It happens in a split second. Everything is going fine. You feel competent, positive and in control.
Then, you get triggered. Suddenly, you find your thoughts spiraling down into negativity, gloom and burning anger.
Everything changes. You can't see a way out. You suddenly feel powerless.
Suddenly, it feels as if you may never claw yourself back up to the light. Thankfully, research shows specific mental techniques that can break that downward spiral and refocus your attention on positive, constructive thoughts and actions.
Action follows thought. As the great philosopher William James has said, “Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
Here are eight ways to kickstart positive cycles of thinking, so that you can create a positive life.
1. Seek out alternative interpretations and meanings.
Things happen. The stories we make up about them are a choice, however. They're always partial interpretations anyway.
Hold off on your final assessments of events being unmitigated catastrophes by seeking out not only the good in them, but also alternative interpretations.
2. Seek the good stuff.
Life may throw you in a pit now and then. But if you look carefully, you may discover a vein of gold in the dirt walls around you. There's a reason the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as that of opportunity.
That heartbreaking breakup may seem like the end of the world to you right now, but it opens the doors for you to discover someone who will actually love you for who you are. Getting fired can be that window to starting the business you've been dreaming about.
When life knocks us down, it breaks our habits and habitual thinking. It brings us back to our essence, and to what matters the most. Use these crises to discover the core of what you love in your life.
A simple way to create positive feelings in your body is by smiling. Now, I don't mean a polite smile with no feeling behind it. I mean a smile where the corners of your eyes crinkle slightly and your lips curl upward.
Studies show that the physical act of smiling will trick your brain into thinking you're actually happy. As a result, this releases dopamine and other happy hormones. The mind follows the body.
4. Get creative.
“We're happiest when we're being creative.”
Creativity engages the brain. While immersing yourself in work can really help you avoid facing a problem, it can also be a way to break any thoughts that appear in your head. This is especially true when you enjoy the work itself.
Focus and accomplishment can help restore your sense of control, confidence, purpose and self-esteem. As Dr. Jonathan Haidt of "The Happiness Hypothesis" reminds us, both “love and work are to people what water and sunshine are to plants.”
You'll notice that once you start getting into the zone of creative work, you can't help but start feeling positive energy rising within you.
5. Read autobiographies.
When I'm down, I'll read a biography.
This might sound strange, but when I read stories of the struggle, setback and triumph people I admire have experienced, I get energized. My own obstacles seem smaller and surmountable.
We all get stuck in our own lives, and we lose perspective. But when we see how Steve Jobs came back from exile to create the world's biggest company, how Howard Schultz built Starbucks with a vision to create a “third space” for people and how leaders came back from bankruptcy, illnesses and isolation, we naturally feel, “Hell, if they can do it, so can I.”
We see the power of resilience, perseverance and determination. We see that we have those qualities, too. This boosts our mood.
6. Savor your good.
We all get down on ourselves sometimes. We linger on the things we've done wrong, what we've lost or any perceived failure we have of ourselves.
All of that helps nothing. As psychologist Dr.Nathaniel Lambert says, simply “discussing positive experiences leads to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction and even more energy.”
So, to counteract this slough of despondence, try the following exercise. It will help remind you of your goodness, and the various blessings you have in your life.
Sit down with a friend and ask him or her to do an exercise with you without judgment. Out loud, remember all the kind deeds you've done throughout your life. Have your friend just nod and say, “Nice” after each one.
He or she is not allowed to say anything else. Also tell that friend all the compliments you've received, and your 10 happiest experiences. Describe how you felt when someone came up to you and expressed his or her thanks because you made a positive impact on his or her life.
But as you go through this list, rest for a moment between each point. Make sure you feel the same way you did when you actually went through these experiences.
You're a good person. You just need to be reminded of this fact now and then. In your darkest moments, these reminders can turn everything around.
7. Do something nice for someone.
This one is intuitive. As Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology has reported, “Performing kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.”
Buy someone a gift. Do someone a favor. Call someone who's lonely. Volunteer at a shelter. Offer to take someone out for dinner.
This simple action breaks the downward spiral and reverses it.
8. Create a morning routine.
Start your positive momentum from the very moment you wake up.
Your mornings are sacred. They set the tone for how your entire day will progress. This is why it's so important and useful for you to create your own morning routine that will support a positive mindset.
Write down five things you're grateful for every day. Sing your favorite song. Put on your baddest dance music, and move your body with joy.
Say “I love you” to the people in your life. Exercise. Smell coffee. Smell flowers. Rejoice in the fact that you have yet another day to live. Do all of this before you get to work or start answering emails.
These simple actions prime your brain into a creative, resourceful and joyous state. Your radiance will affect others, and they will reflect your joy right back to you. The virtuous cycle begins.
Then, you can use all the above exercises to keep the good vibes going.