Mindset Matters: Positivity – How to use it and what to avoid

Positivity, when used appropriately, is a large contributor to positive well-being and mental health outcomes. According to MayoClinic, It can change your self-talk, increase your self-confidence, lower depression and pain, improve psychological and physical well-being, filter out negative thinking, and so much more. Overall life satisfaction increases, which is something everyone wants! You are also less likely to have a heart attack when living with a positive outlook.

This same concept also the ability to get abused and do more damage than good.

To use positivity correctly, we first need to understand what it is.

Positivity is the practice or tendency to be optimistic in life. Positive thinking includes:

  1. Transforming negative thoughts into positive ones
  2. Noticing the positive aspects of a situation
  3. Challenging pessimistic thoughts

Positivity is also a choice. One has to choose to address negative thoughts and transform them into positive ones. It also also a choice to see the “gifts” or “silver lining” in a situation or to challenge those pessimistic thoughts.

Positivity is a framework to work through a negative situation. It allows you to address the challenge as it is while also remaining optimistic in the outcomes.

Positivity is a choice because, for most of us, is not our default setting. Our brains are not hardwired for positivity.

We have a bias toward negativity. It is literally called “Negativity Bias“. We tend to pay attention of focus on negative information. There is a reason for this: our brain’s primary purpose is to keep us alive.

Negative thinking include:

  1. Brains respond more intensely to negative stimuli
  2. We think about negative events more
  3. Survival technique to prepare for worst case scenario

Our brains likes to prepare for worst-case scenarios and danger so that way it can prepare itself to do what it needs to survive. This has carried over from our hunter and gatherer ancestors. When a sabretooth tiger jumped out of the brush, our ancestors’ brains went to “you could die” and so they reacted in a way to save themselves.

While sabretooth tigers are no longer jumping out of the brush today, that mechanism is certainly alive and well. When we get into a fight with our partner, we assume we may break up and begin mentally preparing for that. When we want to share feedback at work, we may tell ourselves we are going to get fired and not speak up out of fear of getting fired.

Even if we do all those things successfully, we still tend to focus on all the negative things of those situations and ignore the positive things.

We now know that positivity is a framework that allows us to work through challenging situations. It can also be misused and do way more harm than good.

This is when we enter into toxic positivity.

“Stay positive!”

“Good vibes only”

My personal favorite: “Everything happens for a reason!”

Barf. Those sound good on paper but certainly don’t have the impact that people intend when using them.

Toxic positivity is a feel-good and well-intended style of “positivity” that pressures people to not display negative emotions, feelings, reactions or experiences. It is a way of telling people (or yourself) to not address or ignore what they are actually experiencing as a way to deal with something.

This is not positivity. It is a pleasant form of negativity and avoidance.

Some examples of toxic positivity that are not helpful:

  1. Being negative won’t help you
  2. Other people have it worse
  3. You’ll get over it

Addressing a challenging situation is not negative. Negativity is part of the equation. Yes, other people may have it worse, but that does not invalidate what they are experiencing. Yes, they will likely “get over it” but the only way to get over something is to go through it.

The good news is that everyone has the ability to be more positive and enjoy the benefits it!

Here are some tips on how to think more positively:

  1. Focus on the good things – there is always a “gift” in a situation, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time
  2. Practice gratitude – this practice has been shown to improve self-esteem and rewire our brains to think more positively
  3. Keep a gratitude journal – you can improve your optimism and sense of well-being by writing down what you are grateful for
  4. Be open to humor – laughter is a great way to low stress and anxiety and also improve coping skills and mood
  5. Spend time with positive people – misery doesn’t just love company. Misery loves miserable company. Positivity is contagious and being around positive people can increase your self-confidence and ability to reach goals
  6. Identify your areas of negativity – part of growth is awareness. Take a look at different aspects of your life and identify where do you tend to be most negative. If you aren’t sure: ask someone you trust how they perceive you
  7. Start every day on a positive note – Say and do something nice for yourself and for other people. Studies show both contribute to positivity and happiness.
  8. Take care of yourself – make sure to exercise regularly, eat well when you can, and get 7-9 hours of sleep. Your physical health is the foundation of our emotional and mental health.

Remember that transitioning to a more positive mindset takes time and practice. Start with one small change and build from that. Then what can you do after that? Changing one’s outlook requires some shifts in thinking patterns.

A therapist is always a great resource, especially if you have experienced events or trauma that impact how you experience the world.

I am also able to support you as a personal coach. Please feel free to schedule a free consultation by clicking here to discuss how I can support you.

Mindset Matters series:

  1. Growth versus Fixed Mindset
  2. Positivity (You are here!)
  3. Locus of Control
  4. Storytelling and Emotions


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