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The human brain is an amazingly complex and powerful machine. When you choose to fuel it with positivity, you can move mountains and part seas.
There’s a lot more to the value of optimism than having a sunny disposition. Ongoing commitment to a positive outlook – and this is no overstatement – fundamentally changes the life that you are living.
Positive people not only feel happier, they set (and reach) bigger goals, lead healthier lives, build stronger relationships, love themselves more and attract more confidence and respect from others.
Sound appealing? All of that can be yours with a little more positivity in the way you view yourself and the world you inhabit. Read on to find out how to unleash more of this miracle success-fuel into your own life.
1. Ask the Teller
David Schwartz, in one of my all-time favorite books on positive thought, The Magic of Thinking Big, describes the human mind as a very effective teller:
“The teller in your memory bank is tremendously reliable. He never crosses you up. If you approach him and say ‘Mr. Teller, let me withdraw some thoughts I deposited in the past proving I’m inferior to just about everybody else,’ he’ll say, ‘Certainly, sir. Recall how you failed two times previously when you tried this?’
But suppose you visit your memory teller with this request: ‘Mr. Teller… can you supply me with any thoughts which will give me reassurance?’ And again Mr. Teller says, ‘Certainly, sir.’”– David Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big
A more modern analogy might be something like a search engine. Just like Google, your brain will find you an endless list of answers for whatever you ask, so it’s up to you to decide what you’re searching for.
You Are What You Consistently Search For
When you wake up, you can search for “reasons today sucks,” and your brain will faithfully return results about the weather, the work you have to do, the latest horrifying crisis in the news, and so on.
If instead you search for “why today is pretty cool,” you’ll just as easily get back pages and pages of responses – the interesting weather, the goals you get to make progress on, the people you’ll talk to, the things you’ll learn.
Now, what’ll really cook your noodle later on, is what happens when you search for “how I’m going to make today the best day of my freaking life.”
No day on its own has the inherent quality of being either good or bad. It is only what you search for it to be. Even when difficult or painful moments come, the choice is still ours whether to dive headlong into despair, or to start lifting ourselves up.
You can add more positivity to any experience by simply making the conscious choice to ask your own teller (or search engine) for some.
2. More Positivity Out = More Positivity In
What you put out into the world has a big impact on what comes back to you. Whether you attribute it to karma, the law of attraction, or basic interpersonal dynamics, there is an inevitable “what goes around, comes around” sort of effect in play.
So if you’re constantly spitting acid out into the world, you’re going to get burned a lot more often.
On the other hand, if you spend more of your time spitting – I don’t know, what’s the figurative opposite of acid? Milk? No, you don’t want to be spitting milk everywhere either. That won’t do. Wowee, this metaphor is falling apart fast. Okay, moving on. You get it.
The persona you put forth into the world has a natural magnetism to those around you. Whether for better or for worse, we are all constantly exchanging influence with those around us.
Think about what you choose to contribute to the conversation. If it’s predominantly bad news, complaints, and general gloom, you’re putting out a negative signal. As it adds up, you push those around you to feel more down about things too. They will then start to speak more negatively, giving you more things to feel bad about.
When you bring a positive outlook to the conversation, others will take note. They will feel happier, and gradually move to a more positive attitude to match. Then they will have more uplifting things to say, and that positivity will come back around to you!
What’s more, people like spending time with positive people, whether they recognize it or not. Radiating a presence of positivity is one of the best things you can do for all of your relationships, both in the short and long term.
3. Add Positivity Through Subtraction
Oh boy. First a flimsy chemistry metaphor about acid, and now some kind of math nonsense? Ah well, it’s too late to turn back now. So let’s get into it!
You can make a number bigger by adding to it, or you can make a number bigger by subtracting something that was taking away from it.
In other words, if Marie has a basket of apples and she wants more apples, she has two options. She can go out and pick more apples, or kick out her greedy neighbor who keeps taking them out of her basket. In either case, Marie would have more apples at the end of the day than if she did nothing.
Happiness works the same way. You can add stuff that adds to it, or you can subtract stuff that subtracts from it.
And often, the latter is easier to find. We all have at least a few things hanging around that are bringing us down. Unhealthy habits, toxic relationships, negative thinking, and cluttered environments are just a few examples.
What’s bringing you down right now, and what can you do to mitigate or remove it?
Admittedly, some negatives are much more dug in, and harder to remove than others. If those are the ones you’re going after, the payoff is likely to be bigger, but so is the fight for it, so be ready.
Anytime you can remove negatives from your life, big or small, is a net positive. So before you start adding more things into your life to improve things, maybe take a look around first to see what you can clear out!
4. Spice Things Up
One funny quirk of being an omnivorous species is the inalienable craving for novelty. We want variety, a change in the routine, something we haven’t tried before.
