It is probably not a surprise to you that positivity is, inherently, at the center of positive psychology.
Positivity doesn’t always refer to simply smiling and looking cheerful, however—positivity is more about one’s overall perspective on life and their tendency to focus on all that is good in life.
In this piece, we’ll cover the basics of positivity within positive psychology, identify some of the many benefits of approaching life from a positive point of view, and explore some tips and techniques for cultivating a positive mindset.
This piece is a long one, so settle in and get comfortable. Let’s get started.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values and self-compassion and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students or employees.
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What is a Positive Mindset and Attitude? A Definition
You probably have an idea of what a positive mindset or positive attitude is already, but it’s always helpful to start with a definition.
This definition from Remez Sasson (n.d.) is a good general description:
“Positive thinking is a mental and emotional attitude that focuses on the bright side of life and expects positive results.”
Another, more comprehensive definition comes from Kendra Cherry at Very Well Mind (2017B):
“[P]ositive thinking actually means approaching life’s challenges with a positive outlook. It does not necessarily mean avoiding or ignoring the bad things; instead, it involves making the most of the potentially bad situations, trying to see the best in other people, and viewing yourself and your abilities in a positive light.”
We can extrapolate from these definitions and come up with a good description of a positive mindset as the tendency to focus on the bright side, expect positive results, and approach challenges with a positive outlook.
Having a positive mindset means making positive thinking a habit, continually searching for the silver lining and making the best out of any situation you find yourself in.
Characteristics and Traits of a Positive Mindset: 6 Examples
So, now we know what a positive mindset is, we can dive into the next important question: What does it look like?
There are many traits and characteristics associated with a positive mindset, including:
- Optimism: a willingness to make an effort and take a chance instead of assuming your efforts won’t pay off.
- Acceptance: acknowledging that things don’t always turn out how you want them to, but learning from your mistakes.
- Resilience: bouncing back from adversity, disappointment, and failure instead of giving up.
- Gratitude: actively, continuously appreciating the good things in your life (Blank, 2017).
- Consciousness/Mindfulness: dedicating the mind to conscious awareness and enhancing the ability to focus.
- Integrity: the trait of being honorable, righteous, and straightforward, instead of deceitful and self-serving (Power of Positivity, n.d.).
Not only are these characteristics of a positive mindset, but they may also work in the other direction—actively adopting optimism, acceptance, resilience, gratitude, mindfulness, and integrity in your life will help you develop and maintain a positive mindset.
A List of Positive Attitudes
If you found the list above still too vague, there are many more specific examples of a positive attitude in action.
For example, positive attitudes can include:
- It is looking adversity in the eye… and laughing.
- Getting what you get, and not pitching a fit.
- Enjoying the unexpected, even when it’s not what you wanted originally.
- Motivating those around you with a positive word.
- Using the power of a smile to reverse the tone of a situation.
- Being friendly to those you don’t know.
- It’s getting back up when you fall down. (No matter how many times you fall down.)
- Being a source of energy that lifts those around you.
- Understanding that relationships are more important than material things.
- Being happy even when you have little.
- Having a good time even when you are losing.
- Being happy for someone else’s success.
- Having a positive future vision, no matter how bad your current circumstances.
- Paying a compliment, even to a total stranger.
- Tell someone you know that they did a great job. (And mean it.)
- Making someone’s day. (Not just a child’s… adult’s like to have their day be special, too!)
- It’s not complaining no matter how unfair things appear to be. (It is a waste of time… instead, do something!)
- Not letting other people’s negativity bring you down.
- Giving more than you expect to get in return.
- Being true to yourself… always (Jarrow, 2012).
Why is a Positive Attitude Considered the Key to Success?
Now we know a little bit more about what a positive mindset looks like, we can turn to one of the biggest questions of all: What’s the deal with having a positive attitude?
What is it about having a positive mindset that is so important, so impactful, so life-changing?
Well, the traits and characteristics listed above give us a hint; if you comb through the literature, you’ll see a plethora of benefits linked to optimism, resilience, and mindfulness.
You’ll see that awareness and integrity are linked to better quality of life, and acceptance and gratitude can take you from the “okay life” to the “good life.”
The Importance of Developing the Right Thoughts
Developing a truly positive mindset and gaining these benefits is a function of the thoughts you cultivate.
Don’t worry—this piece isn’t about the kind of positive thinking that is all positive, all the time. We don’t claim that just “thinking happy thoughts” will bring you all the success you desire in life, and we certainly don’t believe that optimism is warranted in every situation, every minute of the day.
Developing the right thoughts is not about being constantly happy or cheerful, and it’s not about ignoring anything negative or unpleasant in your life. It’s about incorporating both the positive and negative into your perspective and choosing to still be generally optimistic.
It’s about acknowledging that you will not always be happy and learning to accept bad moods and difficult emotions when they come.
Above all, it’s about increasing your control over your own attitude in the face of whatever comes your way. You cannot control your mood, and you cannot always control the thoughts that pop into your head, but you can choose how you handle them.
When you choose to give in to the negativity, pessimism, and doom-and-gloom view of the world, you are not only submitting to a loss of control and potentially wallowing in unhappiness—you are missing out on an important opportunity for growth and development.
According to positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, negative thinking, and negative emotions have their place: they allow you to sharpen your focus on dangers, threats, and vulnerabilities. This is vital for survival, although perhaps not as much as it was for our ancestors.
On the other hand, positive thinking and positive emotions “broaden and build” our resources and skills, and open us up to possibilities (Fredrickson, 2004).
Building a positive framework for your thoughts is not about being bubbly and annoyingly cheerful, but making an investment in yourself and your future. It’s okay to feel down or think pessimistically sometimes, but choosing to respond with optimism, resilience, and gratitude will benefit you far more in the long run.
The Outcomes of a Positive Attitude
Aside from enhancing your skills and personal resources, there are many other benefits of cultivating a positive mindset, including better overall health, better ability to cope with stress, and greater well-being (Cherry, 2017A).
According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can increase your lifespan, reduce rates of depression and levels of distress, give you greater resistance to the common cold, improve your overall psychological and physical well-being, improve your cardiovascular health and protect you from cardiovascular disease, and help you build coping skills to keep you afloat during challenging times (2017).
You’ve probably heard of all these generic benefits before, so we’ll get more specific and explore the benefits of a positive mindset in several different contexts:
- The workplace
- Dealing with disability (for both those with a disability and those around them)
- Nursing and healthcare
- Recovery from cancer
10 Benefits of a Positive Mental Attitude in the Workplace
No construct better captures the essence of a positive attitude in the workplace quite like psychological capital (or PsyCap for short). This multicomponent construct is made up of four psychological resources:
PsyCap was first conceptualized as “positive psychological capital” by renowned management and leadership researchers Luthans and Youssef in 2004. The concept quickly took off among positive organizational psychologists, and by 2011 there were already hundreds of citations of PsyCap in the literature.
The first meta-analysis of all the research on PsyCap was conducted in 2011, and it outlined some of the many benefits of PsyCap in the workplace:
- PsyCap was positively related to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and psychological well-being.
- PsyCap was also positively related to organizational citizenship (desirable employee behaviors) and multiple measures of performance (self-rated, supervisor evaluations, and objective measures).
- PsyCap was negatively related to cynicism, turnover intentions, job stress, and anxiety.
- PsyCap was also negatively related to negative employee deviance (bad employee behaviors; Avey, Reichard, Luthans, & Mhatre, 2011).
It seems pretty straightforward that positive attitudes like optimism and resilience lead to positive outcomes for the organization and for the employees!
Another study by a few of the giants in the field of positive psychology (Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener, 2005) investigated the relationship between happiness and benefits to employees. They showed that positive attitudes in the workplace also benefit the employee in addition to the organization:
- Happier employees are more productive than other employees.
- Happy salespeople have higher sales than other salespeople.
- Happy employees are more creative than other employees.
- Happy employees are evaluated more positively by their supervisors.
- Happy employees are less likely to show job withdrawal (absenteeism, turnover, job burnout, and retaliatory behaviors).
- Happy employees make more money than other employees.
So, a positive attitude can have great benefits for the organization as a whole and for all of its employees.
It turns out that a positive attitude can also result in benefits for leaders and their followers (as well as spreading positivity throughout the organization).
The Importance of a Positive Mindset for Leadership
As important as a positive mindset is for the rank-and-file, it’s easy to see why it is vital for those in a position of leadership.
Researchers Hannah, Woolfolk, and Lord (2009) outlined a framework for positive leadership that rests on the idea that leaders with a positive self-concept (a positive idea of who they are and a habit of thinking positively about themselves) are more able to bring the “right stuff” to their leadership role.
In their theory, a leader with a positive mindset is not only more likely to be actively engaged and to perform at a high level, he or she is also more able to influence followers toward a more positive mindset through role modeling and normative influence.
A study completed around the same time provides support for the relationship between leader and follower positivity; trust in management influenced positive PsyCap, which had a big impact on performance for leaders and followers (Clapp-Smith, Vogegesang, & Avey, 2008).
Further, trust in management was linked to positive leadership and performance. While trust in management isn’t necessarily indicative of a positive mindset in both leader and follower, it is certainly a likely outcome of a generally positive attitude in the workplace.
Forbes writer Victor Lipman (2017) puts findings like these in simpler terms:
“It’s always easier to follow someone with a positive outlook.”
In other words, positive attitudes in a leader will draw followers and encourage motivation and engagement in subordinates. Lipman also notes that having a positive outlook and being resilient is vital in leadership positions because there is a lot of stress involved in managing and leading others.
Leaders must always be “on” and spend much of their time “performing” as a strong, confident leader and perhaps even a public face. This role is a tiring one, and being optimistic and resilient will help leaders stay sane and healthy in challenging contexts.
The Promotion of Positive Attitudes Towards Disability
Having a positive attitude is also a boon for those educating, interacting with, and caring for a disabled student, loved one, or patient.
A positive attitude toward disability facilitates disabled students’ education and helps them assimilate into postsecondary education (Rao, 2004).
This makes it even more troubling to learn that, according to a 2012 study on UK primary schools, only 38% of them had a Disability Equality Scheme in place and only 30% had included a plan to “promote positive attitudes towards disabled people” (Beckett & Buckner). Further, 76% of schools reported that their staff had not received any training in the promotion of positive attitudes towards students with disabilities.
With so many resources available for promoting positive attitudes toward disability, there is ample opportunity to rectify this lack; for example, research by The Children’s Society in the UK identified several ways to promote positivity:
- An inclusive ethos within the school.
