3 Ways to Stay Positive in a Less Than Positive World

If you thought that positivity is easy, think again.

“It’s completely unrealistic to be positive all of the time.”

In a little over a year since The Positivity Solution has been in existence, I’ve probably heard at least 100 different people say the above quote to me.

Truthfully, I get where those people are coming from.

Being consistently positive is hard. Really hard.

Even though I’ve completely dedicated my life to positivity, I still come up short consistently.

So, why is this positivity stuff so damn hard? More importantly, what can we do to make it easier to stay positive?

Stay tuned, because I have the answer to both questions.

The Default Setting

Let’s start with why being consistently positive is so hard for most people.

For some strange and twisted reason, the default setting on our brains is the “Negativity Setting.”

Yep, this is the sad truth that no one wants to talk about. If you don’t believe me, think about this:

Scientists claim that our brains process up to 50,000 unique thoughts a day and 70-80% of them are negative. 

Yikes. Here are some familiar examples:

“I’ll never be as successful as my sister.”

“Ugh, I can’t even fit into these jeans anymore. I’m such a pig.”

“I hate this job.”

“Why do I always attract losers into my life?”

“I’ll never be able to afford that.”

“No one ever appreciates me for my hard work.”

“My coworker is SO annoying…”

“I’m not smart enough to start a business.”

“I am a terrible parent.”

On and on, the negative thoughts keep marching through our brains until we decide to put a stop to it. If that troubling statistic wasn’t enough to convince you that our brains are hard-wired for negativity, here are two questions for you to chew on:

Why can most people receive hundreds of compliments and instantly forget about them, but they’ll remember one insult for days, weeks, months, or longer?

Why do many people dismiss and ignore breathtaking beauty (remember this incredibly famous example of that fact?), but they’ll stop in a heartbeat to look at a deadly car crash?

The reality is that we’re all stuck with this negative default setting to some extent.

And if we want to experience consistent positivity in our lives, it will take a complete rewiring of our brains in order to do it. 

That’s why I have to chuckle when people dismiss positivity as mindless fluff that’s reserved only for the naive, delusional, and nearly brain-dead people of the world.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It takes a unique combination of mental toughness, emotional intelligence, and unshakable resilience to be consistently positive. Believe me, negativity is the easy route. Positivity is the real challenge.

Speaking of a challenge, here are three simple ways to begin the very real process of re-wiring our brains to a new default setting.

1. The Positivity Minute

Remember when I said that when most people receive a compliment or see something beautiful, they dismiss it?

From now on, don’t be like “most people.”

The next time that something positive happens to you, or you happen to see something beautiful, do this instead:

Consciously spend at least a minute (ideally longer, but at least a minute) reflecting on the positive event.

Many people want to dismiss compliments and ignore the beauty in our world, but I’m telling you that your life will change once you make a practice of consciously staying in each positive moment a little longer than you normally would.

For example, last week I was in line at Wetzel’s Pretzels, and to make a long story short, I jumped in to buy a pretzel for a college-aged kid whose credit card was getting repeatedly declined by the cashier.

He was so thankful that he hugged me before he happily bounced away with his warm buttery pretzel.

Now, I easily could have dismissed that event, bought my pretzel, and then headed back to the office without thinking about that kid again, but I didn’t do that. I spent a good 10 minutes consciously thinking about his joyful reaction and the equally positive response from the cashier who witnessed it.

It may sound silly to some people, but simply taking the time to stay in that moment made me feel amazing.

Next time you experience something positive, try to consciously stay in that feeling of positivity a little longer than you normally would. 

The Positivity Minute (or longer) is one of the easiest ways to reset your brain, and believe me, it’s worth the effort.

2. Positive Endings and Beginnings

Here’s another super-simple way to increase your positivity: No matter how busy you are or how tired you are, do not go to sleep for the night without reflecting on what you’re thankful for.

In fact, the last thought that you should have each night before you go to bed at night should be a thought of gratitude.

