A lot of people pride themselves on being optimists, and TBH, if you can stay positive with everything that’s going on in the world today, major props to you. For most people who consider themselves the glass-half-full type, it’s a lifestyle. They try to look at everything that comes their way, from relationship troubles to work mistakes, with a positive spin. But a recent study investigated whether optimists still stay more positive than pessimists when things get really tough, and what they found was pretty surprising.
Scientists analyzed nine previous studies to see how both optimists and pessimists brace themselves for receiving important and potentially negative news, like medical test results. They found that even though people who identify as optimists tend to be more positive in general, they too start assuming the worst as the moment of truth about something important nears. It’s easy to understand this instinct, since some people tend to believe that preparing yourself for the worst will ultimately make it less shocking if it happens. On the other hand, some people would rather stay positive whenever possible, since it’s easier to fight off stress and anxiety when you have a sunny outlook. Here, we’ve gathered some of our favorite expert tips for staying optimistic when you’re dealing with some super hard stuff.
7 WAYS TO STAY POSITIVE DURING THE TOUGHEST TIMES
1. Learn to reframe negativity. “The trick to positivity is not avoiding pessimism,” says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a certified professional coach. “It’s really about how quickly you can redirect your focus from negative to positive. Critical thinkers are going to see problems to be solved, but the ability to ‘reframe’ the conversation is the really important skill for people to practice.” She recommends getting into the habit of acknowledging negative thoughts and then asking, “What else is possible here?” This can guide you back into a positive mindset more quickly.
“Bottom line: Negativity happens,” she says. “Positivity is a choice, and the quicker you learn to reframe, the more time you’ll spend in a positive space. Then, over time, the more likely you are to turn directly to a positive interpretation of events.”
2. Ask yourself if this will matter a month or year from now. Sometimes things seem crucial AF in the moment, but might be inconsequential even just a few days after that. Just think about high school drama. “When we can leave the past behind and even know in the present moment that this feeling won’t last, it can help to remind us that time heals and life goes on,” explains Sharon Stokes, life-fulfillment coach.
3. Give back. Volunteering is an amazing way to change your entire perspective, says Lyssa Menard, a clinical health psychologist, founder of Strategies for Change and assistant professor at Northwestern University’s medical school. “There are many organizations that don’t require an ongoing commitment, so sign up for an event that’s meaningful. Research shows that giving to others is one of the quickest routes toward happiness. While happiness and positivity are different, they’re correlated,” Lyssa says.
4. Role play to be more objective. Playing a little mind trick on yourself can work wonders, says Lori Scherwin of Strategize That, a career coaching service. “We’re often better at helping others than ourselves,” she notes. “Make the situation more objective and less personal to you. For example, consider if it were anyone else in the situation (like your best friend, partner or colleague). How would you see the same ‘problem?’ What advice might you give them to get out of it?” she asks. This will help you shift from being super hard on yourself to more objective, and most likely, more positive.
5. Make changes to things that are within your control. Spending time worrying about something that you can’t change isn’t really worth the effort. Instead, “Focus on areas where you have agency,” suggests Holly Burton, a career coach for women in male-dominated industries. “You may be stuck in a role you don’t love at work, but you could probably work a few extra hours a week and take on a project that interests you. You could also schedule some proactive meetings with your boss to make an action plan to develop the skills you need to make a lateral move,” she says. In most situations, whether they’re career-related or not, it’s possible to take actions to make things better for yourself.
6. Practice radical acceptance.Jasmine Powers, business and goal coach, suggests trying out the idea of radical acceptance, which is basically accepting the things you cannot change, even if they’re not right or you don’t agree with them. She explains: “If you’re looking to buy a white sedan, you start to notice all the white sedans on the road because your mind is focused on that. In the same way, we often affect our experience because of focusing on good or bad. By working to be mindful of positive things and being extremely grateful for even seemingly insignificant things, we’ll notice even more things to be grateful for.” Another mind trick for the win!
7. Try this gratitude challenge.Adwoa Dadzie, a career strategist and HR executive, has a seven-day happiness challenge that’s definitely worth a try. First, journal about one event each day for seven days that made you feel happy and/or thankful and include the specifics of why it made you feel that way, going deep into the details. Second, send one random thank you email or text to someone each day, either personally or professionally. This message should include what they did and why it’s worthy of the shout out. Detailed gratitude journals are proven to improve your life satisfaction, so try to stick to a gratitude practice, even in the good times!