How to Develop a Positive Attitude in 6 Easy Steps
Is your glass always half-empty? Retrain your brain to look on the bright side with these strategies from Shawn Achor, author of the book Before Happiness.
By Katie Macdonald
Tell yourself you can change.
“Happiness is not the belief you don’t need to change, it’s that you can change,” Achor says. Take a moment to notice the relationship between change and personal growth. Try this: “Write down the three greatest moments of change in your life that have brought you to being the person you like being today,” Achor advises. They can be obvious milestones, like moving to a new city, or more subtle and personal, like meeting your best friend. Hang your list in your bathroom or above your desk to encourage you to adapt your attitude and stay positive.
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Go someplace else.
When you're taxed, it’s easy to blow small negatives out of proportion. But research shows that a new environment can change your perspective for the better. Achor describes an experiment where Yale medical students left class to study ancient paintings at a local art museum. After their trip, as a group they showed a 10 percent improvement in their ability to recognize important medical details, compared to students who didn’t take the same break. “By training their brains to see more vantage points, these students learned to approach problems with a broader and deeper perspective,” Achor writes. Try this: If you're stuck, expose your brain to a new environment—physically go to another place, or read or look elsewhere—to gain a positive change of attitude.
Refuel and re-energize.
Everyone knows that tired plus hungry equals unhappy, but this combination might be more damaging than you think. Your brain interprets lack of sleep as a threat to the central nervous system, Achor writes, which can cloud judgment. Missing one night of sleep can cause you to remember 59 percent fewer positive words, which could make you overly focus on the negative. “If you are well rested and just fed, it will be easier to see the broader range of valuable details, information, and possibilities,” Achor writes. In one well-known Columbia Business School study, judges granted parole to only 20 percent of applicants before lunch time, but to 60 percent after they ate something. Try this: If your attitude is chronically cranky, look at your eating and sleeping habits. A mid-morning snack (like the protein-fat combo of apple with peanut butter) could steady your blood sugar.
Identify both the positive and the negative.
No matter how bleak it may seem, every situation has a silver lining, Achor insists. “I’ve never encountered an environment where positive details could not be found,” Achor writes. Try this: Focus on an object or task and list as many descriptions as you can for 30 seconds. You get three points for positive descriptions, and one for negative. Why include negatives? “Awareness of negatives can motivate us to take action, and the act of looking for them can make our brain even more flexible and nimble,” Achor says.
Talk to the right people for support.
Venting your dramas to your officemate or your sister might be more harmful than helpful, according to Achor. Continually talking to like-minded people could mean you hear the same perspective on repeat, which discourages problem solving. To get a positive attitude, seek out different viewpoints to recognize all aspects of the issue. Try this: With big decisions—ending a relationship; asking for a promotion—use a three-person reality check, Achor says. “Find someone with a different personality, different economic status, and different age group,” Achor explains. “It covers all of your bases.”
Channel your stress.
Stress makes every bad situation worse. Or does it? Hormones released during stress can boost memory and reasoning ability, says Achor, and teaching yourself to think about the positive aspects of stress can actually improve performance as well as physical and mental health. In one study, managers trained to recognize the upside of stress reported a 23 percent drop in physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, and fatigue. Try this: When you're overwhelmed, pinpoint the real reason. If you're worried about a work presentation, it might be that your stress is about impressing your boss, not talking in front of a group. Aim to direct the stress into a more confident delivery.
More tricks for a positive attitude?
For more of Shawn Achor's strategies to put a positive lens on life pick up Before Happiness, available in stores and online.
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