My wife and I are trying this with our girls (ages 5 1/2 and almost 3), and each night before they go to bed we ask them to tell us one thing that they’re thankful for. It’s the coolest thing ever, and even though they’re really young, they’re both really into it.

I wish that I could explain it, but gratitude has near-magical powers when it comes to creating a life of positivity.

If you don’t have the time or interest to create a gratitude journal (I highly recommend that you do find the time and interest, by the way), at the very least, commit to thinking about one thing that you’re sincerely thankful for every night, without exception.

But if you’re really up for a challenge, try this for a week:

For the next seven days before you go bed, think of three things that you’re thankful for.

The challenge is that you’re not allowed to have any repeats for the entire week.

At the end of the seven days, you should have come up with 21 unique things that you’re thankful for.

That’s not all.

Equally as important, during the week, start each day with three positive things that you’re committing to do.

It could be calling your parents, getting caught up on your email, going to the gym, meditating, finishing a project…literally anything that would make your life a little more positive is fair game.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the acts are–the only catch is that each day, you need to complete three new positive things, no repeats. At the end of the seven days, you should have completed with 21 unique things that will make your life a little more positive.

If you start and end each day like this for next week (ideally, for the rest of your life), it will be nearly impossible to not move your default setting way above the positivity line.

3. Avoid All Unnecessary Negativity

Okay, this one isn’t as easy as the other two, but it’s still simple.

I truly believe that the two best gifts that you can give to yourself to avoid unnecessary negativity are:

1) Ruthlessly removing the toxic people from your life.

2) Successfully immunizing yourself from chronic complainers.

 

That might sound overly simplified, and I can only speak for what works for me–cutting out any unnecessary negativity in all areas of my life has done wonders for my positivity.

Putting in the Work

Taking the time to re-wire our brains to the positive isn’t easy, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

I don’t have all of the answers, but if you’re reading this and you’re willing to put in the work to create a world that’s a little more positive than it was yesterday, then we can make it happen. Yes, we.

There is no way that creating a positive world can be done alone, and this African proverb says it best:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We’re in this together, and I’m excited to see how far we can go to make this world a more positive place for all of us.

Your Turn

Which one of these techniques resonated with you the most? Do you use a different technique to stay positive? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola
Shola

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Comments

  1. Kristen Quinn says:

    You never cease to amaze me, Shola. As it always seems that when I am in need one of your blog entries for a particularly sticky situation in my quest for a complete positive mindset, there you are with it! Yea! Anyways, still in that job, with the EDP’s.. still at it towards me. Not that I have not been job searching, just gave up a month ago.. not finding anything in my field, yet.. I stress yet.. will look again after my mission trip next month! However, direct bullying issues have died down, as the HR dept. has sugar coated them with this whole company idea of how to address each other ‘professionally’ and have gone over policies in place of not bullying in the workplace, but they have skirted around the issues here and not hit it dead on. However, I actually figured it all out, with the help of my very wise father and I having one of our bonding talks this weekend when I visited. My folks and I had some great talks and he basically explained to me that when one person makes a huge, positive change in their lives, it threatens those around them, as people tend to thrive on being miserable. Makes perfect sense. So in other words, my co-workers do not know me any longer and do not know how to know me, so it is the easy way out? Bullying me and bringing me down off of my positive cloud, to feel negative like them, is comforting to them. They have not said a word about any of the positive events in my life, but support each with every miserable negative thing going on in their lives. So, reading this entry lets me know, that we are indeed wired for negativity. I am actually going to copy/paste your guidelines to a word doc page right now to carry with me and work on finishing re-wiring this brain of mine to complete that positive mindset transformation. Seems like one with a positive mindset one will be healthier, happier and even add years to their life. Hmm.. less stress on the mind = longer life! Thank you again so very much for these amazing tools.. you have been so very life changing!

