I’ve been on an optimistic stint. Not because I’ve developed a serious case of Pollyannitis, but because the stress of the past month has required a personal intervention. So I’ve been scouring the internet for tips on boosting optimism and encouraging positive thinking and I can offer you this guarantee: If I, a stubborn, pessimistic control freak have found the following tips useful, you likely will too. And if all else fails, I always feel better after eating some fries. Then all I have to worry about is the calories.
- Write down positive affirmations 15 times a day (for each affirmation) for the next 30 days. Aside from a lobotomy, I find that this method helps to change negative thinking patterns quite effectively. The basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is changing maladaptive thinking cycles. By breaking a negative thinking cycle, you change the way you feel about a situation and how you respond to it. When I’ve used this method in the past, I noticed significant changes in my relationships and environment. People treated me differently; I received money from unexpected sources, and generally felt much better. And if you have a negative pattern that appears to be quite deeply rooted, practice your affirmations for more than 30 days.
- Tackle a physically demanding task. Got a garage that needs cleaning? Books, CDs, movies or junk drawers that need organizing? Nothing gets my mind off of negative thoughts better than physical work and exercise. My theory is, you’ll be so much more focused on not dropping boxes on your foot that you won’t have space in your brain to think about whatever is preoccupying you. That, and the release of feel good hormones that often comes with exercise.
- Don’t compare yourself to other people. After obsessively going through the Facebook profiles of people I went to high school with (and making myself upset as a result), a wise friend set me straight: “Don’t believe the BS that people put on their Facebook pages. Of course they’re only going to put up photos of their happiest times. But that says nothing about how their life really is. You have no idea who has a disease, whose spouse is cheating on whose, who lost their job, who is having weight problems, family problems, or financial problems. Stop. Just stop comparing yourself. Each person has their own path in life. Yours is simply different.” She also offered me the following tip, if you can handle it: “Put an elastic band around your wrist. Every time you think a negative thought, snap the elastic. You’ll learn pretty quickly to stop thinking negatively.” How? It interrupts your thought pattern.
- Read inspirational books. You’d be surprised how many people have been in your situation (or worse) and still managed to find success in the end. Read the life stories of people like Maya Angelou, Louise Hay, Oprah, 50 Cent, and Jim Carrey. Books that have inspired me include Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, You Can Heal Your Life by Loiuse Hay, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, and The Power of your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy.
- Don’t isolate yourself. It’s so tempting. When you’re anxious or depressed, all you want to do is curl up in bed and hope that the world will go on without you. Lately, the idea of selling all my worldly possessions and moving to a convent in the countryside somewhere in England has sounded rather tempting. The problem is, if you take yourself away from the world and other people, you also take yourself away from important sources of social support. Not to mention the fact that my friends and family always manage to find a way to make me laugh or to help me realize that I am taking life way too seriously. Even if you don’t have many friends, there are oodles of online communities you can join that can offer support and advice. One I highly recommend is Powerful Intentions.
- Get a pet. If you have the means to care for a pet, the joy they can offer is invaluable. The reason is simple: Animals offer unconditional love. They don’t care if you’ve gained weight, didn’t get that promotion, your partner dumped you, or that your new haircut looks hideous – they still want to hang out with you. My cat has an interesting approach to helping me deal with difficult times: When I’m anxious or sad, she avoids me. In fact, she’ll even stare at me from across the room with a look that I can only assume says, “What’s your problem? Get over it.” Once my mood improves, she wants nothing more than to hop onto my lap and fall asleep.
- Watch comedies. When researchers say that laughter is healthy for you, they mean it. Studies have shown that laughing improves blood flow, increases the number of antibodies in your body (which boosts your immune system), lowers blood sugar levels, and may even help you sleep better. My personal recommendation for some good laughs: Watch episodes of Whose line is it anyway hosted by Drew Carey, on Youtube.
- Write to yourself. In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses, in detail, a very difficult time in her life. Whenever she felt scared or depressed, she would take a private notebook and write out her concerns and her questions…to herself. What happens next is utterly amazing and inspiring. Here’s how she describes it in her book:
I’m spiraling in panic, like I always spiral when I don’t know what to do. So what I do for tonight is reach for my most private notebook, which I keep next to my bed in case I’m ever in emergency trouble. I open it up. I find the first blank page. I write:
“I need your help.”
Then I wait. After a while, a response comes, in my own handwriting:
“I’m right here. What can I do for you?”
And here recommences my strangest and most secret conversation. Here, in this most private notebook, is where I talk to myself…I can almost always access that voice, no matter how black my anguish may be. Even during the worst of suffering, that calm, compassionate, affectionate and infinitely wise voice (who is maybe me, or maybe not exactly me) is always available for a conversation on paper any time of day or night…
I’ve decided to let myself off the hook from worrying that conversing with myself on paper means I’m schizo. Maybe the voice I am reaching for is God, or maybe it’s my Guru speaking through me, or maybe it’s the angel who was assigned to my case, or maybe it’s my Highest Self, or maybe it is indeed just a construct of my subconscious, invented in order to protect me from my own torment.
I’ve tried this myself, being the skeptic that I am. What I discovered was that it allows a calmer, more rational side of myself to come through. I don’t know whether it’s my inner being, God, or the universe, but this wise voice is much more self-assured and calm than I am.
Try these tips out. And add a side order of fries, just for the hell of it.