Don’t worry, it won’t make you an optimist or anything.
Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed
You know that looking on the bright side is good for you.
But it can also be so hard.
BuzzFeed Life reached out to some experts to find out how to trick yourself into being more positive. And here’s what they suggested.
Find mantras that you actually agree with.
Positive affirmations don’t have to be cheesy to be effective — in fact, it’s just the opposite. “Personal mantras have to be believable. For someone who believes they’re going to fail, repeating, ‘I’m a success, I’m a success’ isn’t going to make you feel better,” NYC-based cognitive behavioral therapist Jess Allen tells BuzzFeed Life.
Instead, put things in a language that you’ll understand and agree with, Allen says. For example, make time every day to remind yourself that things could be worse, or that you’ll figure it out, or that the world doesn’t totally suck. Whatever rings true and makes you feel better.
Trade in “worst-case scenarios” for a few “OK-case scenarios.”
Sure, expecting the worst in any given situation can seem like a good defense mechanism because you’ll never be disappointed, but you’re actually setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Allen. If you think something terrible is going to happen, your behaviors will reflect that accordingly, and then, yep, what you expect will probably go down.
To break the cycle, there’s no need to drink the optimist Kool-Aid and tell yourself that everything is going to work out perfectly. Outline some more neutral outcomes. You’ll realize that they’re more realistic than your initial expectations.
So instead of this: “I’m going to blow this presentation and make a huge idiot out of myself in front of my boss.”
Do this: “I might not blow this presentation out of the park, but I’m prepared enough that I’m not going to get fired over it or anything.”
Stop dwelling on outcomes altogether.
Sometimes focusing on an end goal can be really overwhelming. So instead of obsessing over a potential outcome, you should think about what you can do to actually get there.
If you’re feeling pessimistic about your love life, for example, don’t do this: “I’m never going to meet anyone.”
Or this: “I’ll meet someone eventually.”
Instead, try this: “I don’t know if I can meet somebody, but I know that I want to, so I’m going to get on a dating app, send out at least five messages, and ask my friends if they know anyone who would be good for me.”
If you’re going to complain, at least be funny about it.
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“Humor is the best cognitive trick,” NYC-based behavioral counselor Anna Wilson tells BuzzFeed Life. So, instead of complaining in a negative way — you know, like whining — find the funny parts of your problems. Talking about your issues with humor will not only make you more pleasant to be around, but it will help you cultivate a sense of positivity when you’re feeling crappiest.
Make a list of things that don’t totally suck.
“Any time you’re feeling pessimistic and you don’t want to, write up a list of things that make you happy,” says Allen. “You don’t have to hate on the things that you actually enjoy just to prove a point.” Put whatever you want on that list, no matter how big or small or silly or ridiculous.
Allow yourself to wallow and feel miserable, but only for 10 minutes, and not a minute longer.
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Quick: Don’t think about potatoes. Now, what are you thinking about? Potatoes, obviously. Same thing happens when you try to ignore your negative thoughts: The harder you push something out of your mind, the longer it stays with you. “Sometimes it’s better to give yourself five to ten minutes to feel shitty, so long as you’re willing to get up and do something after,” Allen says.
Fact-check your thoughts.
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Most people operate under the assumption that their thoughts are true, says Allen. But you actually have thousands of unfounded thoughts a day and just end up giving more weight to the negative ones.
“Your thoughts are just that: thoughts. When you have a bad one, you can ask yourself, ‘Is this actually true?’” she says. By taking control, you have the power to let the air out of those thoughts instantly.
Find a creative outlet for your negative energy.
If you’re hardwired to be a negative person, finding a way to channel your natural thoughts and feelings is super important. There are plenty of ways to do that: You can hate-watch a terrible TV show, turn your anger into some form of art, or even take up kickboxing, if that’s what it takes. Whatever you choose can help minimize your negativity and keep you from ruminating in bad energy.
Embrace the fact that the world isn’t fair.
Pessimists often think that the world isn’t fair and act according — aka use that belief to fuel their negativity. Rather than attempting to change that belief — because hey, you’re right, the world isn’t fair, says Allen — use it as a source of positivity and take comfort in the impersonal hostility of the universe. Seriously, imagine how much worse it would be if life was fair, and terrible things happened to us because we actually deserved it.
Force yourself to smile more, even when you don’t want to.
“One of the best things you can do is fake it until you make it,” says Wilson. Research shows that even forcing a smile can increase feelings of happiness and positivity, so watch a funny movie, grin at the hot strangers you pass on the street, or text your most hilarious friend. Whatever works for you.
Make friends with an optimist.
If you’re only friends with negative people, it means that you don’t have anyone nudging you in a positive direction, says Allen. You need people who will bring the good vibes, not influence you to wallow in negative thoughts. Chances are, you already have a handful of positive people you can get to know at your disposal. Even if it’s a cheery co-worker you can only take in small doses, small talk is better than nothing. Baby steps, pessimist. Baby steps.
Stock up on appropriate swag.
Because positivity is so much less annoying when it’s stamped on a vehicle for caffeine. For instance, you can get this Good Vibes mug on Etsy!
Pay it forward.
Making little acts of kindness a regular part of your life is one of the easiest things you can do. Say thank you more. Hold doors open. Give out compliments. Call your mom. “A lot of times people want the magic pill that will make them feel better, but the reality is that it’s little things that make you feel better,” says Allen. “You do small things over and over again, and eventually, you’re having a good day and it’s because you did six different things that made you feel good.”
Talk to yourself — and the world — the way you would talk to someone you love.
For some reason we say really mean things to ourselves that we’d never say to other people. Allen suggests asking yourself, “Would I say this to (or about) my best friend?” when you have a negative thought. If the answer is no, think about how you’d reframe it with more humor and kindness, but no cheese.
So, don’t do this: “Ugh, I’m such a loser.”
Do this: “I know you feel like a loser sometimes, but your eccentricities are awesome and so many people appreciate them.”
Keep busy with things you enjoy to avoid overthinking.
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A lot of the time, if you’re feeling down and negative, that usually means you’re sitting around and overthinking things, says Allen. Seek out a distraction instead and practice some good old-fashioned escapism. Any sort of activity you can do out of your own headspace is going to be beneficial.
Stop calling yourself a pessimist already.
Labels can be so limiting, says Allen, because if we call ourselves something enough, we’re more likely to act that way.
Think about how your identity as a pessimist might influence your behavior and actions. Are you negative about things to prove a point, or to play a role that you feel comfortable playing? Do you only surround yourself with a certain kind of people? And most important, do your behaviors move you away from happiness?
“If the answer is yes, then I need to change my behavior, even if I’m still a pessimist,” says Allen. “Just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean you have to act in accordance to that. Most people want to feel good, so instead of trying to challenge the label, pay attention to what you’re doing that you actually like and encourage those behaviors.”