    • Kristen, you have very wise parents! They nailed it on the head when they talked about the extremely negative people that you’ve been dealing with at work. You found the courage and dedication to lose a ton of weight, and doing so has made them feel very uncomfortable with your positive changes. So instead of celebrating your big changes, they decided to take the negative route by kicking sand on your picnic. But like your folks said, being the dark cloud of negativity that’s raining on your parade is actually comforting to them. And that’s part of the reality of this blog post–taking the negative route is easy. Too easy, in fact. Staying positive in the face of a negative world is one of the hardest things that we’ll ever have to do, but you’ve been doing it like a champ. Keep staying strong, Kristen!

      • Kristen Quinn says:

        Thanks, Shola! But, these guidelines you posted.. uhh.. been so caught up with my move to a house I bought and so exhausted each night getting it put together.. I have neglected my ‘homework’ with this. 🙁 But I have it in my purse, to carry with me and have thought that I will do this. It will only help me in the long run. I am noticing, since reading this entry, that my mindset is more positive in catching myself with those negative thoughts. I have kept this in mind and starting to realize when I have those negative thoughts. I do pray each morning/evening for positivity out of negative situations to be shown to me; as a result of those difficulties. I know that is a start. I had an open discussion, thanks to our HR here at my company, with my EDP’s. It went well, emotional for all of us, but well. I learned a lot about my negative mind set exasperating a lot of what I thought was them ‘going after me’ and learned from them, they felt the same about me! So, we are now working towards trusting each other again, as a co-working family. I know it will take time and they are picking apart every word that is coming out of my mouth, right now, but I am focusing on re-building a healthy working environment with them. It was a lot of miscommunication and the one co-worker, that just left the company about a month ago, told them everything I said to her, in confidence, that I feared from them bullying. They did bring that up in the meeting. Not pointing her out, but spoke of everything I did tell her! Just goes to show, one can not be too careful! I do feel a lot better here at the office, but not going to let my guard down, just yet. But, feel that we are on the road to a healthier work place. That is a relief in itself’. I did tell them, due to my changes that they do not know this ‘new’ me; therefore, would like to get to know them again. We shall see how this one unfolds! Thank you.. take care!

  2. Aww….good ole gratitude is my favorite. Being grateful is not only positive, but it also allows us to stay centered and in inner peace…it reminds us that life is good!

    Blessings,
    xo Candi

  3. You challenged us about a month or so ago to try and go 24 hours without complaining or being negative and I have really been trying hard to do that. I have not been able to do it. Now you are giving us an even more difficult task. I’m really behind in this class lol

    • Kristen says:

      Jon, I could not agree more! It is very difficult/challenging to not be ‘negative’ in our thought patterns and/or complaining. Blew me away reading that we are ‘wired’ to think negatively 70-80% of the time, as it is. I have already noticed that today, just watching and observing those around me with their thoughts, actions..etc. It amazes me how often I catch myself doing so.. even little things! But, what an excellent goal to keep striving for. Like it is said.. if you don’t succeed.. try try again!

      • You’re right Kristen. Never give up thank you for keeping me focused on the right path. I won’t let you down

    • It’s all good, Jon! The key is that you keep showing up for class instead of dropping out ;). There’s always time to catch up!

  4. Thank you Shola, beautiful and very informative article. I think THE most important is number 3 – Avoid All Unnecessary Negativity – getting rid of toxic relationships and complainers. I can tell you from my experience that if you are in a toxic relationship (could be anyone-friends,co-workers,parents), feeding yourself with positivity isn’t going to make a difference. For example, let’s just say you got a cold by being in the rain with no jacket for the whole day. Before you go to bed, you take some tablets and cough syrup. Next day with the arrogance that you have your tablets and cough syrup, you go out in the rain…you repeat this for 1 whole week. Do you think your cold will get better? Not a chance. Believe me I have been there..the word toxic means poison. Do step 3 first, and then when you do step 1 and 2, it will work.

