will be ok
Having a positive mental attitude provides numerous health benefits; examples from the Mayo Clinic include:
- Having a longer life span
- Improved psychological benefits, such as lower rates of depression and stress
- Improved physical well being, including better cardiovascular health and a greater resistance to the common cold
- Better coping skills during difficult times and stressful situations
Activity: are you a raw egg or a super ball?
Here is an activity from the Department of Labor that provides an excellent visual of the effects of a positive mental attitude works.
Close your eyes and imagine throwing a super ball at a target on the wall, then imagine throwing it harder. What happens? It bounces back the first time, and the harder you throw it the faster it bounces back.
Now imagine throwing a raw egg at the target, then imagine throwing it harder. What happens? It splatters the first time, then splatters even worse and makes more of a mess the second.
Think of the target on the wall as an obstacle or a “bump in the road” of life and the super ball and raw egg as two different kinds of people. The “super ball” person bounced back from the adversity, even faster the second time it happened, whereas the “raw egg” person fell apart and continued to get worse.
Are you a raw egg or a super ball?
Flexing your positivity muscles
Strengthening your ability to tap into that positive mental attitude of yours is like strengthening any other muscle. Flex it frequently and it will activate more quickly more often, helping you transition and grow from a raw egg to a super ball.
Re-word your self-talk
Self-talk is the internal monologue running through your head while you’re awake. If your self-talk is mostly negative when you’re faced with a new situation, struggling to answer a question, or asked to consider a different approach, it’s time to practice rewording it to something that’s more positive.
For example, the inventor Thomas Edison attempted 700 times to get the filament right for the light bulb before it actually worked. He’s quoted as saying “I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Instead of telling yourself negative things when faced with similar setbacks, transform your thoughts into something positive.
Practice catching yourself in the act of negative self-talk and rewording the thoughts. Write your thoughts out if that helps you. Here are some examples of negative self-talk transformed into the → positive:
- I’m stupid, a failure → I’m going to try a different approach, this was an opportunity to learn and I learned _____
- This will never work → I’ll try to make this work or I will think about it from a different angle
- I’m not going to improve → I’m going to keep practicing because that is how you learn something difficult
- I can’t do this, I’m too lazy → I need to re-prioritize my schedule so that I have time for this
Focus on your strengths
When you’re feeling down and negative about how something went and running low on motivation to get back at it, take a step back and make a list of all your strengths.
This will help remind you all that you’re good at, rather than focusing on the negative aspects of the situation. Even if some of the strengths you list aren’t closely related to what you’re working on, thinking about yourself in a positive light can be enough to get you going again.
Turn down the complaints
Complaining, whether it’s out loud or just in our heads, has a negative impact on the brain, rewiring it to focus on the negative aspects of every situation. But it can be rewired the other way too! Start with being aware of how often you complain, then reframe the situation in a more positive way, similar to the examples above.
This applies to other people’s complaining too. When others complain about something that you’re directly a part of, instead of commiserating, try offering your more positive approach.
Others who may not be comfortable yet expressing their opinion will appreciate the alternative perspective. If you’re on the periphery of a situation, but hear the complaints anyways, distract yourself, listen to music, or try other tactics (like thinking about what you’re grateful for) to avoid internalizing the surrounding negative energy.
What better way to look on the bright side than by recognizing those things and experiences that you’re grateful for. To do this, write in a gratitude journal daily or as often as you can. It can really help you look at your day and life more positively by keeping at it over time. There are numerous physical, psychological, and social benefits that you shouldn’t miss out on!
Transforming from the more negative the “glass is half empty” to the more positive the “glass is half full” won’t happen overnight and will take some time, but don’t give up and keep trying with our tips above!