From a Darwinian perspective, this improves our species’ survival odds by protecting us from food scarcity. Picky eaters find themselves in a dangerous spot when they lose access to their main food source (see: pandas).
Omnivores are always looking to diversify. When we’ve overfished our shores, we can find and grow plants to eat. When inclement weather kills our crops, we can find sources of meat. The pull toward variety keeps us resilient and ready to adapt.
And it’s not just true with food. The same curiosity and resulting flexibility also applies to meeting new people, seeing new places, and trying new things.
Of course, we have to be cautious, too; all animals do. Healthy caution of new things helps populations survive predators, poisons, and plagues. So we can’t eat just any green goop growing on the wall of a cave, but let’s be honest, we still want to know what it tastes like.
These two opposing drives lead to a very interesting emotional phenomenon.
Our emotional system rewards behaviors that benefit us, and discourages situations that could harm us. Exploring new things is helpful for survival, and so it gives us a rush of positivity and excitement when we do. But if we go too far at once, we can overwhelm or endanger ourselves.
When you walk the razor’s edge of experiencing new, uncomfortable things, while staying safe and taking care of yourself, the resulting emotional reward is intoxicating.
So try something new! Challenge your routine, but look after yourself, don’t venture too far all at once, and you’ll feel great after!
5. Stop Messing Around with Lemons
Look, I know what you’re thinking: “Lemons? What a great place to revive that acid metaphor from earlier, and really give it its moment to shine.” But look, that metaphor just isn’t working out. And instead of taking something that isn’t working for you and trying to squeeze it into something that’s not as bad, sometimes you just gotta walk away.
In other words, when life gives you lemons, you don’t have to make lemonade.
When a car is so busted up that it’s an ethical issue to even sell it, we call it a lemon. There are laws against selling them. Do you make lemonade with that lemon, or do you go to court, get your money back, and look for a better car? I mean, what other fruit has that bad of a branding issue? And we’re still messing around with these sour yellow harbingers of dissatisfaction? Like it’s our job to make them better?
It takes time, energy, and supplies to make lemonade, so if that wasn’t what you were looking for in the first place, then don’t settle for it now. Save your time and energy for something better.
Life will hit you with all kinds of stuff – good, bad, and ugly. It’s up to you what you keep and run with. It’s up to you to advocate for yourself, push back, and choose abundance over scarcity.
A lot of times, you’re better off getting back to your own adventure and keeping up the search for what you really want. Like a better fruit, with a higher pH value. There you go, acid joke. Boom, still got it.
6. Move Around
You’ve got to move around.
If you won’t do it for your heart health, your lung capacity, your muscle and bone strength, your body fat, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, greater self-confidence, a more perseverant spirit, or a longer life, then do it for your happiness — the flood of positivity it brings into your life.
Exercise of any kind is great news for mental health. Play a sport, work out at the gym or in the living room, run, swim, climb, dance. Whatever you enjoy doing that keeps you moving.
If all else fails, go for a walk, take the stairs, carry one more bag of groceries at a time than you normally would. Put your body to work and it will thank you.
For one thing, adequate movement during the day leads to better sleep, which in turn makes us happier and more focused.
On a chemical level, exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which create a sense of euphoria. Endorphins are literally drugs that you can make yourself, for free, with no health downsides. And it’s even legal! All you have to do is throw on your dancin’ (or tennis) shoes.
Working out is also great for self-confidence and positive body image. However you want to move, just move. It is one of the most important things you can do for not just your physical health, but your mental health, too.
7. The Positivity of Small Wins
Success, even when measured in small achievements, brings a big boost to happiness and excitement.
From reaching a major life goal to finishing a simple chore, achieving wins in your day is an essential building block of a happy, fulfilling life.
Even a task as small as making your bed in the morning can be enough of a positivity boost to launch you forward into the rest of the day. This is the titular point in Retired US Admiral William McRaven’s insightful little book, Make Your Bed :
“…it is not just combat. It is daily life that needs this same sense of structure… sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right.
If you want to change your life and maybe the world– start off by making your bed!”– Admiral William H. McRaven, Make Your Bed
Drawing on a storied naval career and a lifetime of massive achievements, Admiral McRaven understands firsthand the critical necessity of building on the momentum of small wins.
You don’t have to break your personal record for distance running or complete your PhD to give yourself the positivity boost of a win. Every achievement helps, so keep an eye out for low-hanging fruit like lemons and give yourself a win wherever you can.
What can you complete, remove, or otherwise check off the list to give yourself a gold star?
If you’ve got a big goal you’ve been working on for a while that’s at the 1-yard line, that’s a great place to start. If you’ve got a pesky little task to get done, that’s great too. Giving yourself wins creates positivity and self-satisfaction, and they pave the way for more wins to come.