Friday, November 11, 2011

Positivity: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

People ask me how I stay so positive. Well, there are a lot of ways that I use that I would love to share with you. Feel free to use any of it to help yourself!

One reason I think is my personality. I am just a half glass full sort of person. I have a positive attitude about life naturally. Also I think it was the way I was raised. My Mom gave me a lot of self-esteem and encouraged my self-growth. She was a major force in my life, believed in me, and rooted for me—always my biggest fan. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps you to be positive too.

Also I took classes in high school that taught me about something called "self-talk." Self-talk is the constant and automatic chatter that goes on inside of our heads-- basically it's when we talk to ourselves but not out loud. For many of us negative thoughts come into our minds automatically—often times they are unrealistic and unreasonable thoughts. If we don't do work to replace those negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts and/or positive thoughts the negative thoughts can have a negative influence on us. They can not only make us feel bad but they could make us take negative actions and lead to negative patterns of behavior that hurt us and our relationships with other people. 

I learned early on in life to train my brain to automatically recognize and replace negative thoughts with more positive and often times more realistic thoughts—silencing the inner critic. We should be able to slow down our thinking process so we can purposefully examine our thoughts and be able to accurately access our feelings based on clear thinking. When we think reasonably and clearly we can come up with ways to solve our problems, come to acceptance of things we cannot change, and work to change our negative perceptions that are not rational. 

When I was working on my Masters in Social Work I learned about something called cognitive distortions, which is basically the fancy term for "negative self-talk." For more in-depth info on cognitive distortions and how to minimize them read here:, here:, and here:

I also learned there is an entire branch of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps one learn how to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I call the self-help work to recognize our negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts self CBT-- because it is like doing CBT on yourself. The process of changing ones negative thoughts consciously is called cognitive restructuring: Here are some basic self-help guides to doing it: and

For those with anxiety, borderline personality disorder, sexual abuse, and substance addiction a version of CBT that could be helpful is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy:

It takes time and practice to learn how to do apply cognitive restructuring. It may feel very strange at first but if a person keeps applying it eventually it works to bring comfort and peace to people. This is especially important for people who are impacted by stress, worry, and anxiety. I have told people about this technique and they look at me like I just spoke a foreign language to them. Yes, I admit it seems strange and counter intuitive-- maybe even artificial, but heck if it has any chance at working why not try it? Also it does not work overnight... like most things in life it takes concerted effort, practice, and time. It also helps if you believe it could work.

One must believe it is not a waste of time-- I know if you're used to negative thinking you would probably think it is realistic to think something like this won't work-- but you have to trust that it can and just try. Believe me, we often think we are being realistic but we are often seeing in black and white terms when life is more in shades of grey. In addition, the pessimist stays in inaction because they don't believe in their power to change the way they think, feel, behave, or make choices that will improve their life. They view life as something that just happens to them that they have no impact on—they may think they are doomed to live the life they live—they are cynical. But if you believe you have a choice-- choose optimism. 

I think that happiness and positivity is a choice. If we have a choice in life to be happy or be sad or laugh or cry or think negative or think positive, then let's try to choose to be how we want to be. So choose to focus on the positive and let the negative go. Yes, there is a time for sadness, disappointment, frustration, and yes, even anger. We should feel those emotions when they come and learn to express them in constructive ways, but also let them pass over us and be able to leave them behind. 

Those that live in the past are depressed. Those who live in the future are anxious. Those who live in the present are content. If we allow emotions to overwhelm us and wallow in them, they do not benefit us, they instead hinder us. The ability to bounce back from setbacks in our lives is called resiliency. Resiliency is a very important skill to develop. Being able to adapt in stressful situations gives one stability and hope. Learn more about building your resilience here:

Attitude is also very important. If we approach life with a positive attitude then we think on the bright side of things and no matter what obstacle or conflict we endure we know that things will work out eventually and that we are capable of handling it and then moving on. It is important that we see that outside forces do not control how we think, feel, or act-- we control those things. You must know that you can do things to make your life better by maintaining a positive attitude and making positive choices. You only have control over yourself so use that control and power to shape your own life choices and don't give power to others to hurt you continually. Use creative problem solving and use the power of positive thinking to empower yourself and not get caught up in negative thinking or actions that weigh you down and keep you from living your best life.

Most of life should be lived in the present moment in a stable and restful way-- this is called homeostasis. Sometimes when we are under stress our bodies will key us up to respond to the challenge we face, but we need to learn how to calm ourselves down and go back to normal mode. If we live in a heightened state of awareness much of our day we are going to be fatigued and frazzled. In that overwhelmed state we are less likely to be resilient, think clearly, or make good decisions. We need to learn relaxation techniques and coping skills to make it through hard times and chill out. 

One way to do that is to accept things we cannot change. Accept people we cannot change. Accept situations we cannot change. We need to learn how to let go and move on. It is easy to get stuck into patterns which only serve to disappoint and frustrate us further if we are not aware and do not notice the repeating patterns we get locked into. We must be conscious of how our actions impact us and be able to tell ourselves no. No, I will not get stuck in this. No, I will not worry. No, this person is not worth getting this upset about. Just let it go. 

