I’ve always known that thinking in an optimistic and constructive way is a life-skill that would improve my life. Optimism is a habit after all, as is pessimism, so if I changed my way of thinking through small tweaks of self-talk and outlook, I could gradually change my mood and motivation level. And so I began to make those tweaks in my everyday life. The benefits were quick and broad in their effect, from a robustness in the face of adversity to a better appreciation of the smaller things in my life. Here are the ten simple ways I achieve a sunnier, more optimistic life…
I meditate first thing in the morning
Meditation doesn’t have to be lengthy and arduous. I use a short session of, say, ten to twenty minutes to clear my mind, at the same time helping to lower stress hormones and set my mood for the day. I’ve found that first thing in the morning is the absolute ideal time for this as it’s usually quieter and I can ensure a good starting point for the rest of my day, feeling in control and positive.
I put my mind on a “diet” of positive input
I came to the realisation that everything I read, see and hear, every person with whom I interact and every thought I allow to surface in my mind has an effect on my view of the world, of myself and of the people around me. If I’m feeling that my outlook is less than positive, I take extra care what input I allow and on what thoughts I dwell. I feel it’s important to keep up with the news and current affairs but I’m careful that this is only in small, necessary doses from quality sources. Many news websites use sensationalism to feed us only bad news of a negative nature and, on a long-term basis, this will affect morale. I also look at the people with whom I associate and ask myself do I feel better or worse after talking to them? Do they raise my motivation or drain my energy? I seek out people who have a positive energy who boost my optimism and positivity. And it’s not purely a selfish pursuit as the effect can act as a feedback loop – as I become a reflection of their cheerfulness, I help increase theirs and other people’s optimism and happiness in turn.
I challenge myself
When faced with a difficult issue, whether it be personal or professional, I challenge myself to find the positive effects of it, or to think how I can turn it into a better situation for myself and others involved. Most day-to-day problems are essentially of a trivial nature but, with the wrong approach and mindset, they can effect my feelings and mood. I try to train myself to instantly search for other options, seeing these situations as ways to learn and grow.
I go for a walk
Walking has been shown to calm the mind and encourage positivity. The alternating actions of the arms and legs, the light aerobic activity, the fresh air and the sensory input of changing scenery have all been shown to have beneficial and soothing effects on the mind. A brisk walk in the daylight, preferably amongst greenery or by water, can be one of the best antidotes to a pessimistic outlook and I do it as often as I can.
I flash forward
It’s perhaps a cliché but often, when you are immersed in a problem, especially of an emotional nature, it can help to imagine yourself in a few weeks, months or years time. I ask myself how important will this seem in the future? Will I have a more intellectual and less emotional reaction to the circumstances of the problem? Very often an issue in which I find myself immersed or overwhelmed will become a minor detail that is quickly forgotten. Just reminding myself of this can lift a weight off my shoulders and increase my positivity.
Attitude of Gratitude
Perhaps I mention it too often but I’ve found that the attitude of gratitude is a fantastic and sure-fire path to incredible optimism. It entails dwelling exclusively on the things for which you can be grateful in your life or in the world in general. At first I found it difficult as I’d been in the habit for a long time of grumbling or noticing only the negative things, but with a minimal effort I found endless lists of wonderful things for which I am grateful. I started by concentrating on small things such as a glass of cool water on a hot day, a comfortable chair, a good cup of tea or coffee, an enjoyable meal (however modest), a ray of sunshine or moonlight, a smile or a helping hand from a stranger, a funny-shaped cloud or a refreshing rainstorm. I’m lucky enough to have a comfortable home, family, friends, enough money in the bank to pay for my essentials (most of the time anyhow…) and pretty good health, so I have an enormous amount for which to express gratitude. I noticed that I could quickly take the negative and spin it to my advantage and nurture the feeling of complete thankfulness, at any moment of any day. The habit I’m building is one of moving my attention from things that frustrate or upset, or things that I feel I lack, to things that are truly a welcome gift in my life, however small they may be.
I come into the now
Pessimism is more often than not cultivated through dwelling on disappointments of the past or fears for the future. If I’m stricter with my mind, I catch it doing this many times during the day. When I notice my mind wandering into these darker thoughts of the past and the future, I firmly bring my attention into the present moment. I concentrate on my breath or the sensation of my clothes on my skin. I listen to the sounds around me and notice every detail of my surroundings to bring myself squarely into the now and out of my thoughts. The more I do this, the easier it becomes, and I have been able to increase the amount of time spent in the here and now where positivity thrives. This is known as mindfulness and I’ve found it an incredible stress-buster that cultivates optimism and clarity of thought.
I keep a journal
Keeping a daily journal can have invaluable benefits – some claim that is as good as seeing a therapist! The idea is that you have a chance to vent your thoughts and feelings, both negative and positive, and then close the book and walk away with a clear head. I find that writing can definitely be therapeutic and I try to vent my negativity and then to end with a positive note of how to go forward from there.
I try to be kind
There is no better feeling than that of helping others. Acts of altruism have been shown to affect people’s psychology in many positive ways, lifting depression, easing anxiety and generally increasing happiness. I’ve found that there are endless ways and opportunities for helping others, from giving donations to charity and volunteering, to simply being a good friend or neighbour.
I slow down
Many of us feel that we never have enough time for everything in our lives. We go faster and faster, this causes stress that leads to negative thinking. It may sound counter-intuitive but I find the best thing to do is to slow down. There aren’t suddenly more minutes in the day but I feel more present to experience the ones that exist, and in this way I feel more calm and in control; I have the sense of having much more time. By doing everything in my life just slightly slower, I am living a more mindful and conscious life, I notice others around me and have more opportunities for kindness, and in so doing my optimism and positivity have increased hugely.
These ten tips, applied regularly and consistently, have gradually brought me a more optimistic mind-set and the ripples have infiltrated into all areas of my life, pouring sunshine into those dark corners and helping my days to be filled with positivity and happiness.