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choose happiness: 5 steps to train yourself to be positive

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems,
but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."

Herm Albright


Even for someone like me, who thinks about and writes about positivity on an almost daily basis, being positive is not easy. When I think of the world, I still sometimes  see it through a negative perspective, focusing on the bad and ignoring the good -- especially when things aren't going the way I'd hoped they would. As I've been struggling with this lately, I've been reminding myself that it really is possible to change my perspective. About a year ago, I decided I was going to make a change in my life. I was going to start looking for the good, seeking the positive, and striving to make every day a joyful experience. This was something I would have never imagined myself doing, but it's something that has impacted my life every single day since then. 

I’ve had to do a lot to get to where I am right now, and I still believe I have a long way to go. I’m not searching for any particular end point, however. All I want is to be happy, to live a life that focuses more on the good than the bad (though I do believe you need both to have a happy life). On this road -- this twisting, turning road to happiness -- there have been many ups and downs. There have been challenges. There have been inspirations. There have been many amazing experiences that I never would have had if I had not made this first choice -- the choice to live a positive life. 

Recently, as I struggle to be positive about certain situations in my life, I’ve been giving some serious thought to how I transformed my outlook from negative-focused to positive-focused. (Note: I don’t always see the good. Like everyone, I have good days and bad days, but, for the most part, there has been a BIG shift in my attitude over the past year). Though I have to admit that there are many, many factors involved in my personal development -- such as my therapist, the countless books and blogs I read, creating my blog, and surrounding myself with happy, supportive people -- I can say that, at the most basic level, choosing to be positive has helped me the most in terms of becoming the person I want to be. When I think back on my transformation now, I recognize that the following five steps are the best ways to begin stumbling down that path to positivity.

 
Train Yourself to be Positive in 5 Steps
 

Step One:
Believe Happiness is a Choice


For me, this was a hard one at first. I thought that people were either unhappy or happy (and I was one of the unhappy ones). I used to blame this on all kinds of outside forces –- fate, experiences, parents, relationships –- but never really stopped to think that I could choose to be happy. Sure, this isn’t always easy (in fact, for me, it can be very, very hard sometimes), but it is always, always an option. Teaching myself to believe that happiness is a choice has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done for myself. Now when I find myself in a bad situation, I know that it’s up to me to find the good, to be happy regardless of what’s happening around me. I am no longer pointing fingers, placing blame. I realize that everything happens how it happens and it’s up to me to choose how I want to feel about it. I am in control of my happiness level and no one can take that away from me.

 

Step Two:
Rid Your Life of Negativity


If you want to live a positive, joyful life, you cannot –- absolutely CANNOT -– be surrounded by negative people who are not encouraging your happiness. As a negative person, I tended to attract negative people. When I decided to make the change to live a more positive life, I had to rid my life of all of the negative people in it. This, as you can imagine, wasn’t easy. Getting rid of people hurts -– even when you know they aren’t good for you or your current lifestyle. Not only did I have to get rid of the negative people, but I also had to get rid of the negative things too. I had to stop doing certain things that were causing negativity in my life. I had to take a step back and examine which behaviors were good for me and which were not. I learned to focus on the positive things I was doing and let go of the negative ones. This process was not easy and, to be honest, is still on-going, but I know this: having negativity in your life prevents you from living a truly positive existence.

 

Step Three:
Look For the Positive in Life


There is positive in everything. In every person, in every situation, there is something good. Most of the time it’s not all that obvious. We have to look. And sometimes we have to look hard. The old me was content to sit back and just glance around. If I saw negative, I went with that feeling. I didn’t want to look harder or think too much about the good. I found it much, much easier to sit back and just accept what I saw (which was usually the bad). Now, when I’m faced with a difficult or challenging situation, I think to myself, “What is good about this?” No matter how terrible the situation might seem, I always can find something good if I take the time to think about it. Everything –- good and bad -– is a learning experience so, at the very least, you can learn from bad experiences. However, there’s usually even more to it than that. If you really take the time to look, you will usually find something good, something really positive, about every person or situation.