Part of this process is to accept the unpredictability and mystery of life. We must accept that we do not know what the future holds but if we are strong in ourselves we should believe in our ability and capability to handle whatever comes our way. If we live in fear of the future we live anxious and miserable lives. We must tell ourselves "everything will be okay" because even if we are in the middle of a crisis, we need to know that eventually things do get better and we can move forward. In the long run things really do work out mostly because we are able to make it so they do. We have a lot of strengths we do not even recognize. That is why it is good to believe in yourself and your ability to cope and persevere through adversity—to have confidence in yourself. 

Some relaxation techniques one can use to calm down and cope include breathing, yoga, walking, writing, painting, or any activity one enjoys. One practice in particular that can help is called mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, noticing your thoughts and feelings, and not allowing yourself to place judgment or blame on them. Mindfulness allows you to respond to thoughts and feelings appropriately through awareness but not to over-react to them. It can also help to clear the mind of constant self-talk and bring one into the present moment and focus. In addition, it can quiet and calm the mind and center oneself so one can focus on happiness and positive feelings. Some mindfulness exercises include: meditation and/or guided mediation, deep breathing, listening to music, observing ones thoughts, or journaling. An extensive guide to what mindfulness is and how to practice it is here:

One way people get tripped up is getting too personally involved in situations and taking things said to them or done to them in such a personal way they become debilitated by others. Allowing oneself to do this is like giving away ones power. It is important to learn not to take what others do so harshly that it ruins you. That is why the saying "forgive and forget" exists. It is not for the other person-- it's for you. 

Forgiving allows you to let go of the anger, bitterness, and pain, and forgetting allows you to put it in the past and move on. Another thing is if you have confidence in yourself then you can tell yourself, "hey, I didn't deserve that but I am not going to let that person get to me. It's too bad for them they have some issue. I'm going to move on and find someone who deserves my attention." Or if it's just some opinion someone has you can say "Well, that's their opinion, I can consider it but it's not an end all be all, and I can always agree to disagree." Getting very upset over what others say is a sure fire way to hurt you and/or your relationship. If it is abusive then by all means confront the person and tell them that what they said hurt you. But otherwise it is best to hear what they have to say and if it applies to you use it and if it doesn't leave it. When you can validate yourself and have self-assuredness you don't beat yourself up thinking there is something wrong with you and you don't get defensive when someone says something you don't like. 

In addition, it helps if we recognize our own values and expectations. If we value something and others don't we tend to get disappointed. But we should expect that not everyone thinks like we do and not everyone has the same values or expectations. We must accept that not everyone is on the same page we are on. It does not have to be seen as a negative-- we should just see it for what it is-- it is what it is. We need to focus instead on finding people who do share our values and those we do click with. If we run into people who don't, what is the point of getting in a tizzy about it? Release them and go find someone who you do have a connection with. Or agree to disagree. Getting so upset that we want to rage at them, get revenge, or retaliate only hurts us and it will rarely teach them anything—they will probably come away thinking there is something wrong with you and that is all. There are healthier ways to express ourselves. If we get upset over people not fitting what we are looking for all the time who do we hurt? Only ourselves. Those people move on...why shouldn't you? If we want to be happy, it's a choice.

Other things I do to maintain as much positivity as possible include:

Creating a support system/network --friends, family, etc.

Doing activities/hobbies outside the house that I enjoy.

Getting exercise-- hiking, swimming, walking, doing chores, etc.

Volunteering and helping others.

Try not to judge or blame others or myself. 

Rescuing animals.

Patting myself on the back/appreciating myself/celebrating my accomplishments big and small.

Trying to not be passive or aggressive-- being assertive!

Set limits and boundaries.

Take care of myself. Self-care is important to maintaining sanity in a sometimes insane world.

Do things I am passionate about.

Trying not to worry what others think about me. Trying to drop self-consciousness and live for me with no apologies! 

Ask for what I want, need, and deserve. Be willing to ask for help and support when I need it. 

Get copious amounts of affection. Give copious amounts of affection. 

Encourage others and get encouragement.

Standing in my truth. Tell others the truth and be willing to confront others.

Being real is more important than being nice. However, one can be compassionate and empathetic while speaking the truth.

Respecting others self-determination even if they make choices I would not make.

Respecting my own time and energy —try not over-extend myself. 

Learn the art of patience. 

Trying not to be too hard on myself/perfectionist/beat myself up. Be compassionate-- towards myself!
Learn to effectively problem solve.

Learn to take responsibility for my own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Learn to manage and regulate them effectively.

Don't rely on others to make me happy.

Play with, take care of, and pet my animals. 

Love, embrace, and accept myself the way I am at any given moment-- everyone has insecurities, but we should focus on our positives and learn to love ourselves despite of our faults and flaws... and maybe learn to love them too! Remember no one is perfect-- so I try to be perfectly imperfect! ;)

Try not to compare myself to others.

