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10 Strategies for positivity


A positive outlook can help us achieve a fulfilling life. We offer 10 simple strategies for positive thinking benefits.

A positive outlook can help us achieve a fulfilling life. But negativity surrounds us "My feet hurt. It’s too noisy.” Negativity is within us, too "I can’t do it. I’ll never be successful!” Its presence is powerful and its influence insidious, but with some small adjustments, negativity can be nixed.

Sharing negative stories is like eating peanuts—it’s hard to stop at just one. As people outdo one another with their tragic tales, the power of negativity is so great, it causes brain changes. Yes, that’s right. Negative stories, conversations, and events become ingrained in our minds and provide a reference point for our future thoughts, actions, and expectations.

Negative influences

For example, say we have a dream of completing a half marathon. As we share our goal, friends offer their opinions. One friend tells us he attempted to train for a half marathon but quit because he developed tendinitis. Another friend tells us how dreadful it is to run in the cold and snow. Still another friend shares how the time commitment is too enormous and how our kids will suffer. These comments now become the reference point while we decide whether to pursue our dream.

Often this influx of negativity, packaged as “reality,” is enough to convince us that training for a half marathon (or any other goal) is a ridiculous idea. We keep doing what we’ve always done: let others’ negativity determine our actions. Unfortunately, negativity has a boomerang effect; not only does it rob us of our dreams, but pessimistic people often live shorter lives.

Spend time with positive people

Wait, there’s no need to be discouraged! A pessimistic perspective on life can be switched to an optimistic outlook simply by choosing to be with positive people. It’s that easy. A positive person’s outlook is encouraging, supportive, and contagious.

Avoid gossip

While it’s fun to be with positive friends, there’s always that one friend who makes it a priority to share the latest gossip. The tease of hearsay, “You-know-who recently took up running and is now having an affair with..." is tempting (who wouldn’t want to know the details of this juicy bit of scandal?), but participating in rumours poisons our minds and thinking.

Take deep breaths

When we find ourselves in the company of others sharing the latest rumours or negative stories, it’s best simply to take deep breaths. Deep breathing reduces anxiety, allows us to relax, lowers our blood pressure, and is one of the most powerful ways to defuse unpleasant experiences.

Talk about something positive

When it’s time to respond to the person sharing the gossip or bad news, resist the urge to engage, and instead change the subject to something more positive, such as your goal to run a half marathon.

But sometimes negativity is so insidious that it is hard to know when we’ve fallen prey. We can associate with positive people and avoid partaking in gossip, but what about those conversations in our own heads? Do yours sound like this? “I’ve never run a 10 km race before, never mind a half marathon. I’m lucky if I can get around the block without turning purple, and I know the neighbours are laughing at my running tights!”

Listening to this voice, often called our inner critic, will sabotage our goals before the running tights are even put on. When it comes to our inner critic, we have two choices. We can continue to listen to its voice and believe it. The result will be stagnation, minimal life energy, and decreased sense of worth. This negative focus will also predispose us to anxiety and depression—or we can learn to master our inner critic.

Master the inner critic

According to psychologist Matthew McKay, PhD, the greatest strength of our inner critic is its ability to secretly attack. It usually strikes when we are feeling down, less confident, or scared. The inner critic’s chatter is focused on keeping us the same. It does not like change.

Become aware of the inner critic
The first step is to become aware of when the inner critic attacks. When we think about doing something we have not done before, such as running a half marathon, recognize that the inner critic will be along for the jog. “This is a bad idea! You’re never going to finish. Everyone will laugh at you!”

Respond with short, angry statements
Once we are aware of when our inner critic attacks, we can take the second step: talk back to it with short, angry statements, such as, “Stop it! These are lies! This is garbage!” These statements will be enough to silence our inner critic.

Use positive, self-affirming statements
The final step is to replace those negative comments with statements that are positive and affirming: “I can complete a half marathon. I exercise regularly.” We can continue moving toward our goal as we repeat the positive statements.

Choose to respond positively to events

Even though we can learn to control our inner critic, we cannot escape negative events. They’re a part of life. We do, however, have a choice about how we respond and, therefore, about how we are affected by any event occurring in our life. For example, people who constantly complain and only see what’s wrong in any given situation make themselves more susceptible to stress and illness.

On the other hand, those who choose an optimistic perspective give themselves enhanced coping abilities, thereby reducing the harmful effects of negative stress. Just looking at things in a positive way reduces stress within the body.

Exercise regularly

We can also reduce the harmful effects of stress from negative events through regular exercise (and it doesn’t have to be training for a half marathon). Use an aerobic exercise machine, walk, or bike to lower stress hormones, increase energy, and improve your state of mind. Negative events do not have to create added stress.

Don’t overgeneralize negative events

Keep negative occurrences in perspective to lessen their impact. For example, while training for a half marathon, we could get a miserable cold and be unable to complete part of our training program. It would be easy to say, “This always happens to me. I never accomplish my goals - and quit the training program. While catching a cold is unfortunate, it is important not to overgeneralize its occurrence.

Using words such as “always” and “never” is evidence of overgeneralizing. When we overgeneralize, we take the results of one small incident in our life and transfer that result to our entire life. Catching a cold ends up being generalized into the belief that our goals are unattainable. It is more helpful and supportive to use specific language such as, “I’m disappointed I got a cold, but I will continue my training when I’m healthy.”

Constantly overgeneralizing negative events can lead people to create a mindset that begins to expect negative occurrences. “I knew this would happen. It always does.” When people begin to think in negative terms, they begin to expect something bad to happen and when it does, they’re not surprised. Unfortunately, when something good happens, they are surprised: “That was lucky. It will likely never happen again.”

Outwardly appreciate positive events

While negative events are expected, good events are treated as a fleeting incident. Good events and bad events happen all the time. They are neither fleeting nor permanent, simply occurrences to be managed. The next time something positive happens, don’t think, “Is this a mistake?” Replace that negative thought with the positive thought, “I deserve this. Thank you!”

Lessening the influence of negativity is something everyone can do. Using these powerful tips will create a positive perspective with which to view the world. An optimistic approach to life produces a ripple effect in others, and it doesn’t get any more positive than that.

Health effects of negativity

Research studies have shown that negativity can affect our physical and mental health in many ways:

  • decreased energy
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • increased stress
  • decreased psychological well-being
  • decreased physical well-being
  • increased susceptibility to illness
  • decreased lifespan


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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD