Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Do you wish you had a brighter outlook?
But do you also feel that’s an impossible goal due to seemingly endless challenges and setbacks?
Positivity is arguably more difficult to demonstrate when dealing with sadness or chaos; but experts know people are happier and more successful when they are able to beat the odds and embody it.
Shawn Achor went into detail about the above principle in his book The Happiness Advantage, and discussed it in his popular TED Talk.
Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill shares similar beliefs to Anchor’s. Through her work as a social scientist, Fredrickson formed her opinion that positivity helps us cultivate other beneficial traits such as gratitude, inspiration and joy.
Furthermore, she says positive emotions help people have fuller perspectives so they’re able to see the big picture rather than focusing solely on negative things. She even argued when people don’t have an ideal ratio of positive to negative emotions, they won’t flourish:
“What seems to be unique about positive emotions is that they expand our awareness so that in the moment that we are experiencing positive emotions — and they are very fleeting states, they last from seconds to minutes, not hours, weeks and years — our peripheral vision expands, our ability to take in more of our surroundings and connect the dots and see the big picture is facilitated.”
Feeling curious about whether channeling positive thoughts could make you more successful and happier? Keep reading to learn more about some concepts picked from Achor’s book, plus apps to help you put them into practice.
Rewire Your Brain to Think Positively First
Achor argues people can rewire their brains and promote positivity and success through thoughts in just three weeks of two-minute daily sessions. After the three-week period, your brain views the world positively first, rather than focusing on negative things. If that sounds too good to be true, become familiar with something dubbed “the Tetris effect.”
Scientists found people still thought about the patterns of falling colored blocks, even when not playing the game. Furthermore, as they started mastering it, the cerebral cortex thickened and the brain got more efficient. That’s because when you learn things, the new knowledge impacts connections in the brain by making them more durable and easier to reactivate. Then, the amount of brainpower needed to do the new things you’ve learned goes down over time.
Our brains naturally pay more attention to negative things than positive things. However, we can change that by regularly recalling things that make us grateful, as described above. Simply write three specific things that happened the day before that make you feel gratitude.
The Personal Journal app is a good choice to get you into the gratitude journal habit. Besides listing three things you’re thankful for, you can enter three things you want to get done, and set periodic reminders.
Download: Personal Journal for iOS | Android (Free) [No longer available]
Turn Negative Momentum into Positive Momentum
You lost your job, then went through a heart-wrenching breakup of a long-term relationship, and were recently informed of an unsuccessful scholarship application, which seemingly throws off your plans to go back to finish college. Although these setbacks are understandably hard to cope with, they’re not devastating with the right mindset.
Achor talks about a “third path” in his book. It’s an alternative route whereby we actually bounce back from failures as stronger, more capable and adaptive people. Perceiving the third path and choosing to walk down it could make the difference in succumbing to adversity, or rising above it.
One easy way to shift your mindset during a sustained string of failures is by practicing negative visualization. This practice involves remembering how everything of value to us could disappear at any moment, because the things we have are a result of good fortune. Take part in negative visualization in an interactive way by creating a flowchart to envision the possible choices you’d make after losing what matters most in life. If this tactic seems to depressing for you, you can also simply practice remembering all the things you have to be grateful for.
PureFlow lets you create and edit beautiful flowcharts quickly while on the go, making it a good tool for either of these strategies. You can use this simple template suggestion to get started:
Download: PureFlow for iOS ($0.99)
View Every Good Thing as a Success
Whereas the popular opinion is, “If I’m successful, I’ll be happier,” Achor believes it’s really happiness that drives success.
Happiness produces dopamine in the body, which not only boosts your mood, but also activates all the brain’s learning centers. As a result, positive thinking could cause success by helping you discover things and adjust to the world more positively than you otherwise might.
Check out Happify to tap into science-backed self-help principles through fun games and activities. You’ll reduce stress, become more resilient, and feel better about your life overall. Soon you’ll see even small victories in life as notable successes.