    I am glad I hated watching the news from an early age, I still do…very depressing. Even Joyce Meyer doesn’t watch the news. When a certain person in my life who reads every murder and rape and kidnap and death story in the news kept making fun of me for years for lacking general knowledge, over an year ago, I decided I will start watching or reading the news. I think it was 1 or 2 days after I made this decision, I heard Joyce Meyer say she didn’t watch the news, and she said if there is anything that god wanted her to know, she believed that god will let her know of it. I took that as confirmation that my decision to start watching the news should not be put into practice. After that I have decided that there is nothing wrong with not watching the news. One lady told me that I need to be aware of rapes and kidnappings, so I can avoid such situations. This lady is full of fear-bizzare fear. I mean rapes happen everywhere now-even at homes. Her statement is just wrong. Wherever you go, use common sense and pray-god will protect you.

    • Jeenu, I really liked your cold medicine analogy! Toxic people are poison and that’s why it is so important to remove them quickly and with precision. It took me years to remove all of the toxic people from my life, but now that I’m there, I am infinitely happier because of it. Also, I’m glad that you’re with me on the news watching thing. I’ll turn it on every once in a while, but it’s nowhere close to being a habit of mine. Hearing about the worst that the world has to offer on a daily basis is not healthy for anyone’s positive mindset. The fact that a person told you that “you need to be aware of rapes and kidnappings so you can avoid those situations” is just craziness, in my opinion.

  5. tara dupont says:

    Hi Shola,
    First I must say I love the blog, and look forward to each post. I remember reading in a childrens mag when my 17 year old daughter was like 3 or 4 the idea when reviewing the days events parents should try to ask their children had any joy in their instead of the usual ‘how was your day’ or what did you do in school today. I tried it with my daughter and we have been doing it ever since pretty frequently. As you mentioned changing the brain is hard work. I also try to change my words. I try to avoid using negative words whenever possible. I have one more example of putting a positive spin on a situation. One day my bike was stolen from my shed. I got a new bike and since the shed was really old and could not be locked and I did not want my new bike to be stolen I now had to carry my bike down the basement stairs which had an awkward angle. As I lamented over this task and how this must be a sign of “the end of times” and it must have better in the good old days…whenever those were…I suddenly thought, you know what, the bible mentions things being stolen, so I need to just suck it and carry my bike downstairs. Thank you Shola, i will continue to work toward positivity even in the mist of a negativity blizzard!!!

    • Right on, Tara! First of all, thank you for the very sweet words about the blog, it is greatly appreciated! Yes, changing our brains to the positive is very hard work. The odds are against us and if we’re unwilling to do the necessary work, it will be so easy to fall into that pit of negativity that is our default state. Your bike situation is great example of this. The easy route would be to bitch and moan about how much of a pain it is to bring your bike downstairs every night, but the fact is that you do have a new bike and a basement to put it in too–that’s something to feel good about, right? Keep being the ray of sunshine in the negativity blizzard!

  6. Hi Shola,

    I love your posts so much! They inspire me to try harder, be better.

    When my children were little I was in awe of their sense of wonder. I have found that to wonder, as a child, keeps me positive, especially regarding our beautiful, natural world. I, too, don’t watch news and even recently stopped watching weather news. As you stated, consciously eliminating the unnecessary drama makes my world a more positive place. And when the chronic complainers check in at work, I check out, physically removing myself from the conversation. So, tonight when I am lying in bed thinking over my day and expressing my gratitude, I will include you. Thanks for being who you are and shining your bright light.

    • Aww Robin, thank you! That is so incredibly sweet and please know that I don’t take that very kind gesture for granted–that just made my night! I am so with you. One of my biggest goals in 2014 was to completely remove any unnecessary drama from my life. So far, so good. Just like you, when the chronic complainers check into my life, I check out. Now they’ve gotten the hint that I’m not interested in joining their “ain’t it awful?” parties, so they no longer complain to me. The fact that we’ve successfully cut out the chronic complainers from our lives is a huge win for us as far I’m concerned!

  7. Hi Shola,

    I’m a big believer in a daily gratitude practice and I’ve seen in my own life how it refocuses me on what is working in my life and the many things I have to feel good about.