 

Step Four:
Reinforce Positivity in Yourself


Once I started thinking more positively, I realized I had to reinforce these thoughts and behaviors in myself so they would stick. As with any sort of training, practice makes perfect, and, yes, you can practice being positive. The best and easiest way to do this is to be positive when it comes to who you are. Tell yourself you’re awesome. Tell yourself you look good. Tell yourself you did an awesome job at work or raising your kids or whatever it is you do. Be honest with yourself, but do your best to look for the good. And, whatever you do, don’t focus on the negative. Nothing good can come of telling yourself that your butt’s too big or your latest career goal wasn’t met. It’s okay to not like everything about yourself, but don’t focus on the negative. Remind yourself of the good in you. We all have positive attributes and it’s up to you to remind yourself of them every day.

 

Step Five:
Share Positivity with Others


Not only do you need to be positive with yourself for this training to really take effect, but you need to be positive with others. You have to share your wealth of positivity with the world. The best way I’ve found to do this is quite simple and basic: be nice. Be nice to other people, no matter what. Tell someone s/he looks nice today. Tell someone they did a great job on that presentation. Tell your parents or children (or both!) how much you love them and how great they are. When someone is feeling down, do what you can to cheer him or her up. Send flowers. Write notes. Don’t gossip. Be kind to all living things. All of these things sound basic enough, but, for someone like me, they didn’t used to come easily. I never wanted to see the good in myself and, therefore, didn’t want to see it in others either. I used to be critical and condescending. Now I strive to be encouraging and supportive. I try not only to treat others as I would like to be treated, but also to consider how they would like to be treated. People appreciate positivity and the more you are sharing it with others, the more you are practicing it and reinforcing it in your own life.

 

When you start feeling like the idea of being a positive person is daunting, tell yourself this: "Dani, someone who really used to struggle with a negative attitude, turned her life around with these five steps and I can too!" If anyone had told me a few  years ago that I would be writing an article about being positive, I would have laughed right in their face. I would have said, “Why in the world would someone want me to write about positivity?” But here I am, writing this post, believing in these words, and knowing that every single day I am getting closer and closer to living the positive life I’ve secretly dreamed of living. If I can do it, you can do it. Believe in yourself and remember the most important lesson of all… a positive outlook is a choice. Choose to be positive. 


How do you strive to be positive in your life?
What could I add to this post about training for a positive life?


how to see change as a glass half full

"Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches,
letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights."

Pauline Kezer

 

Most of the important milestones in life involve change—school, jobs, relationships, births, deaths. Life is filled with crossroads, decisions, surprises—with change. For many, change is a scary word. It evokes fear or uncertainty. Others thrive on change—seeking it out whenever they feel like their lives are too mundane. Whether you love or loath change, you have to face it. The fact is: you will have to deal with change in your life, but how you deal with it is all up to you.

As someone who has been working on changing her life for the past year or so, I have a pretty good handle on what it means to me personally. I definitely have some first hand experience with change. I’m going through a lot of change myself. In fact, I’m enforcing it on myself these days, encouraging myself to change my life from a negative one to a positive one. As I’ve been changing myself and my life, I’ve learned a lot about change. I’ve not only been through a lot of changes, but I’ve learned a lot about it. As you probably know, change—even the good kind of change—isn’t always easy, but I’ve found that we all have the power to control how we react to change. Yes, we all have the power to interpret change in our own unique ways. And, more importantly, we all have the power to interpret change positively. Each of us has the power to see change—any type of change—as a glass half full. Here’s my three-step plan for optimizing change in your life.

 


Step 1: Accept What Is.