Take risks! Open myself up to vulnerability!

Try, try, and try again. There is only one way to fail-- not to try. When we try we will always gain something-- even if it is learning what not to do. If we don't try, we doom ourselves. Be the "little engine that could" and will yourself to try!

Know my own self-worth.

Be my own best friend.

Build and develop my skills, talents, and creative abilities. 

Put positive intentions into the world. 

Create goals and accomplish them one step at a time. Do not rush it. Success is a journey, not a destination.
Get enough sleep.

Participate in social activism, grassroots organizing, and/or advocating for a cause.

Don’t try to change people—people need to change themselves if they want to. Support them, don’t push them. 

Give back to your community. 

Write, journal, and/or blog.

Know I deserve to be treated well-- don't put up with mistreatment. Acknowledge deal breakers and be willing to move on.

Be willing to compromise. Learn to adapt and be flexible.

Learn to communicate effectively.

Every day is a new day-- and a new opportunity-- just because something happened before doesn't mean it will happen again. Notice patterns and work to change them... start with putting positive thoughts and intentions out into the world. 

Do not seek revenge-- revenge only serves to hurt one more. Learn to let it go for one’s own sake.

Embrace paradoxes, conflicting ideas, contradictions, cognitive dissonance, and the grey of life. Try not to get caught in false dichotomies or false dilemmas. 

Take responsibility for my own actions and own my own BS. Don’t get caught up in self-defense mechanisms.
Laugh—develop a healthy sense of humor.

Others cannot complete me, solve my problems, make me fulfilled and whole—only I can do that. Others can only be our partners in the journey.

Learn how to soothe myself and calm myself down. Find whatever works for me and use it!

Do not assume because something seems impossible to obtain that it is. Don’t criticize your dreams as unobtainable…. Instead keep trying and embrace the journey. Do not get too tied into outcomes… keep searching and believing that someday it will work the way it is meant to.  

Try not to get caught up in self-fulfilling prophecies—allowing my fears, negative thoughts, and false predictions become my reality. Try not to fortune tell – have rigid expectations for how things will turn out before they happen. Be open-minded. 

Make an impact, leave my mark, think about the legacy I want to leave behind. 

Eat healthy as possible but indulge sometimes. Try not to beat oneself up for eating unhealthy. Enjoy all foods in moderation. 

Try not to act on defense. Disarm people with humor, empathy, and understanding. Seek to problem solve with others and agree to disagree. 

Create my life consciously-- manifest my own destiny.

Believe in whimsy and that things happening for a reason. Believe in karma. But don't believe in it on faith alone—believe in it because I have seen it work in action. Use that belief to help me trust that things will work out and when one door closes another will open.

Sometimes we must let go of the ideal version of the life we think we deserve, and instead embrace the life we can create realistically one step at a time. 

Practice some creative expression—make art, paint, create jewelry, knit, write poetry, play music/sing, draw etc.

Notice patterns in my life and try not to repeat them. Learn from my mistakes. 

Be hopeful and grateful.

Don’t pretend I know it all. Admit when I am wrong or make a mistake. Take responsibility for my own actions. 

Be self-reflexive and willing to learn from mistakes in order to grow.

Be real, authentic, genuine, and honest.

Be generous, compassionate, kind, empathetic and giving -- help and understand others!

Take responsibility for my own happiness.

Have strong values, morals, principles, and ethics-- as a Secular Humanist (or whatever one chooses to live by)

Don't try to rescue other people. They must rescue themselves, and you must rescue yourself. 

Get out in nature/travel.

Try to have good time management skills. 


Balance work/play.

Life is what you make it.

Vicktor Frankl, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." ~Helen Keller

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure." ~ Bill Cosby
I’ve been told before in response to my positive thinking— “easier said than done.” No one said it would be easy, but what is the alternative? Being miserable? I think it’s worth it to try to be positive. Being pessimistic means you think there is no point in even trying and that is a sure fire way to fail. Working hard to be positive and take risks in life allows one to truly live and live a happier life. Positive attitude and positive choices gets one a long way.... We can only manage ourselves so let's use what power we do have for good. 
At the end of the day totally stress free is a misnomer, but learning to manage stress and contain it helps one live a more productive life that is filled with well-being and the space to create a happy life. While it is impossible to eliminate worry, doubts, judgments, blame, and negative thoughts, we can learn to minimize them and focus our minds on things that will help us instead of hurt us. Don’t let the past shape your future—every moment is an opportunity to turn things around— if only in your own mind.

So don't worry, be happy! Hakuna matata (there are no worries in Swahili)! Remember to live in the present moment and to live each second with good intensions, abundance, total abandonment, and joy for embracing life. Look at every opportunity to become a better person and be more positive. Everyone is capable of learning how and the practice and process of it is never ending, but the rewards are endless too. No one said life was easy-- being happy is work but it's work worth doing. If you feed the negativity that is what will run your life. Choose to feed the positive and become more emotionally liberated.