- Staff teams who are knowledgeable, skilled, and committed.
- Better training, guidance, and support for teachers, including Disability Equality training and ongoing INSET for all staff.
- High levels of awareness across the whole school community.
- Disability equality teaching being part of a wider strategy and included across the curriculum and not just within subjects such as PSHE, Citizenship and Religious education.
- A designated member of staff to coordinate teaching across the curriculum
- A better understanding of why promoting disability awareness and equality is important.
- Links with disabled people within the school community and beyond, as well as links with special schools.
- The availability of good resources.
- Awareness of, and the challenging of, stereotypes.
- A critical approach to the use of ‘disablist’ language which reinforces discriminatory attitudes and negative stereotypes.
- Promotion of the social model of disability.
- The inclusion of positive and diverse images in all materials used within the school and undertaking an audit of existing materials and resources to ensure they promote positive attitudes (More information on these suggestions can be found here).
A 2009 study also established that formal instruction in disability awareness combined with hands-on fieldwork experiences with people who have a disability can have a significant impact on the positive attitudes toward those with disability (Campbell, Gilmore, & Cuskelly).
The research found that teachers-in-training who participated in a one-semester course involving direct work with students who had Down syndrome greatly improved their knowledge of the syndrome as well as their attitudes toward those with Down syndrome.
All of these findings show that having a positive attitude towards those with a disability is not only the right thing to work toward, but it also has a significant positive influence on both those with disability and those around them.
Unsurprisingly, it’s also important for nurses and other health professionals to cultivate a positive attitude towards their patients with a disability—something that nurses sometimes struggle with (Tervo & Palmer, 2004).
Positive Attitude in Nursing and Health Care
On the subject of nursing and healthcare, this is another context where having a positive mindset (towards oneself and one’s patients—disabled or otherwise) can have a positive impact.
In fact, having a positive attitude is so important for nursing, expert Jean Watson describes nursing as the “Caring Science” (2009). Indeed, positivity and caring are ingrained in the field; just take a look at the five core nursing values:
- Human dignity
- Social justice (Fahrenwald, Bassett, Tschetter, Carson, White, & Winterboer, 2005)
These five values lay the foundation for a caring, positive mindset that is the hallmark of good nursing practice. Nurses who embrace these core values and adopt a positive mindset toward themselves, their work, and their patients can help them find the meaning and fulfillment that likely prompted them to enter the field in the first place.
Having a positive mindset in health care not only acts as a facilitator of meaning and purpose in the lives of healthcare professionals but it also:
- Improves the professional’s performance and helps patients find healing and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Reduces the frequency of accidents by enhancing focus.
- Helps the professional build a good reputation and advance in their career (Swanson, n.d.).
Luckily, there are evidence-backed ways for nurses to implement a more positive outlook, including:
- The “Three Good Things” exercise, in which the nursing staff maintains a “three good things” sheet that gets passed around all the nurses at the end of their shift; each staff member writes down at least one good thing that happened that day, and the charge nurse selects three of these positive things to share with the oncoming-shift nurses to help them start their day with positivity.
- Increasing social connections with patients by placing a “getting to know you” board in each patient room; on admission, nurses can encourage the patient to share something about themselves (not their illness or hospitalization, but about who you are).
- Encouraging random acts of kindness by nurses—a practice which has the potential to spread to patients and other healthcare professionals as well.
- Enhancing gratitude through a staff peer recognition board.
- Practicing loving-kindness meditation at staff meetings.
- Identifying and applying one’s Signature Strengths (Roberts & Strauss, 2015).
Speaking of the importance of positivity in health care, the benefits can extend to the patients as well.
Positive Attitude and Cancer Recovery
You’ve probably heard the common phrases and encouragements used when discussing someone’s cancer diagnosis.
A cancer patient will likely be told at least a few times that “You have to stay positive!” and “You can fight this if you maintain a positive attitude.”
This idea that being positive will help cancer patients to fight the disease is a common one, although the literature is a bit iffy on whether this phenomenon is real (Coyne & Tennen, 2010; O’Baugh, Wilkes, Luke, & George, 2003).
Although it is unclear whether simply cultivating a positive mindset will help a patient beat cancer, there’s no doubt that getting support, focusing on a healthy mental state, and maintaining a positive attitude will help patients reduce their tension, anxiety, fatigue, and depression, and improve their overall quality of life (Spiegel et al., 2007).
Cancer Treatment Centers of America expert Katherine Puckett agrees that positivity can be helpful for patients being treated for cancer, but clarifies that other emotions are perfectly acceptable as well.
“So often I have heard a loved one say to a cancer patient who is crying, ‘Stop crying. You know you have to be positive’… However, when we make space for people to express all of their feelings, rather than bottling them up inside, it is then easier for them to be optimistic. It is okay to allow tears to flow—these can be a healthy release.” (Katherine Puckett, as reported in Fischer, 2016).
This indicates that the most important factor regarding positivity in cancer recovery is that it is authentic. False smiles and superficial cheerfulness will likely do nothing for the cancer patient, but working on cultivating an authentically positive mindset and focusing on the activities and techniques that build well-being can have a significant impact on a cancer patient’s quality of life and—possibly—their chances of beating cancer.
33 Tips on How to Have & Keep a Positive Mindset in Life and at Work
Do a quick Google search on how to cultivate a more positive mindset, and you’ll see that there are tons of suggestions out there! We’ve gathered some of the most popular and most evidence-backed methods here, but don’t hesitate to search for more if you need them.
Larry Alton from Success.com lists 7 practical tips to help you get more positive:
- Start the day with positive affirmations (scroll down to see some example affirmations).
- Focus on the good things, however small they are.
- Find humor in bad situations.
- Turn failures into lessons—and learn from them!
- Transform negative self-talk into positive self-talk.
- Focus on the present instead of getting mired in the past or losing your way in the future.
- Find positive friends, mentors, and co-workers to support and encourage you (2018).
A successful author, speaker, and coach Brian Tracy (n.d.) echoes some of these tips and adds a couple more:
- Remember that it’s your response that determines the outcome of a situation.
- Use positive affirmations or phrases to chase off negative thoughts.
- Find inspirational quotes and messages to bolster your positivity.
- Decide to be happy by being grateful and assuming the people around you have the best of intentions.
- Challenge yourself to maintain a positive attitude when something goes wrong—show the world how resilient and positive you are!
For a more specific list of habits and actions you can take to develop a more positive mindset, try these 10 suggestions from Megan Wycklendt (2014) of Fulfillment Daily:
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Reframe your challenges as opportunities for growth.
- Get good at being rejected—it happens to everyone!
- Use positive words to describe your life.
- Replace have with get (e.g., I have to go to work → I get to go to work).
- Don’t let yourself get dragged down into other people’s complaints.
- Breathe—consciously, purposefully, and mindfully.
- Notice the righteous and good in times of tragedy and violence.
- Have solutions ready when you point out problems.
- Make someone else smile.
Finally, these 11 techniques from Dr. Tchiki Davis (2018) can also help you adopt a more positive attitude:
- Ask yourself, “Do I think positively?” Take a test or quiz on positivity to see where you stand.
- Strengthen your memory for positive information by using positive words more often.
- Strengthen your brain’s ability to work with positive information with exercises that involve positive words.
- Strengthen your brain’s ability to pay attention to the positive by routinely redirecting your focus away from the negative to the positive.
- Condition yourself to experience random moments of positivity (use classical conditioning on yourself to build positive associations).
- Think positive—but not too much—and think negative when you need to; sometimes we need to grieve, think about the negative consequences, and use negative emotions to motivate and engage us.
- Practice gratitude (perhaps with a gratitude journal).
- Savor the good moments (stop to “smell the roses” and celebrate the positive).
- Generate positive emotions by watching funny videos
- Stop minimizing your successes and acknowledge the efforts you put in.
- Stop all-or-nothing thinking; this cognitive distortion is not in line with reality since things are very rarely “all good” or “all bad.”
Helping Students to Develop a Positive Attitude Towards Learning and School
To pass along the benefits of developing a positive mindset to students, you can encourage them to try the techniques listed above.
However, there are some methods for improving students’ attitude towards learning and school that may be even more effective.
Elliot Seif from the ASCD’s Edge website outlines 13 ways you can help students cultivate this mindset:
- “Reduce the emphasis on traditional testing as the key assessment tool, and focus on more “natural” and diverse assessment approaches such as essays and papers, reflective journals, oral presentations, and other demonstrations of their learning.
- Create the expectation that effort makes a difference in learning. Help students understand that when someone works hard, they are more likely to succeed. Give students more opportunities to put effort into areas that interest them and that they enjoy.
- Include narratives on report cards that focus on individual strengths and interests.
- Where possible, instead of or in addition to reading textbooks, find and have students read and choose books that are interesting to them, that opens them up to the world around them, that makes them think!
- Focus primarily on student strengths and student success. For each student, consider “the glass as half full” rather than “the glass as half empty”. Encourage students as much as possible. Understand that not all students will be strong in all areas and that it is important to help each student find his or her strengths and interests and to build on them. Also, see “failure” as an opportunity for student growth. Make it clear to students that not doing well is a cause for looking inside yourself to see how you can do something better (and that you will do the same). Give students more specific feedback, along with opportunities to redo their work and improve it. Provide mentors and tutors and other help and support for students who need it.
- Be willing to “slow down the learning process”. Focus learning on what you think is important. Figure out ways to teach an idea differently, and work on something for a longer period than you normally do if your students are not “getting it”. Figure out alternative ways to teach something if your approach isn’t working.
- Focus a good deal of your teaching on “learning how to learn” skill development. Read up on how to teach study skills, learning to learn skills, research skills, inquiry skills. Make sure that your students grow both in terms of content they learn and the “learning to learn” skills they need to develop in order to learn well in the future.
- Make “asking questions” central to your teaching and to your learning environment and school culture. Write course descriptions around key questions. Use essential questions to focus units, or have students develop essential questions as the focus for learning. As you teach, encourage students to ask clarifying and elaborative questions. Make it clear to students that no question is too small or too silly. Build open time for students to ask questions on the topics they are studying. Use “wait time” when you are asking for questions. Teach students study strategies such as SQ3R[i] that encourage students to turn statements (such as text headings) into questions.
- Give students more choices and options – in the classroom, by offering many electives, through multiple extra-curricular options. Choices/options should give students opportunities to develop and expand their interests, see connections and relevance in what they are learning, and expand their talents.
- Use inquiry strategies, research skill-building activities, interactive learning and projects as critical parts of teaching. Incorporate more interest-based projects into your curriculum.
- Where possible, make learning experiences more “authentic”. For example, consider how learning about the American Revolution might be tied to a current event happening in the world. Visit the area surrounding the school to demonstrate how math might be used for everyday activity. Through surveys, encourage students to provide feedback on whether they feel that their learning is interesting, motivating, and relevant and whether they are being encouraged to develop their talents and interests. Conduct student surveys to determine what types of school and classroom activities are most motivating and interesting. Create activities and experiences that enable students to get outside the school and learn from the outside world and perform community service.
- Create more ways to integrate learning across the curriculum and consider ways to redesign the curriculum. Use themes to create more interdisciplinary units. Connect separate subject areas, such as by teaching American history and literature in tandem so that history topics and specific literature that touch on similar time periods or themes are taught at the same time. When redesigning or renewing the curriculum, examine whether curriculum materials or programs have a significant component built around developing curiosity, motivation, relevance, and interest.
- See yourself as helping students build “pathways to adult success”. How can your subject, your grade level, your school contribute to making these pathways smoother? How can you provide students with a concrete understanding of their future options? Can you take field trips to different places of business? Colleges and universities? Bring in speakers?” (Seif, 2013)
However, these techniques are not always within a teacher’s (or parent’s) realm of control. If you these techniques are too overwhelming or the scope is out of your control, try these 7 strategies that you will likely have the power to implement:
- Be an example. Model a positive, encouraging attitude in all that you say, do and believe.
- Create a positive learning space for your student.
- Help your student visualize a positive outcome from every scenario before starting.
- Eliminate negative verbiage from your students’ dialogue (e.g., respond to “I can’t do it” with “Why can’t you do it? What’s holding you back? How can I help?”).
- Help your students change negative thinking patterns (encourage them to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones).
- Play the role of your students’ biggest fan (encourage them and help them develop self-confidence).
- Incorporate a rewards system to encourage positivity at all times (Werrell, 2016).
For more tips and suggestions from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, check out their excellent resource on instilling positive attitudes and perceptions about learning here.
46 Activities and Games to Develop Positive Mindset Skills (incl. Group Exercises)
If you’re interested in fun, engaging, and hands-on ways to improve your positivity and enhance your positive mindset, you’ve come to the right place!
There are many activities and games you can use to boost your positive thinking.
Some of the most popular ones are listed here, but feel free to search for more if none of them align with your interests—there are a lot to choose from out there!
Zdravko Lukovski from the Enlightenment Portal website has 10 exercises and activities that you can implement in your own life or encourage your clients to try in order to think more positively:
- Listen to your favorite music—it’s that easy! Music has a fairly unique ability to put you in a positive state of mind, so take advantage of that fact.
- Express your thankfulness and gratitude for all the good things in your life. Appreciate them, and write them down to help you remember.
- Remember to breathe. Breathe deeply, slowly, and mindfully to transport your mind to a positive, calm place.
- Don’t live according to a label—labels come from others, not from yourself, and you are so much more than a simple label could ever represent. Be authentic, and it will be much easier to be positive.
- Check your internal dialogue, and challenge that critical inner voice to make room for happiness.
- Engage in positive activities like meditation, yoga, hiking, playing a sport, or whatever other activity you enjoy.
- Take back control of the things you can change—and put in the effort required to actually change—but learn to accept the things you cannot change.
- Go easy on yourself. Don’t kick yourself when you’re down; everyone fails, and it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.
- Pay attention to your diet, and ensure that you eat healthy food that will contribute to a healthy and positive mind.
- Embrace change—it’s happening whether we want it to or not, so it’s best to embrace it. Make an effort to step outside of your comfort zone (2015).
This list from Thought Catalog’s Kathy Mitchell (2017) has some of the same ideas as Lukovski, but she adds a few more activities as well:
- Listen to upbeat music.
- Have sex (that can certainly be an engaging and life-affirming activity!).
- Travel, even if it’s not very far—the point is to interact with different people and get to know other cultures.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Be thankful and cultivate gratitude.
- Journal and/or use a notebook to write things down—especially positive things.
- Breathe mindfully and deeply.
- Use positive words and avoid phrases like “I can’t” and “I won’t.”
- Practice positive affirmations or mantras.
- Try the Best Possible Self exercise (imagine yourself in your best possible future, and write about it).
- Volunteer and commit your time and efforts to helping others.
- Take control of the things you can, and accept the things you can’t.
- Remind yourself “Never a failure, always a lesson;” make every failure a learning opportunity.
- Try the mirror technique—say something positive about yourself (and truly mean it) every time you see yourself in the mirror.
- Socialize and spend time with others, including family, friends, your spouse or significant other, and new friends or acquaintances.
If you’re more interested in games you can play to boost positive thinking, try these suggested games from Mary Osborne (2017) at Live Strong.
Recognizing Positive Behavior
Gather your team (or family, friends, etc.) and review a list of a generic individual’s positive behaviors (like giving credit to others, smiling, saying thank you, and listening nonjudgmentally).
Next, ask players to identify their reactions to positive behaviors like these.
When everyone has listed their responses to these behaviors, talk about them as a group to show that engaging in positive behaviors like these will attract clients, customers, and coworkers rather than repel them.
The “Glad” Game
This game comes from the Disney movie Pollyanna, in which the main character actively cultivates positive thinking.
