Too often we are faced by negative thoughts and behaviour in our daily lives. We focus on our problems or issues, and the wrongs in the world. I for one at times, are guilty of thinking the worse and worrying about things I can’t control. Fortunately there are ways to become more positive, happier and optimistic, here are seven… tried and tested by me. Why not try them for yourself.
1. Gratitude jounaling
One of the easiest ways to shift your thoughts away from negativity is to focus on the things in your life that you are grateful for. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is one way to do this. Gratitude journaling focuses on what is good in your life right now. All you need is a note book, pen and a commitment to make entries into the journal at least once a day. Each day write at least 5 things that you are grateful for (although this can be more). Each entry could begin with I am grateful for... my good health, my humorous partner, a satisfying career, watching the sunset at the beach, anything you consider to be a good thing in your life. These may be repeated each day and as time passes, recognising positives in your life will become easier and your list should grow.
2. Do something for someone else
Helping out someone in need or just doing something kind for someone else can have a huge positive effect, giving us a positive self-image and allowing us to feel better about our own good nature. And who doesn’t feel better making someone else smile, a smile and a kind gesture is definitely contagious. There are countless ways to help others out… give that $5 to the person on the street that needs it more, help out your work colleague with that task they are struggling with, give your partner a shoulder massage simply because you love them, or do voluntary work for a passionate cause. Doing something for someone else on a regular basis is a great way to make you feel better about yourself.
3. Engagement in activities that create flow
This is one of the five elements of Dr Martin Seligman’s PERMA model (the five core elements of psychological well-being and happiness). Dr Seligman believes that these five elements can help people reach a life of fulfilment, happiness, and meaning. An activity that creates flow is one in which we are totally absorbed in, we lose a sense of time, we are challenged, and when we stop we realise how much we loved the activity. Think of an activity that you do that creates flow and do more of it. The more we experience this type of engagement, the more likely we are to experience a better well-being. A few activities that work for me are yoga, experimenting with cooking and creating complex financial models (yes sadly so). It could be much different for you dancing, swimming, gymnastics, writing, playing a musical instrument, computer programming or even knitting.
4. Set goals and celebrate your achievements
Having goals in our life can help us to accomplish things and can give us a sense of achievement. Working towards and feeling the satisfaction that comes with having achieved whatever goals we have set for ourselves is an important part of well-being. My boyfriend and I set weekly, three monthly and six monthly goals for all areas of our lives… health, career, relationships, creativity, and leisure. We catch up each week, usually with a pint at our local pub - not so healthy but everything in moderation. We review our weekly goals, celebrate our success and revise new goals for the next week. It helps us have a positive outlook for the future and motivates us forward. We don’t always meet our goals but are never harsh on each other, we simply revise our goals and move forward, and congratulate ourselves for what we did achieve.
5. Positive affirmations
This might not be for everyone but affirmations can be one the most useful tools available to us in developing positive thinking skills (if done correctly and if we have a strong belief in them). Most people use negative affirmations too often, when we make mistakes we reprimand our self with harsh words, for example calling ourselves ‘idiot’ – yep I’m guilty of this one. You can instil new, more positive beliefs by repeatedly saying them over again. It is important that the affirmation focuses on the positive outcome you want rather than the negative outcome you do not want. For example, if you want to improve your relationship with a work colleague, don’t say “John and I don’t argue all the time”, as we may subconsciously focus on the word argue. Instead say “I communicate effectively with warmth and ease” or something to that effect. Try using positive affirmations in your daily life, affirmations can be used at any time, and are best spoken aloud.
6. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a hot topic at the moment and is becoming recognised as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and improve our mental health. People often associate mindfulness with meditation, although you can practice mindfulness during meditation it doesn’t have to be the case. Mindfulness is being completely aware of the present moment… focusing our attention on our thoughts, actions, and sensations in the current moment without judgement, not thinking of the past or the future just experiencing the right now. To practice mindfulness try engaging all your senses in whatever you are doing… notice what you see, the sounds, smell, tastes, touch, savour every sensation. Observe what is happening right now, if you notice that your mind has wandered from the current moment, gently bring your attention back to sensation you’re experiencing now. Mindfulness can be practiced at almost anything you do. I had a great experience at King’s Park, Perth and sat there for hours taking in everything around me and being completely absorbed in the moment. I’ve also practiced it while eating dinner and even in the shower. Try it for yourself.
I left the best for last, well in my opinion anyway. A lot of people are starting to realise and reap the benefits of meditation… from reducing stress, improving sleep, increasing energy, becoming more calm and relaxed, improving self-esteem, developing mental awareness to reducing blood pressure, and decreasing muscle tension. The benefits are enormous. Practicing meditation on a daily basis can teach our mind to be focused and calm. We can have control over our thoughts and prevent negative thoughts entering our mind. The more we exercise control over our thoughts through meditation and the more we choose to reflect positive aspects of our lives, the quicker the habit of positively thinking develops. There are many different forms of meditation and finding the right one that suits your personality and circumstances may take a while. Start small, such as 10-15 mins per day. Do it every day, do it at the same time each day and make it fit into your routine. Be patient and enjoy the journey along the way.