[This site is not just about American home cooking, it’s about navigating our busy lives and enjoying them to the fullest. On the Advice page, you’ll find planning & organization tips, ideas for living and thinking better, and of course, tips for seamlessly integrating food and cooking into your life.]
When my alarm clock goes off every morning, there is just one thing I do:
Eyes closed, I hold my lips together, curl my mouth up at the edges, soften my face, and exhale into a subtle, sleepy smile.
It sounds insignificant, and it is (it barely takes more energy than hitting the snooze button) but it has a meaningful effect on my mindset for the rest of the day.
Altering the mindset of anyone waking up at 5am in the pitch-black-middle-of-winter is a pretty big accomplishment.
And all it takes is a smile.
Can you cultivate positive thinking?
There are small, insignificant actions you can take right now to shift your mood, and those actions can ultimately affect your overall happiness.
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness, 40 percent of happiness is determined by your thoughts, actions, and attitudes. The other 60 percent is determined by genes and circumstance, which are not factors that are always in our control.
Learn to harness that key 40 percent through positive thinking and you can take significant control over the way you feel on a daily basis, no matter your circumstances or genetic makeup.
1) Acknowledge Your Negative Thoughts
Beating yourself up for thinking negatively will only make you feel worse.
Instead, take a moment to simply notice your anxiety, stress, anger, or other negative thought. Lean into how the thought physically makes you feel, but do not assign a “good” or “bad” label to it.
In mindfulness practice, this is called “noting,” and it’s a technique used during meditation to deal with distractions as they arise, create a bit of space for them, and let them go.
By simply becoming more aware of our mental habits and tendencies, we can begin to gain some clarity and clear the path for positive thinking.
2) Give Yourself Advice
When you are feeling pessimistic or can’t seem to get out of a funk, get yourself out of… yourself.
Step outside of your head, sit down across from yourself, and give yourself some advice.
Treat yourself like a best friend, a close sibling, or a young child. What would you say to them if they were in the same situation? What sort of compassionate, reasonable solutions would you offer?
Now, get back in your head and take your own advice.
3) Get Curious
Once you’ve identified the thought and calmed yourself down with compassionate advice, it’s time to revisit that negative thinking or behavior.
While your negative thoughts may seem justified in the moment, they are probably irrational or unhelpful.
Get curious about it, excavate your own mind for some answers by asking questions like:
- What events or circumstances led me to this thought?
- Does this thought stem from a feeling or a fact?
- How does this thought make me feel physically?
- Is this thought useful?
Understanding the source of the negative thinking can help you avoid or overcome that trigger in the future. If it’s something truly unavoidable, at least you can brace yourself when you know it’s about to happen. Then, you can respond to the situation, not react.
If we discover that the thought has no source but ourselves, we can begin to let that thought or pattern of thinking go. We can realize that it has no tangible origin, puts a strain on our body, and is not helpful to our wellbeing or useful to resolving the situation.
4) “New You” Intentions
Now that you’ve identified your negative thought, given yourself some advice, and investigated the thought until it has no power over you, it’s time to move forward with positive thinking.
Whenever a particular word or phrase resonates with me, I write it down in my phone in a note I call “intentions.”
Whenever I feel down, or lost, or just like I need an anchor for my day, I read through that list and pick something that feels right in that moment.
Some of my favorites are “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” “Love others unconditionally,” and “Make someone else happy today.”
Living by a simple, uplifting word or phrase, even for a day, is a great way to prevent negative thoughts before they arise.
When the day, or the next hour, or the next minute has a positive purpose, negativity has a harder time getting to you.
- Recognize your thoughts as present, noticing how they physically manifest in your body, but do not label them.
- Treat yourself like your best friend and offer them some sound advice.
- Understand the origin of your thoughts and how you might prevent them from arising in the future or let them go entirely.
- Set intentions that prepare you for positivity for the rest of the day.