Have one person bring up a negative event, like losing a job or breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The other players are challenged to turn the first person’s thoughts to the positive; for example, they can say something like, “But now that I’ve lost my job, I’ll have more time to _______.” The first person must come up with a word or phrase that fits the blank.
This game will encourage you to find the silver lining and look for opportunities instead of wallowing in despair.
The egg-balancing game can be frustrating, but it can impart an important lesson in staying optimistic and open-minded.
Give your player(s) a raw egg and a flat, somewhat textured tabletop (use a tablecloth or placemat if you need to). Tell them to find a way to balance the egg in an upright position on the table. They might say it’s not possible, but assure them that it is!
Let them try for a while—they might actually be able to do it—but give them a small mound of salt to balance the egg in if they are struggling for too long. If you use the salt, remind them that this is an important thing to remember: sometimes things that seem impossible actually are possible when you think outside the box!
Hunt for Happiness
This game is described as a “positive-thinking scavenger game” and it can be used with both children and adults.
Have the players make a list of things that they feel make life worth living or, for younger children, things that make them smile.
Once everyone has a list ready, send them off on a scavenger hunt to collect as many items on the list as possible. If it’s too big to collect and bring back, you can mark your “collection” of it on the list.
You’ll have to get creative to check off everything on the list, especially abstract things like “love,” but that’s part of the challenge. As a bonus, it will also help you boost your creative thinking in addition to your positive thinking.
To read more about these games, click here.
There are even more games and activities to help children develop a positive mindset. If you’re a teacher, parent, coach, or anyone else who interacts with kids, give these activities a try.
Big Life Journal has a great infographic that lists the ways you can help children develop a positive attitude. You can find the whole blog post here, but we’ll outline the 7 activities they describe:
- Engage your child in loving-kindness meditation. You can teach him or her the four traditional phrases directed towards loved ones if you’d like: “May you feel safe. May you feel happy. May you feel healthy. May you live with ease.”
- Encourage your child to help others, whether that takes the form of assisting an elderly neighbor with yard work or chores, helping a friend with homework, or participating in a canned food, clothing, or toy drive.
- Have your child create and write in an “Awe Journal.” Tell them to write down any sights or moments from their daily life that they find beautiful, extraordinary, awesome, or just all-around wonderful.
- Encourage your child to set goals, visualize their path forward, and plan for obstacles before they come face-to-face with them (this is the WOOP approach: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan).
- Share your own positive experiences with your child. Laugh with them, hug them, and set aside quality time to simply be together.
- Identify your child’s strengths and encourage him or her to put them to good use and develop them further with productive, fun activities.
- Guide your child through the process of coming up with positive affirmations like, “I am kind. I am enough. I am loving. I am good.” (Cullins, 2018).
Another collection of activities that can help children (and the whole family) develop and maintain a positive mindset comes from Sharon Harding at the Rediscovered Families website:
- Keep “Quote Books,” or notebooks for your children to write in. Every week, choose a positive quote to share with your kids and encourage them to write it down along with their thoughts, drawings that correspond to the quote, or insights from a family discussion or activities based on the quote.
- Try the “Success of the Day” activity, in which each family member is encouraged to talk about a success they had that day, like helping someone, standing up for a peer, finishing a project, or committing (or receiving) a random act of kindness. Your children can keep a journal of their successes to look back on and draw inspiration from.
- Create Warm Fuzzy Jars for each of your children; whenever they do something kind or helpful, they can place a pom-pom ball in their jar to represent the warm fuzzy feeling they gave to another person. When their jar is full, they get to choose a special or fun activity to do—with either parent, both parents, their sibling, or the whole family.
- Write Morning Love Notes (sweet notes for them to read in the morning and get a good start to their day) for your children, and encourage them to write them for their siblings.
- Choose an Act of Kindness to help your kids understand the impact a simple kindness can have. Try something like shoveling a neighbor’s walkway when it snows, bringing a meal to a family in need, or volunteering.
- Creating art that helps them to manage their feelings and turn their mind towards the positive (more info here).
- Have each family member create a Slinky Character Trait Person. Encourage each family member to identify some positive character traits in each other and write them on the slinky person. You can find more detailed instructions here.
- Help each child make a vision board to share their hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations with each other.
- Complete the Buggy and Buddy motivational art activity to help your children boost their creative confidence and self-esteem.
- Make gratitude stones and encourage your children to practice gratitude every day. All you’ll need is a small, smooth stone and some paint to create a heart on the stone. Tell your children to carry them around and use them as a reminder to think about the things they are grateful for. You can also use them in other ways, detailed here.
10 Worksheets for Training a Positive Mindset (PDF)
If games and activities aren’t really your “thing,” there are lots of other ways to cultivate a positive attitude.
One effective technique is completing worksheets designed to help you develop a positive mindset.
A few of the many worksheets on this topic are described below.
Becoming more positive can start with a fun and uplifting exercise—identifying your strengths.
This worksheet lists 36 individual strengths, with room to add 4 more, that you can use to pick out which strengths you embody. You can choose as many as you like, but try to keep the list to those traits that you think are your biggest strengths.
Once you have your strengths identified, move on to the rest of the worksheet: learning about your strengths in specific areas, how you apply them now, and how you can use them more often.
