Do you dwell on the sunny side of life – then you have a positive outlook or do you dwell on the dark and stormy side of life – then you have a negative outlook? There are always choices to be made. When you view life’s challenges and situations as something you can manage, then your outlook tends to be positive. When you find bad in everything and consider the worst possible scenario, then your outlook tends to be negative. So, your outlook affects your view of the world.
If you want a more positive outlook, here are four ways to strengthen it. First, give yourself credit daily for what you do well. Everybody makes mistakes; so, forgive yourself, learn from what went wrong, and move on. Secondly, spend time with friends and surround yourself with positive, healthy people. Then explore your beliefs about the meaning of life and live your life by principles that are important to you. Finally, develop healthy physical habits such as nutritious eating, exercise, and regular sleep.
Gratitude is key to having a positive attitude and aging well. Strategies for developing gratitude include keeping a gratitude journal and focusing on the positive. Gratitude is the single most powerful source of inspiration that a person can tap into – even if they simply stop and pay attention to the simplistic beauty and miracle of life.
Psychologists say that feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health. Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions, shifts one’s inner attention away from feelings such as resentment or envy, and minimizes the possibility of over-thinking - a hallmark of depression.
One way to develop gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. Click here for some great ideas.
Another key to maintaining a positive outlook is self-care. Today’s lifestyle, a whirlwind of demands, and last-minute responsibilities, rarely leaves time for the self. Whether you are meeting deadlines, focusing on relationships, or playing chauffeur, the tasks add up and your needs go unmet. Your mental clarity can be overrun with negativity and your soul feels the effects.
A positive outlook often starts with self-talk - the endless stream of unspoken thoughts running through a person’s head. Steve Harvey explains self-talk well.
Let’s look at how Jenny managed to re-capture her positive outlook.
Jenny is an only child, who became her father’s primary care provider after her mother died five years ago. He lives with Jennie, her husband, and their teen age sons. She manages his affairs, in addition to working, being a homemaker, and having a family. Jenny’s Dad was overweight and had Type II diabetes; so, she took him to appointments, kept him on a special diet, and cared for him with the help of family. Recently, though, his demands and mood swings had increased and he was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Jenny found herself overwhelmed and negative about life for the first time.
Years ago, Jenny learned about cultivating a “positive outlook.” She stopped using the words “always” and “never” to describe setbacks. She no longer blamed herself for things outside her control or to think of herself as helpless. She knew that her thoughts and feelings were not necessarily true, but in part were caused by what she said to herself – her self-talk. So, she made changes there too. One change was to dispute her negative thoughts and make different explanations - to focus on changeable and non-personal possible causes. A second change Jennie made was to interrupt a string of negative thoughts by saying “stop” and, to refocus on more positive ones. Finally, she set aside time for positive activities: reading a book on her Kindle, having coffee with a friend, or spending time outdoors.
Jenny knew that a component of a positive outlook was gratitude, so she kept a gratitude journal. There really was a lot to be grateful for - her work as a coach was mainly online, she had a lovely home, a very supportive husband, and two healthy, vibrant sons. She also knew that maintaining a sense of purpose was important. She read that when people saw themselves as contributing to a higher purpose, they were more likely to have a healthier outlook on life and be more resilient. She was grateful for her purpose of taking care of her family and her father. What was missing in her purpose was taking care of herself – more so - given the added demands on her time and energy.
Jenny realized that her negative feelings were a sign she needed to focus more on her own wants and needs. She decided to make adjustments: one adjustment was to set and maintain boundaries with her Dad. For example. they no longer stopped at Starbucks for a coffee after every appointment.
The second adjustment was to incorporate more self-care. She gave herself permission to set aside time for herself and for her family daily. She accepted fewer clients. She held a family meeting and told them about her needs. The boys agreed to spend time with Grandpa twice a week so she and her husband could have time together if only to take a walk. Her husband offered to take him to play pool twice a week so she could spend time with the boys, and the three of them agreed to spend Sunday mornings with Grandpa, so, she had time to do what she wanted. She decided to try this plan for a few weeks to see if it helped her outlook.
Finally, she reminded herself that she had choices. She was in the habit of telling herself how stressed she was and how difficult life was . . . and how overwhelming. So, she decided to focus on the good of the day – how nice the boys were with their grandfather, how willing her family was to help out, and that this too would pass.
Sometimes, though, it was impossible for Jenny to maintain her positive outlook. When that happened, she just let it be knowing the negative feelings would pass just as they had before.
What have you found that helps maintain a positive outlook during difficult times?