I once received an unusual gift. By unusual, it wasn’t a book or a gift card, or something with cute owls on it. It was a small plaque that said, “SOAR. One’s attitude determines one’s altitude.” I put it on my desk and figured it would last a month or two and then I’d replace it with a picture or other trinket. It has stood the test of time, however, because every day that I look at it, I believe more and more in the truth of those words. Attitude is everything. Seeing the positive side of things is tough, especially in the face of illness or tragedy, but starting each day with good thoughts and unbridled possibilities will lighten your outlook and possibly surprise you.
Recent research by Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina has revealed some interesting insight into the function of our brain regarding negative and positive emotions. Essentially, our brain is programmed to become narrow and focused when having a negative reaction. It closes off any other possibilities and rallies around our feelings of fear and anger. Conversely, when the brain experiences positive emotions, options and possibilities significantly increase. When we are positive, we see more avenues for happiness and satisfaction. An open mind leads us to try new things, develop new skills, and experience more happiness.
For the last five months, I have started each day by looking at my plaque and thinking about three things that make me happy, right there in the moment. Some things are consistent, like my husband or my dog, but I am also happy about an experience, a place, or even a good manicure. Setting my brain to “positive” helps me to maintain that status for the day. Doing this has led me to some interesting conclusions:
1. The small stuff doesn’t matter. I used to get upset if the car in front of me didn’t speed up for the yellow light or if the lady in front of me in the 10 items or less line at the supermarket had 32 items. Having that anger in my brain blocks me from moving forward and erases the good things of the day. The anger lingers and I let it consume precious space in my brain that should be dedicated to imagination and happiness. It’s just simply a waste of my energy.
2. If you think you’re going to fail, then you’re going to fail. Starting off with negative thoughts has already focused you on failure and prevents you from being your best. Believing that you can accomplish a goal, even if it may be unrealistic, will get you closer to that goal than letting the dark cloud loom over you. Maybe you didn’t accomplish that goal of not procrastinating ever again, but in trying to reach that goal, you likely procrastinated less than you used to. That’s still success.
3. Think big. Don’t let time or even lack of skill keep you from at least trying. I assign a research paper to my students, which takes most of the semester to complete. They are devastated when I tell them that it must be a minimum of 3,000 words. I counter with positive statements about their ability and potential to complete such a huge task. I have them imagine the finished paper with their name on it. I take them step-by-step through the research process, reminding them of that image of their finished product. At the end, the papers are turned in with a smile because I never let them consider that this couldn’t be done, and they are more skilled for having attempted it.
4. Avoid negative people. I recently read in a magazine that if someone is determined to be unhappy, there is nothing you can do to deter them. When I encounter these people, I smile, I pay them a compliment or wish them a good day, and I keep moving. They are not welcome in my happy place.
5. Play. It’s important every day to have some fun. When I get home from work, I change my clothes and play with my dog. She’s a boxer, so she is a high-energy clown. I smile, I run, I laugh. Even if I didn’t have a great day at work, any negativity vanishes in that half hour filled with tennis balls and squeaky toys. Find a time slot in your day to do something you enjoy.
My challenge to you, dear reader, is to give a positive attitude a chance. Write a positive phrase on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you will look at it each morning. Take a few minutes while brushing your teeth or putting on earrings to think about how your day is going to be great. Think about what makes you happy. Think about how you are great. Imagine overcoming the difficult things in your life with positive results. Walk out the door smiling, and enjoy the view from great heights as you soar!