The second page concerns your relationships—romantic relationships, family relationships, and relationships with friends. There are three questions to guide you here:
- List the strengths you possess that help you in your relationships.
- Describe a specific time your strengths were able to help you in a relationship.
- Describe two new ways you could use your strengths in relationships.
On the third page, you will answer the same questions but with your profession in mind instead of relationships.
The fourth page repeats these questions but with a focus on personal fulfillment (hobbies, interests, pleasurable activities).
You can find this worksheet here.
Cultivating a regular practice of gratitude will help you to become more positive, and this worksheet will guide you in establishing your practice.
First, the instructions for the sheet are as follows: “Two times a week, write a detailed entry about one thing you are grateful for. This could be a person, a job, a great meal with friends, or anything else that comes to mind.”
Next, the worksheet includes some tips for effective journaling, like:
- Don’t rush to write down the first things that come to your mind. Take time to truly think about what you’re grateful for. Expect each entry to take between 10-20 minutes.
- Writing about the people who you’re grateful for tends to be more powerful than writing about things.
To help get you started, you can use one of the journaling prompts listed in the worksheet, including:
- Someone whose company I enjoy…
- A fun experience I had…
- A reason to be excited about the future…
- An unexpected good thing that happened…
The next two pages provide you space to write up to four entries. It’s best if you get a journal specifically for this purpose, but this space can get you started until you obtain a journal.
Click here to download this worksheet.
Similar to the gratitude journal, a positive journal is an effective way to use journaling to improve your mindset.
The worksheet encourages you to make a point of recognizing positive experiences throughout your day, however big or small. At the end of each day, use the worksheet to record three positive things that happened.
It’s good to have an actual journal for your positive entries (either the same journal you use for recording the things you are grateful for or a separate one), but this worksheet includes space for entering three positive things for 7 days to help you get started.
Click here to read the instructions in more detail.
The Protective Factors worksheet will get you thinking about all of the positive traits, attributes, and skills that contribute to your resilience and overall mental health. Identifying these factors is essential to knowing when and how to use them.
The instructions are to review each of the protective factors listed and marking where you are on the scale (from weak to strong). These factors include:
Once you have given thought to each protective factor, the next page poses some questions about them:
- Which protective factor has been the most valuable to you during difficult times?
- Specifically, how have you used this protective factor to your advantage in the past?
- What are the two protective factors that you would like to improve?
- Describe how things might be different if you able to improve these protective factors.
- List specific steps or actions that might help to make these goals a reality.
To download this worksheet and learn about your own protective factors, click here.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
This worksheet will help you to identify times in your life when things have gone well, when you got things right, and when you thrived.
First, for the “Looking Back” portion, you will be instructed to choose a timeframe to reflect on (for example, “the past year” or “since starting my new job”).
Next, you will answer several questions about the positive events and accomplishments from this time period, including:
- List your accomplishments from this timeframe, even if they seem minor.
- Describe a great day from this timeframe. What made this day special?
- How have you grown, or what lessons did you learn, during this timeframe?
- What are you grateful for from this timeframe? Try to list at least three examples.
- What was a challenge that you overcame during this timeframe?
For the “Looking Forward” portion, you will complete a similar exercise but with a future time period in mind.
Instead of the questions above, you will answer these five questions:
- What would you like to achieve during this timeframe?
- What are you looking forward to during this timeframe? Try to list at least three examples.
- What relationships would you like to strengthen during this timeframe?
- What can you do to help others during this timeframe?
- Ideally, how will your life be different at the end of this timeframe? Give specifics.
Once you have completed this worksheet, you will have a list of good things and accomplishments already behind you, and a list of good things you have to look forward to and work towards. Click here to get started.
Why I’m Grateful
This is a great worksheet for cultivating gratitude, and it can be used with children or adults.
It lists six prompts for you to complete that will help you focus on the good things in your life:
- I am grateful for my family because…
- Something good that happened this week…
- I am grateful for my friendship with… because…
- I am grateful for who I am because…
- Something silly that I am grateful for…
- Something else I am grateful for…
To start thinking about all the things you have to be grateful for, click here.
Positive Activities for Behavioral Activation
This worksheet is focused on the therapeutic technique of behavioral activation—encouraging the patient to get more active, engage in positive activities, and gain the rewards inherent in these activities.
It instructs you to create a list of activities that you find personally rewarding and leaves space for you to do so.
Next, it instructs you to rate the ease of each activity on a scale from 1 (difficult) to 10 (easy) and the reward you get from each activity on a scale from 1 (not at all rewarding) to 10 (very rewarding).
Completing this worksheet will leave you with a list of activities that you can refer to whenever you need a quick boost, and help you learn about what you enjoy most.
Click here to download this worksheet.
The Positive Experiences worksheet is a simple one in theory, but it can be difficult to actually complete. The difficulty comes with an equivalent reward though; you can get a great boost in your mood, self-esteem, and self-confidence from completing it.
The only instruction is to consider each of the positive traits listed and write briefly about times when you have displayed each of them.
The positive traits include:
If you’re feeling particularly down, you may be tempted to skip one or two, but fight this urge! You have definitely displayed each of these traits at one time or another—don’t sell yourself short!
You can find this worksheet here.
Positive Steps to Well-being
This resource is actually a handout, but you can certainly make it interactive by taking notes or using check marks to indicate what you have tried, or what you would like to try.