    But may I add one caveat? Be compassionate with yourself and never start your gratitude practice with the words “At least.” Hate your job? Don’t say “At least I have a job.” Say something like “I came home after work and enjoyed time with my family,” or “I have an awesome co-worker who makes me laugh,” or even “I’m grateful I got through the day with as much grace as I could muster.” “At least” is beating yourself up for how you feel about what’s not working; the other way is reframing your day to look at what is.

    I say this because I was urged for ages to start a gratitude practice by a therapist whose response to my problems at work was something about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t let the Nazis get him down and at least I wasn’t surrounded by Nazis (I am not making this up). It only made me feel worse. It took me ages to figure out the problem: it’s not gratitude if you’re comparing. Gratitude just is.

    • Hey Maria! Ugh, anyone who uses “at least” in an attempt to cheer someone up is someone who completely doesn’t get it. This super-short video by Brene Brown explains it perfectly: http://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw

      The fact that a licensed therapist said to you “at least you’re not surrounded by Nazis” in attempt to make you feel better about your problems at work is like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit. Seriously, who says that to someone who is emotional pain?? As always Maria, you said it brilliantly: It’s not gratitude if you’re comparing, gratitude just is. I love that.

  8. Great thanks, Shola! I like the gratitude practice and write about positive moments before sleeping for 4 month. And it really works! By this way,I have real milestones in my own growth as a positive person:)
    And I removed most of toxic people (yes, it was really hard part of my life), so now I can breathe free and smile sincerely.
    Your work makes me happy!

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Olenka! The gratitude practice really does work, doesn’t it? And the fact that you’ve removed most of the toxic people in your life is also another powerful way to experience more positivity. I’m so glad that you’re here, and I’m glad to know that you’re breathing free and smiling bright!

  9. Shola you have done it again. Thank you for this week’s post. I appreciate that you say the truth, that realistically, we will face resistance in our practice of positivity, because many of those around us will reject it. I truly feel that each week, you directly address an issue of positivity that I have been working on for 30 years (I’m 56 now). Each week I read this blog and wish you had been around 30 years ago, so I could have had guidance and support on this journey, and maybe I could have moved along a little faster. For now, I can check in with you weekly, and make sure my head is screwed on straight. Thank you Shola for what you do.

    • Thanks so much, Donna! It is a such a honor (and a little surreal, to be honest) to be in a situation where I can help people with my writing. Ten years ago, if you had told me that I would be a positivity blogger, I would have told you that you’re certifiably insane. And truthfully, that’s where this is all coming from. I’m writing these blog posts for the person I was 10 years ago. He needed to hear this stuff desperately, but since the old me is officially dead, I’m thrilled to know that these words are reaching wonderful people like you who can use them. Thanks so much for reading!

  10. Okay, I may not do all of the above, but I deleted the “news” aggregate from my top sites that I had bookmarked! Thank you! 🙂

  11. Great post Shola…I particularly like #2. I have a sister wo is always so thankful for every thing. Even the littlest things brighten her day. She’s so gracious that it makes you want to do things for her b/c she makes you feel so good. Once, she was in a wedding and couldn’t afford to get a mani/pedi. She bought press on type things at the drugstore and I helped her put them on. She was so thankful, you’d have thought I gave her a million dollars…Isn’t that wonderful?
    Also, I don’t watch the news either!! Not regularly anyway. Sometimes I watch a story on 60 Minutes, and occasionally I turn on the local news to hear a specific story. I’m with you though, if there is something big going on, I will hear about it. Instead, I like to go to The Good News Network online. It’s full of wonderful positive stories that make me joyous! Have a wonderful weekend Shola!

    See you next week!

  12. Wonderful WONDERFUL steps, Shola! Love it!

  13. Shola,
    I’ve been a pessimist for years and am working hard every day to change that. I spent 10 years doing work I loathed and was in a passionless marriage with an unsupportive spouse. Keeping my head up was very difficult and for a while, I had sort of given up on being happy.

    It does take a lot of work and it stems from the habits we make for ourselves. I keep myself busy and often forget to take the time to appreciate what I do have.

    Thanks for this reminder, it’s a good wake up call.

  14. visheto says:

    thank you Shola

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