Struggling with maintaining a positive outlook these days? It’s not just you! It wasn’t always easy in normal times, but it’s especially hard now! The thing is, it’s absolutely essential to staying happy in a time of uncertainty.
Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t let ourselves feel what we need to feel, and you are absolutely allowed to feel upset about your situation right now, even if your concerns are more trivial. BUT when our thoughts become automatically negative, day in and day out, that’s really, really hard.
The good news is, like anything, a positive attitude can be learned, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes!
While I cannot claim to be an expert by ANY realm of the imagination, I do have a lot of personal experience in this area. I feel fortunate that my mom was very into mindset work before mindset work was even a thing, so she raised me to understand that–essentially–for lack of a better description–I am my thoughts.
When I would throw a temper tantrum, she would explain to me that I was choosing to react by feeling hateful and angry. She helped me realize that those feelings don’t feel good, and that I was choosing those feelings just as much as I could choose to react calmly, and positively.
If I would complain about a mean girl at school, instead of agreeing “that girl is the worst!” or “I’m going to call her mother!” she would argue “that’s too bad, she must feel pretty awful inside to be acting that way, don’t you think? How sad for her, I bet deep down she’s a nice person. It seems like she secretly just needs a friend.”
While I was looking at myself as a victim in the situation, with a slight shift of perspective, she turned me into the one with the upper hand. She taught me to look in between the lines for understanding, empathy, positivity.
Eventually, her teachings stuck, and it’s something that has absolutely saved me throughout my life.
I wanted to share this trick with you because it personally makes a big difference in my mental wellbeing, especially right now, so I hope it can help you too. I’m not saying this works for everything and every situation, but it can definitely help.
You know that famous Mr. Rodger’s quote, “Look for the helpers?” it’s kind of like that!
The secret to a positive attitude: the opposite game!
I’ve received a lot of questions like, “how are you always so happy right now? What’s your secret?” and of course, remember, I don’t always share the down parts of my day when I feel defeated. My knee-jerk reaction when I’m feeling blah isn’t, “I really want to post Instagram right now!” and I know I’m not alone in that. Just keep in mind, what you’re seeing on social media is always skewed.
However, I DO have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to maintaining a positive attitude, and one of the most powerful tricks is this–play the opposite game!
Ask yourself, “What is the OPPOSITE argument to what I’m feeling right now? How can I turn that into a moment of gratitude or find the positive in the situation?” There is always room to find the positive, you just have to train yourself to look for it.
Here’s a real-life example that happened to me today.
I woke up this morning, and it was pitch black outside and POURING rain. It was so gloomy. Was it 4am? Nope, 7:30. It was just THAT dark. Another CRAPPY Chicago weather day. When will this end? When will we get more than one day of nice weather in a row? Why don’t I live in California? It feels like the universe is honestly shitting on me right now.
Then I caught myself. I knew I was being one-sided, and I was CHOOSING the dark lens in which to view the world today. I chose that negative outlook the same way I chose what mug I wanted to pour my coffee into. Instead, I mentally argued the other side of the story:
“Wait–I love storms! It’s POURING outside! I love the sound of rain. Listen to the thunder! There’s nothing like a warm storm in the spring and summer. What a perfect day to cozy up in bed. (I mean, as if I needed an excuse.)”
So I poured my coffee and opened the door to listen to the soothing sound of the droplets hitting the pavement. I decided I was going to make a morning out of working in bed–one of my favorite things to do, but not something I’ve not done for a while. This weather is the perfect excuse for a slow day.
Now, the more you do this exercise, the easier it will be, and the more your brain will automatically kick “positive mode” on. Soon enough, you won’t have to ask yourself, “Self? What’s the opposite of this?” Your brain will just go into override and acknowledge the negative thought, but then end that thought with a positive spin.
You know those annoyingly positive people that always seem to see the bright side? They aren’t pretending. They’ve trained themselves to GENUINELY see the world through their “positive lens” instead of the “negative lens.” (Remember? Just like choosing your coffee mug, or what pair of pants to pull on!)
Let’s go through some other examples!
Here are some common complaints we’ve all had lately, and how you can flip them into a positive by playing the opposite game!
“I JUST WANT TO GO BACK TO A RESTAURANT”
Turn it into a positive: “I’m so thankful our restaurants are open for takeout and delivery!” (Many countries haven’t had takeout and delivery for months!) or “I’m going to order some takeout tonight–supporting one of my favorite local businesses is a small way I can help, and that will cheer me up, too!”
“I AM SO OVER THIS CRAPPY WEATHER!”
Turn it into a positive: “Rainy days are nice because I don’t have to feel bad about staying in my PJ’s all day! ????Also, it’s probably better in the long run that we’re having all this bad weather because it’s WAY easier to social distance when you can’t be outside! Bad weather can save lives in the long run. Okay, BRING ON THE RAIN.”
“IT’S NOT FAIR I CAN’T SEE MY FRIENDS”
Turn it into a positive: “Can you imagine how much harder this would be if we didn’t have technology? We’re so lucky this happened when it did, and that we can see friends and family anytime we want. Even if it’s through a screen, it’s so much better than nothing at all!”
“MY SPOUSE IS DRIVING ME NUTS!”
Turn it into a positive: “I’m so grateful to have all of this extra time to spend with him/her. Life was so busy and hectic before, I never really had time to fully appreciate everything they do for me” and “I’m so glad I have them as my partner in life, especially right now. We are stronger as a team!”
“I HATE WORKING FROM HOME”
Turn it into a positive: “I’ve always griped about how I hate commuting. It’s nice that now I have time to do XYZ instead of losing an hour a day going to and from work! It’s really nice to be able to sip my coffee slowly in the morning, or make myself breakfast, instead of rushing to get out the door. Also–how great I can do a load of laundry on a work break, or work out on that boring conference call! ????”
“I HATE THAT WE CAN’T TRAVEL!”
Turn it into a positive: “Remember how stressful life was before? That feeling of dread I’d secretly get before a trip, saying, “UGH I’m just so busy. I secretly wish I could just postpone this. I’m just so stressed, there’s so much to get done! Or how I’d book so many trips and activities that I’d need another vacation from my vacation? It IS actually really nice to have a forced slow period!”
I know it might seem silly at first, but I encourage you to give it a few tries with any negative emotions you’re feeling today. The more you do it, the more you’ll see the effects.