Select an area of focus while inside the app, from improving self-confidence, to harnessing negative thoughts, then progress through targeted tasks that’ll help you learn life-improving skills before you know it.
Reduce Activation Energy
Achor talks about “activation energy,” or the effort required to make positive changes, and why it’s important to reduce it as much as possible. Putting off tasks sometimes erodes willpower so much that we continually avoid good behaviors rather than consistently engaging in them until they’re nearly automatic.
The easier it is to adopt good habits, the more likely it is they’ll get ingrained. Sometimes that means limiting the number of choices we have that could cause us to procrastinate about desired behaviors.
For example, sleeping in your gym clothes and putting your athletic shoes near the side of the bed arguably makes it preferable to choose an early morning workout instead of changing clothes and finding different footwear.
Finish helps you sort tasks by short, mid and long-term due dates. You’ll get frequent reminders at various stages for each task until you complete it.
Also, try the Focus mode, which shows only the most pressing tasks for a given period. It’s not hard to understand why Finish might help you just get started with a task instead of resorting to a barrage of reminder notifications on your iOS device.
Download: Finish for iOS (Free, with available fee-based extra features)
Make Small Changes to Regain Control
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when nothing’s in our control. In his book, Achor discusses shaping our perspective via remembering the things we still have power over, and making small changes when possible until we gradually regain control.
To cope with life’s overload, assess it realistically by making a list with two columns. In one of them, list things that are within your sphere of influence, and note things outside your control in the other.
Alternatively, when it feels like you’re swamped by an ever-growing task list, shrink it with the 1-3-5 List. Enter one large thing, three medium-sized things and five small things to do into the app each day.
Try centering on large concerns to apply Achor’s ideas to your life. For example, if you’re feeling you’ve lost control of your housing situation after the landlord decided she won’t renew your lease, dedicate your 1-3-5 list of tasks to securing a new place to live.
Surround Yourself with Enjoyable Experiences
Another one of Achor’s theories centers on contagious emotions, driven by mirror neurons creating a ripple effect. In short, if we’re happy, we uplift those around us, and when we’re upset, we negatively affect others. With that in mind, make a habit of being around people who inspire and enlighten you, thereby creating memorable and thoroughly enjoyable experiences.
When that’s not possible, create a go-to list of motivational speakers you can depend upon to enrich your way of thinking.
Use the Motivational Speeches app by Mantra Infotek to discover uplifting content from speakers around the globe, sourced from YouTube.
Download: Motivational Speeches for Android (Free) [No longer available]
Rely on Social Support
Achor says social support systems influence happiness. When working on your support system, don’t just use social media to build and nurture connections with people in your life. Make a point of genuinely interacting with someone each day. Whether it’s inquiring about a co-worker’s day in the break room or sending a gratitude email to a loved one every week, build your own social support by supporting others.
And if you think you’re lacking in social support all together, it might be time to make some new acquaintances. Building new friendships and networking with people who have similar interests can help you find support from like-minded people.
Cliq [Broken Link Removed] is a great app that lets you not only connect with your current friends, but also chat with people nearby. You can get to know one another in a group message and, if you click in terms of interests, views or hobbies, the app can suggest a nearby bar or activity for your group to meet up at in person.
Download: Cliq for iOS | Android (Free) [No longer available]
How Will You Use Your Happiness Advantage?
If Shawn Achor’s viewpoint piqued your curiosity, you now have plenty of actionable tips, plus apps, to assist you in making a positive outlook your new normal.
While it can often be easier to attribute our bad moods, low motivation, or daily stressors to outside factors, The Happiness Advantage makes you realize that, even when things beyond your control happen to you, you can always try to be positive and enjoy the many advantages that come with that.
So, which of these tips will you use to feel happier today? Share your best tips and tools that always bring a smile to your face every day.
Image Credit: Happy woman smiling by Antonio Guillem via Shutterstock