If you haven’t already read Bryon Katie’s Loving What Is, I would highly recommend that you do so before you dive into Step 1. The book does a much better job of explaining what I’m about to explain here (though I did make an attempt in the post “How to Love Your Life’s Path”). Basically, it goes like this: you have to accept whatever the situation is. You can’t move forward until you’ve accepted what is happening, difficult as that might be at times. If something has happened and you can’t stop it or alter it, you have to accept it. Okay, you don’t have to accept it, but it’s going to make your life a lot easier if you do. Good or bad, amazing or horrible, accept the change in your life for what it is. Try as best you can to leave your emotions out of it. Look at the situation objectively. Ask yourself, as if you are an outsider, “What’s going on here?” No matter what you feel, what you do, what you say, the change has happened or will happen. If you can’t change it (and, in life, there are many, many things that are out of our control), resisting what is—emotionally or otherwise—won’t do anything good for you or the situation. It only creates more pain and distress in your life. The only thing not accepting change will do for you is make the situation harder. In this first step, is important to think objectively and to keep an open mind. Whether you want it to happen or not, the change in your life is what it is. Things happen. Sometimes we’re thrilled. Sometimes we’re not. Whatever you do, do your best to accept the change. Accept things as they are and move on to Step 2.

 


Step 2:  Look for the Good.

Here’s where the glass-half-full philosophy really comes into play. Typically you will look at the bad in a situation (such as, “The theater was so crowded!”) or the good in a situation (such as, “I loved the movie!”) depending on what stands out to you most in a situation. Of course there are always shades of gray (such as, “The movie was great, but I hated how crowded the theater was.”), but when it comes to change, we usually have a very positive or very negative reaction. As humans, we want to label and define things so we describe them—to ourselves and to others (and sometimes differently to various people). So, go on, describe the situation you’re in. But here’s the catch—only describe the good things. Ask yourself, “What is good about this situation?” Think of all of the positive aspects this change in your life will bring you. Yes, even when a situation seems horrible, there are good things you can focus on. You can find the positive in anything. Look at the changed situation. What is good about it? What can you learn from the situation? What can you learn about yourself? Changing your attitude can change a lot. It’s not easy—I certainly know that first hand—but it’s possible. When you’re faced with change, look for the positive. It’s there. Sometimes you might have to look a little harder, dig a little deeper, but you will find it if you look.

 


Step 3: Stay in the Present.

As the author of Positively Present, I’m obviously pretty focused on staying in the moment. You’re probably wondering, “Why would I want to stay in the moment when it’s the change that’s causing me to feel emotionally unsettled?” Great question. When it’s the moment you’re in that’s bugging you, it’s tempting to think that focusing on the past or the future is a good idea, but it’s not. When I’m faced with change, I’m tempted to go back in my mind to the past or to think about the future. If I’m unsettled by change, I often find my mind wondering, “What could I have done differently?” or “What’s going to happen in the future?” Though these questions are interesting, they’re not necessarily helpful. For one, I cannot ever go back and redo or undo anything. For another, I have no idea what the future will hold and how the current change in my life will impact it. Thinking about the past or worrying about the future doesn’t really do anything (other than waste time). However, staying in the present can do a lot for you. If you’re focusing on the present moment, you can deal with the change as it is happening right now. Don’t worry about what might happen; live in the moment. Don’t wonder what could have been; live in the now. It’s not always easy to do, but it really does help to put everything in perspective and helps you to focus on the situation at hand. It’s not my advice to obsess about what’s happening to you, but I would advice focusing on it. Assessing the situation and understanding what you can do about it right now is one of the best ways to accept and interact with the change you’re facing.

 

As you all know, change can be a scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. No matter what kind of change I’ve encountered—and I’ve had some really great change and some really horrible change—I’ve learned from it. Change makes me a better person, even if I don’t always realize it at the time. Change can be interpreted any way you want to interpret it, but seeing change as a glass half full is the very best way to make the most of any situation.

 


How do you cope with change? Do you see it as a glass half full? 
Is it difficult to see the positive aspects of change? 


daydreaming: the do's and don'ts

"Everything starts as someone's daydream."