It lists 12 things you can do to improve your well-being. These 12 activities include:
- Being kind to yourself
- Exercise regularly
- Take up a hobby and/or learn a new skill
- Have some fun and/or be creative
- Help others
- Eat healthily
- Balance sleep
- Connect with others
- Beware drink and drugs
- See the bigger picture
- Accepting: “It is as it is”
To read more about how each of these activities contributes to your well-being, download the handout here.
Positive Self-Talk/Coping Thoughts Worksheet
The positive self-talk/coping thoughts worksheet is a great way to turn your focus from the negative to the positive and come up with positive statements you can use to cope in future stressful or difficult situations.
Example coping thoughts and positive statements listed on the worksheet include:
- Stop, and breathe, I can do this.
- This will pass.
- This feels bad, and feelings are very often wrong.
- I can feel bad and still choose to take a new and healthy direction.
- I feel this way because of my past experiences, but I am safe right now.
After reading the example statements, the worksheet encourages you to write down some coping thoughts or positive statements for difficult or distressing situations in your life. You can write them directly on the worksheet, but it may be most helpful to copy them onto a note card and carry them with you.
Click here to download this worksheet.
32 Quotes and Affirmations on Positive Mindset/Attitude
While we’re on the subject of positive statements, we should also mention that quotes and affirmations can be an excellent way to encourage positive thinking.
If you’re interested in affirmations, try the Mind Tools Content Team’s (n.d.) list of positive thinking affirmations:
- I have plenty of creativity for this project.
- My work will be recognized in a positive way by my boss and colleagues.
- I can do this!
- My team respects and values my opinion.
- I am successful.
- I am honest in my life, and my work.
- I like completing tasks and projects on time.
- I’m grateful for the job I have.
- I enjoy working with my team.
- I’m bringing a positive attitude to work every day.
- I am excellent at what I do.
- I am generous.
- I am happy.
- I will be a leader in my organization.
If none of these appeal to you on a deep level, refer to their tips on developing your own personal affirmations:
- Think about the areas of your life that you’d like to change.
- Write affirmations that are credible and achievable (based on reality).
- Use your affirmations to turn negative into positive (note a persistent negative thought and choose an affirmation that is the opposite).
- Write your affirmations in the present tense—affirm yourself in the here and now, not a vague future version of yourself.
- Say it with feeling! Your affirmations should be personally meaningful to you (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.).
If you’re having trouble coming up with your affirmations or you just like to hear a different perspective on positive thinking, you might find some quotes helpful.
Lydia Sweatt (2017) from Success.com shares 13 great quotes on optimism and having a positive attitude.
“Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects.”
“Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something is not to your liking, change your liking.”
“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”
“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.”
“An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere. They learn from mistakes and failures, and are not afraid to fail again.”
“Optimism is a kind of heart stimulant―the digitalis of failure.”
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
“Optimism refuses to believe that the road ends without options.”
Robert H. Schuller
“What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak [and] there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances.”
Wayne W. Dyer
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Inspiring Speeches and Videos
Quotes can be fantastic motivators, but you probably agree that a rousing speech or inspiring video can be even more effective.
Check out these TED Talks and YouTube videos on positive thinking when you need a boost.
Jim Rohn’s A Positive Attitude Attracts Success
Brendon Burchard’s How to Reprogram Your Mind (for Positive Thinking)
Carol Dweck’s TED Talk The Power of Believing That You Can Improve
Shawn Achor’s TED Talk The Happy Secret to Better Work
If you’re more of a fan of books than videos, never fear—we’ve got book recommendations too!
Here are just a few of the many books on developing a positive mindset:
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E. P. Seligman (Amazon)
- Attitude: Your Most Priceless Possession by Elwood N. Chapman (Amazon)
- The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor (Amazon)
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck (Amazon)
- Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs by March Chernoff and Angel Chernoff (Amazon)
- Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman (Amazon)
- Mindset: How Positive Thinking Will Set You Free & Help You Achieve Massive Success in Life by Benjamin Smith (Amazon)
- Hard Optimism: How to Succeed in a World Where Positive Wins by Price Pritchett (Amazon)
A Take-Home Message
If you’re still with me after this very long read, thanks for sticking with it! I hope you will find that the time invested in reading this piece was worth the information you gleaned from it.
The one takeaway from this piece that I really hope sticks with you is this: Positive thinking is a powerful tool that can result in a lot of benefits for you and those around you; however, thinking positive 100% of the time is unrealistic and could even be disastrous.
We have a lot of different emotions and thoughts, and we have such a wide variety for a reason. There are times when being a bit pessimistic can help us, and it is a good idea to let out the negative emotions you experience once in a while (especially if the alternative is bottling them up).
If you’re an optimist by nature, cultivate gratitude for your inherent positivity, but make sure you don’t push aside the negative feelings that crop up. They’re part of life too.
If you’re a pessimist by nature, don’t despair of ever thinking positively. Try a few of the techniques that seem most applicable and give yourself a break if it takes some time. Remember, the goal is not to become a “Pollyanna,” but to become the best version of yourself that you can be and maintain a healthy and happy mental state.
How do you feel about the positivity movement? Are you naturally optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in between? Do you have any thoughts about how to cultivate a positive mindset? Let us know in the comments section below!
Thanks for reading, and best of luck in developing a positive mindset!
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.
If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 300 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching or workplace.
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