Lately, life often seems determined to test our breaking points. And with 2020 being such a chaotic year, it’s more important than ever to draw on whatever tricks we can to stay happy and continue succeeding no matter what.
If I had to choose one trick that consistently surprises me with its powers, it would be this: training the brain to only see the positives in life.
I don’t want to bore you with the (mountains of) evidence, but there’s plenty. You see, our brains are actually hard-wired to focus on the negative, a once-useful remnant from our distant ancestors fighting for survival on the savanna. And because the brain is such a malleable and adaptive organ, a repetitive thought actually carves a bigger and bigger “rut” for that thought to travel down — meaning the more negativity we allow ourselves to feel, the more reflexively we grab for it when obstacles come our way.
The flip side? The same goes for positivity.
Like any habit, defaulting to seeing only the positives happens with repetition. Here are six small habits to start practicing every day:
1. Be aware of your bias toward negativity
The most powerful weapon against negativity is to expose it. Notice when you’re defaulting to a negative outlook, including feelings of anxiety, fear, self-doubt, and obsessive thoughts. Take a note of the situation that triggered it.
2. Pivot to a small moment of gratitude
Here’s the crucial move: Noticing your thoughts opens a small pathway for new neural connections. Moving quickly to gratitude starts to widen that pathway. Think about something you’re grateful for in your life — your dog, your family, your talents — and enjoy the feelings those thoughts bring.
3. Hold it for 15 seconds
Keep the positive thought in your mind for 15 seconds. This allows it time to sink in and become a “habit.” It forces our brain, which is wired to doubt positive thoughts and hold onto negative ones with a deathgrip, to become comfortable with the new arrangement.
This stabilizes the role of gratitude and helps lock it in as your new knee-jerk reaction to negative thoughts.
4. Envision positive outcomes
While the first three tips are reactive, this one is proactive. Go into any situation — a party, a meeting, a phone call — visualizing only the outcomes you hope for. Our brains have an unstoppable way of guiding us toward whatever we’re focused on. If that thing is the result you want, you’re far more like to achieve it.
5. Be proactive about gratitude, too
Gratitude should also be practiced in daily life. A fantastic way to set the tone for your day is to start it by making a short entry in a gratitude journal. In this journal, which can be as simple as a running note on your phone, you should write about one thing you’re grateful for. Be as brief or as verbose as you want — any moment spent in gratitude is a moment well spent.
6. Let go of the news
We all want to be aware, but humans just aren’t cut out for carrying the world on our shoulders. It’s good practice to limit your news absorption to once or twice per day. You won’t get anything out of checking it every hour or more.
Instead, focus on the areas of your world where you can truly make a big impact: your friends, family, relationships, work, and pastimes.
To sum it all up:
After you have been practicing these techniques for a bit, you will start to notice something: This positive thinking is some seriously magical stuff.
When we refuse to let negativity guide our thoughts, we immediately become immune to its influence. So in a way, it doesn’t matter what life throws your way — you can accept it, acknowledge what’s good in your life, and move past it. You’re unstoppable.
And that, my friends, is what true magic really looks like.