Larry Niven

 

I recently received a request from a reader asking that I write a post about how to stop daydreaming. When I first read the email, I thought to myself, "Why would you want to stop daydreaming?!" As someone who is usually on the go, living a fairly fast-paced life, daydreaming seems like a luxury, something I'd love to have more time to do. But, as I thought about it some more, I realized that, as fun as daydreaming sounds, maybe it's not really all that productive. It's, of course, important to have dreams and goals and ideas, but it's a lot more important to put them into action. In addition, if you're spending all your time daydreaming, you're not really living in the present.

However, as much as I try to live in the present moment, I still cannot deny that daydreams are a beautiful and much-needed element of life. Some do not have them or have them rarely. Some do not make the time for them that they should. And others, maybe like the author of the email requesting this post, spend too much time daydreaming. While I love the idea of living a life of daydreaming, I know that's not realistic (or healthy... or present-focused...). Perhaps it is because I've been unhappy with some elements of my own life lately that I feel the quick impulse to state that daydreaming is wonderful and that there couldn't be anything negative about it. Though I would love to spend hours of my day daydreaming, I know that's just not the way to live in the moment and I know that, in many ways, daydreams can be a waste of actual days.

Daydreaming has it's upsides -- after all, just take a look at the quote above! -- but it also has it's downsides too. Like most things, daydreaming in moderation can be wonderful and useful. It's like a fine wine or a sweet treat. A little bit can be fantastic, but too much can be a disaster (or, at the very least a hangover or a stomach ache). You don't want to get drunk on your dreams and then have to deal with the hangover, do you? I certainly don't... which is why I've come up with a list of daydreaming do's and don'ts. I want to spend more time daydreaming (sometimes I don't let myself have enough time to just get lost in thought), but I don't want to overdo it. So here are the rules I'm going to follow. Hopefully they'll help you out as well!


Daydreaming Do's

  • Do limit yourself to a specific amount of time. It can be very easy to let your mind wander forever once you get into a daydreaming zone, but it really helps not to overdo it if you limit yourself to a specific amount of time. Also, pick the right time of day (like not during work or school) to let your mind wander.

  • Do let yourself really enjoy them. When you're allowing yourself to daydream, you must really allow yourself to be in the moment and focus on those dreams. It becomes wasteful and pointless if you are constantly being distracted. Think of it as a form of meditation and really allow yourself to be present in your daytime dreaming.

  • Do try to make them productive in reality. Just because they're dreams doesn't mean that they can't become reality. Think about what you like to day dream about and see how you can turn those dreams into reality. Wherever your mind wanders naturally is probably something that's important to you so find a way to make those dreams real.

  • Do listen and learn from them. Dreams -- day or night -- have a purpose. They are there to tell us about ourselves and our lives. It can be tempting to just become absorbed in them and then let them fade when we come back to reality, but it's very important to really listen to what your daydreams are telling you.


Daydreaming Dont's

  • Don't allow yourself to get carried away. It can be very easy if you're a daydreamer to get carried away into the fantasy-filled world of your dreams. Daydreaming is alluring and it's important to keep yourself focused on the fact that you must, at some point, come back to reality.

  • Don't let anyone tell you they're worthless.Day dreams might seem, at times, like they're pointless. What might seem like something abstract and unobtainable can actually turn into something meaningful and purpose-driven. Don't let anyone tell you your dreams aren't worth anything because they truly are priceless.

  • Don't forget that reality is where dreams come true. Dreams are the foundation of great things, but in order to make great things happen, you have to remember that reality is where your dreams can come true. Don't forget to bring your dreams back to reality and see how you can use them in your life.

  • Don't believe they are better than your life. Dreams can be temptresses at times, leading us to believe that what they have is something better than what we already possess. It's essential when daydreaming to keep in mind that these are your dreams and it's up to you to make them realities.


Daydreaming too much can have it's consequences, but so can not daydreaming enough. As with most things, it's best to strike a balance between living in the moment and letting your mind wander aimlessly for hours. Now, so you can do a little daydreaming about daydreams, I'll leave you with this poem, "Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes, which, as I was contemplating the topic of dreaming over the weekend, I found printed on the inside of a menu at a local DC restaurant, Busboys and Poets:


What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like and sore --
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over --
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?