What does it mean to have an Optimism strength? Well, Strengthscope® would define it as a way of looking at the world which energises you and keeps you feeling productive and useful, enabling you to see the glass as being half full, looking for the learning in disaster, believing that things will work out for the best and that the future will be even better than the past. So whether you have an Optimism strength (something that you can find out at www.strengthscope.com), or if you definitely see the world as a cup half empty kind of place, or if you’re somewhere in the middle, this article is for everyone…it’s all about how to stay positive.
Reasons to stay positive
There are good reasons to stay positive – being in a positive state has been scientifically shown to deliver a whole range of outcomes that you would want to happen to you, including, amongst many other things, getting and keeping jobs, being more productive, being more resilient and being less likely to burn out. The reason for this is that when we experience positive emotions, like optimism or hope or trust, this opens up various centres of the brain that are less accessible or even entirely inaccessible when we are experiencing negative emotions. Negative emotions tend to lead to a narrowing of our thinking and to a diversion of our brain centres towards dealing with the perceived threat. But positive emotions do the opposite and with that, our brain becomes open to learning, open to experience and is able to grow and develop much more easily.
In short, it’s much easier to experience the world in full colour and, to truly appreciate it, when our brains are in a positive emotional state. That being said, negative emotions, of course, have their place and if we’re going to experience the world in full colour and in full tonal range then we need to get familiar and comfortable with being uncomfortable, with negative emotions as these aspects of life also serve a range of vital functions.
For now though, we’re invoking positive emotions, and science gives us some good evidence on how to stay positive – we’ll be drawing in part from Shaun Achor’s TED Talk on the happy secret to better work and in part from other places so do check it out if you haven’t already.
Ways to Stay Positive
1. Find things to be grateful for
Find things to be grateful for – research shows that capturing 3 new things each day that we’re grateful for, for 3 weeks, helps the brain retain a pattern of scanning the environment for positive things. Our brains are naturally wired to scan the environment for the negative; threats and problems that, if fixed, we’ll survive. But is survival the same as thriving? Positive and negative emotions work differently in the brain so writing down things to be grateful for allows us to get better at seeing and experiencing positive in the world when it comes along, which means more full colour living more of the time.
2. Record and recall one positive thing that happens every day
Record one positive thing that happens every day, noting for 2 minutes all the details you can remember of that experience. Even just going over the experience again in your head for 2 minutes with your eyes closed, should have the same effect.
Visualisation enables you to relive this positive meaningful event as the brain finds it hard to tell the difference between a real event and a visualised event if it’s re-experienced in sufficient detail, so you can access to the same emotions that way. Again, with our inbuilt negativity bias, we tend to spend longer ruminating on negative events than savouring positive ones, so this activity is training our brains to redress the balance and to more easily access positive emotions by having easier access to a rich library of positive experiences that we have stored up.
Meditating for as little as 2 minutes per day (though it’s definitely the more the better) is massively helpful for gaining focus. This enables us to better regulate our emotional state, which in turn enables us to access more positive emotional states by making more conscious choices in the moment about how we respond to the things that happen to us during an average day. We also know that by focusing on our breath, a practice that sits at the centre of most meditation practices, we become better at being ‘present’; more in the now rather than having our minds race off to unhelpful places all the time. This greater focus and groundedness in the moment also helps us to appreciate positive experiences and identify things to be grateful for, plus meditation improves sleep and decreases stress – it’s worth it.
4. Be kind
The final idea is just to be kind to people; show compassion, show interest. This invokes at least two positive systems for us: first, humans have an inbuilt need for relatedness and by showing kindness to others, we are more likely to feel a closer relationship with the person or people we have shown kindness to, we feel part of something bigger than us, socially-speaking. If we show appreciation and gratitude towards people in our social network, this can create even more positive outcomes for us emotionally because it helps us feel more socially supported and that has a major impact on well-being and positive mental health.
Secondly, by being kind, we often like ourselves more, probably because kind people are generally more highly regarded in most societies…being kind is a good thing to be; we get a self-esteem boost from engaging in this kind of activity.
For all of these ideas, the key is to do it again and again. In short, create habits with any of the activities mentioned and it’s easier to stay positive more of the time. And as we’ve heard, learning how to stay positive has some major performance and well-being benefits. So think of one thing are you going to make a habit of, pick one and give yourself the best chance of staying positive.