Being more positive is easier said than done right. For some people anyway.
I’ll discuss that in a second, but here are a few things that have transformed my outlook into a consistently positive one:
1. Change Your Attitude
Forget the “woe is me” syndrome which is so common among so many people in the developed world. Some people are never happy. There is always something that they’re upset about.
Living in a western society is a privilege in so many ways. If you can’t see that, then get on a plane and spend some time volunteering in the slums of India or South Africa.
The glass is either half full or half empty right. Try to find the positive slant of every situation, look for meaning. If Victor Frankl can do it while surviving the horrors of Auschwitz, then we can do it dealing with cancer, our businesses, our relationships, money issues, and whatever else we’ve got going on. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday is an excellent book in this regard.
Try to be a gift to the world. Take an interest in the people around you and appreciate what you’ve got going for you. Concentrate on what you want to achieve and have in your life not on what’s missing.
2. Stop Complaining
See how long you can go before you utter any negative thoughts, opinions or complaints. This is hard! People love complaining! They love to bitch about people, talk about negative things, and it’s so easy to join in! We’ve all done it, but spending so much time being negative is not a worthwhile way to spend your life.
Will Bowen’s book “A Complaint Free World” is worth reading. It’s short, under 100 pages, and is easy to read. It’s one of the most useful books I’ve read and I highly recommend it. It suggests wearing a bracelet, any kind will do, and switching it to the opposite arm as soon as you say anything negative. That’s mostly to get you conscious of when and how often you are being negative or complaining. After that, the challenge is to keep the bracelet on the same arm for the same day – until you can get to 21 days, (the number of days at which a habit should have become ingrained).
People love to bitch, and I’ve been in plenty of situations where people take it personally when people don’t join in. Stand your ground dude – life is too short.
Not complaining is hard! The longest I made it was 5 days…not impressive I know, but it felt amazing! I was high, like I was walking on air!
3. Accept That Complaining Is Not a Good Course of Action
Our lives are short. There is very little that we grumble about that we can change by complaining.
Some believe that it’s good to “get things off your chest” but I often find that we just get worked up. Complaining is stressful. For you and for those around you, even people you don’t know or care about. It’s an unhealthy state to be in, pushes up your blood pressure, stops you from sleeping, makes your body produce harmful hormones. It’s not good.
Things will get to all of us. We are human beings and we will inevitably upset each other. Learn what you can from painful experiences and move on. It’s in the past. Let it go. Getting angry and worked up isn’t going to help anyone. In the end, it only harms you.
Complaining about people rarely gets them to change. l love my boyfriend for example, but there are loads of things he does that annoy me! Most of these don’t really matter, and complaining about them for years has never got me anywhere.
We all like to get things off our chests, and I’m a big fan of communicating your problems, especially within relationships. Constructive criticism can be useful, and sometimes it’s worth complaining, against racism, or homophobia for example, – values that are worth standing up for. But, most of the time, complaining is just going to get you worked up, it’s going to inflame the situation, and nothing will change.
4. Concentrate on What You Are Grateful For and On Taking Positive Action to Improve Your Life
Hundreds of books have been written about the law of attraction. Concentrate on negative thoughts and you are for more likely to attract worse ones. You’ll attract negative people and events into your life, and repel the positive ones.
I have a couple of friends who are always bewailing something in their lives – a job, a relationship, how they’re not doing what they want to do, yet they refuse, whether from fear or indolence, to take any action to change their lives. (There is always some nonsensical excuse). Moving that energy from complaining, to appreciating the good things in their lives, and taking action to improve things has got to be more helpful.
I never used to get the “we become our thoughts” talk. But, it’s true. If you’re constantly in a negative frame of mind, thinking things won’t work out, that opportunities won’t come your way etc, then you are far less likely to use up all of your energy to make sure it does work out, or be inspired to take action, and spot the opportunities. Those are the things that will help you make progress towards the things you want in life.
I’m not saying that we should all assume that nothing bad will never happen. It’s always useful to work through negative scenarios and figure out how you would deal with things if they occurred, but that should always be backed up by a positive outlook.
5. Remove Yourself from Negative Information and Surroudings
This is one of the best things you can do to upgrade your environment.
Again, this is easier said than done, especially if you have a negative family, or colleagues, but your friends at least, are within your control. It’s going to hurt, but your life will be far better without negative people in your life, no matter how long you’ve had them around. Unless your beloved friend is suffering from genuine depression, either point out how your negative amigos affect you, and ask them to lighten up around you, otherwise, make room for more positive people in your life and distance yourself from them. I know, it’s hard.
Plenty of people still annoy and upset me too. I either avoid them, accept them for who they are, or focus on what I can learn from them, (e.g. tolerance…!), or act as if they have been sent to teach me something – like patience, or a chance to exercise my “how to diplomatically deal with difficult people” skills.
The same goes for news/TV shows/books. If reading about rapes and murders gets you down, then don’t consume that information. There is little news (global or local) which really affects you, or that you can have any effect on. I used to devour broadsheets and current affairs programmes – I was a general knowledge fiend – until a few years ago. Now, I rarely read the news unless it’s something of specific interest to me, and I’m a lot happier and productive for it.
6. Be honest
So that’s all well and good but if you’re suffering from depression, being positive isn’t a switch that’s easy to make. Rest, exercise, and meditation can help, I think, but depression is a serious problem. Not all of us find it easy to be positive, and it’s important to support those that are finding it difficult.
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt contains an interesting chapter about how some people’s brains are pre-disposed to depression which was an eye opener for me. I know people who struggle massively with depression and it’s no joke. I think it’s very hard to understand if you’ve never been in that state yourself. I never feel qualified enough to comment or give them advice. I can only try to imagine what they are going through and to be there for them.
Maybe I’m a bit more aware of suicide since Robin Williams took his own life a few months ago, but lately I feel like I’ve come across a lot of news, online and in our personal lives about people committing suicide, like this one from Brad Feld for example.
In my own life, I think there have been a few times in my life where I have been depressed, but I’ve been fortunate in that they haven’t lasted for long and they have always been connected with specific events in my life – a death of a loved one, or being in a situation where I felt that my life was bring wasted. I wouldn’t say that I suffer from depression, but I can understand how people can rationalise suicide as being the right thing to do. That is tragic, and frightening too.
Returning to the UK after travelling for a year was fairly tough, and after one dark day, I even contemplated finding a therapist. The thing is, if you got to that stage, as I assume lots of people do, how do you go about finding one? You don’t generally see people asking for recommendations on Facebook. Being depressed is still stigmatised. People rarely talk openly about being depressed or going to therapy.
I caught up with a good friend of mine last week who was obviously a bit depressed, as she has been for quite a while now, yet she couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge it. It seemed that for her, to admit that she was depressed, even to a close friend, would be some sign of failure, that it wasn’t okay to admit to it. That is crazy! Bad things and bad times happen to us all. It doesn’t mean that you are weak or ungrateful, it just means we need to take a step back, and figure out how to deal with things, whether that’s through changing your life in some way, addressing an issue you’ve been ignoring, or going to see your doctor or a therapist. I think things would be easier for a lot of people if depression was discussed more openly. I hope one day it will be.
Do you have any more suggestions on how we can stay positive and deal with depression? Let me know.