Cultivating Optimism: positive thinking guide to a happier life

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Have you heard the saying ‘Like attracts Like’? Based on the Law of Attraction, when you have a positive outlook, you attract positive people, positive events and positive circumstances.

If you tend to see the glass as half-empty (pessimistic) rather than half-full (optimistic), you may need to improve your thinking patterns and your perception of reality. People with a positive outlook and positive thoughts have stronger resistance to illness, better coping skills during tough times and less stress.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Positive thinking is not always a natural ability. But you can build it over time. Learn how to develop the strength of thinking positively and open up a completely new outlook in life.

Cultivating Optimism

Below are just a few ways on how you can cultivate Optimism:

Keep a gratitude journal: Write down what you are grateful.
Develop a spirit of volunteerism: This increases self-confidence, gives you a sense of purpose, reduces depression and improves physical health.
Practice self-compassion: Show yourself kindness rather than judgment.
Laughter is the best medicine: Humor improves cardiovascular functioning, relaxes the body, and increases immunity and releases feel-good endorphins.
Compliment people: Compliments have the ability to boost the self-esteem of both the giver and the receiver.

Just as negativity can spread, so can positivity. Surround yourself with like-minded people as being around others who have a positive outlook on life can influence your own outlook as well.

Establish relationships in your life that make you feel good about yourself that challenges you to grow and improve and that encourage you toward positive lifestyle choices.

When you are more physically active, it generates endorphins that leave you feeling relaxed and more content. Regular physical activity builds self-confidence, resistance to illness and disease and controls weight, which can have a significant impact on your outlook and life experiences.

Getting enough sleep can also drastically influence your optimism. Improve your ability to relax by having a winding-down period before bedtime that includes soothing activities like listening to soft music, reading or having a hot bath.

The first step toward overcoming negative thinking is being self-aware and realizing when you are doing it- this usually goes hand in hand with negative self-talk. Once you become aware of your tendency to think negatively, you should work to counteract your negative thinking.

It is important not to compare yourself or your life with others. Measuring yourself against others will certainly make you feel negative as there will always be someone in the world who is better at something than you, so you are setting yourself up for failure every time. Do not compare your life with others on social media as people usually only post the ‘happy moments’, the ‘incredible holidays’ and the ‘good-news stories’. This is only on the surface. What else is going on in their lives that you are not seeing? On social media, you are only seeing the ‘show reel’, not the full story! So, do not compare this to your life as it is not a true reflection of theirs.

Turn your ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts) into PETS (Performance-Enhancing Thoughts). Change the way you view situations. For example, if someone driving next to you speeds up and cuts you off, instead of automatically thinking nasty things about the driver of that vehicle, think, “Well they must be in a hurry, I’m glad they’ve overtaken me and are nowhere near me now … I’m safe.” As another example, instead of thinking, “That would be right, I’m late for work and now I have to stop and get petrol”, turn this around to “Oh, I need petrol, good, when I’m paying I might buy myself some snacks.”

Foster a ‘Growth Mindset’, where you believe that the brain is a muscle that can be continually developed as other muscles can rather than a ‘Fixed Mindset’, where you believe that you are the way you are and accept this without trying to challenge it.

A popular theory of well-being was included in Martin E. P. Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness Theory (2003), which states that there are three roads to well-being; a good, happy, satisfying life:

1. The Pleasurable Life (Positive Emotions)
2. The Engaged Life (Flow and Mindfulness)
3. The Meaningful Life (Meaning and Purpose)

There are a number of elements that are essential to our overall well-being, which forms the solid foundation that lets us build a happy and flourishing life. Seligman developed the ‘theory of well-being’, which was included in his book Flourish (2011). The ‘theory of well-being’ is represented by the acronym PERMA:

Positive Emotions

You have to continue to move forward and evolve. You will become more resilient and will hunger for more success in your chosen goal. Do not let your past dictate your future or define who you currently are. Take what you have learned from the difficulties you have experienced, and appreciate the good things in your life and the beauty that surrounds you. Do not be too hard on yourself and do not judge yourself based on a past event or events. After all, we all make mistakes.

Do not chase money. Money does not buy you happiness, physical and mental health, longer life, respect or love. Find your true purpose and meaning in life and chase success in your chosen field. Do what you want and leave your mark in this world using your unique gifts. Set a good example for your children and loved ones.

Embrace possibilities. When an opportunity presents itself do not hesitate. Do not wonder, ‘Can I do this?’ Just grab the opportunity with both hands and work out how to do it as you go. Challenge yourself and move out of your comfort zone, and you will be amazed at what you can achieve. One day you will look back and be extremely proud of yourself. This will motivate you to do it repeatedly and you will wonder why you did not try it earlier.

Dare to dream and create your destiny – your ultimate life. By going outside of your comfort zone-I am not referring to dangerous, adrenaline-inducing activities. What I mean is, pursue your BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that you would normally not have the courage to pursue in case of failure.

Decide the WHAT first. What do you want to achieve? Then figure out the HOW. How will you achieve this? It does not matter where you start. Just start and figure it out and adjust as you go. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. If you do not give up, you will not fail.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Below is a list of positive mood-boosting strategies. Find three strategies below that resonate with you that you can implement in your daily life:

• Practicing gratitude/counting your blessings
• Practicing random acts of kindness
• Enjoying and savoring life’s joys
• Thanking someone who has helped you significantly
• Investing time and energy in your relationships with family and friends
• Taking care of your health and body
• Developing strategies for coping with hardship and disappointment

Challenge your story, your beliefs- whether they are your own or are ‘inherited’. Face your fears. Speaking from personal experience, I ‘inherited’ my mother’s fear of heights. In life, I ‘owned’ this fear until I decided to face it, to challenge it. While I was on a holiday in Honolulu, I decided, as fearful as I was, to fly in a helicopter with no doors! I could not believe what I was about to do, nor could my family. But I decided to challenge my so-called fear of heights. I was scared for the first ten minutes, and then I started to trust it and madly took as many photographs as I could (while my iPhone was safely attached to a lanyard around my neck). Immediately after the experience that I viewed as a triumph, I went parasailing 800 feet up in the air. I felt the courage to push through this fear and was proud of what I had achieved earlier in the day. Because of this, I am now thinking of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge – something that I previously cringed at the thought of.

Nikki Arnold is a Speaker, Coach, and Director of Inspired Living International.

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