What do Oprah, the Dalai Lama, and Tony Robbins have in common aside from their ability to move mountains with their words? They all live and die by one simple principle: “That which you focus on, expands.” Despite personal challenges like poverty, abuse, and exile, these three thought leaders put all of their chips on positivity and the payoffs have been nothing short of miraculous.
Don’t worry. I’m not saying you have to be Oprah to feel good about your life. Most of us, including me, are only a quarter-part Oprah trying to land somewhere in between #fml and #goals status. Yes I’m almost 40 and still using hashtags. And?
Making positivity your religion is easier said than done. As a therapist, I can’t tell you how often it annoys clients to hear me say “just think positively.” They nod in compliance, but are really thinking “What does that mean exactly?”
It means embracing the alternative perspective. Stepping for a moment outside of your reality into the shoes of someone else. It means channeling the power, energy and insight that helped someone else make it through, because maybe you’re just not strong enough in the moment to rely on your own. Oprah called upon the wisdom of Maya Angelou and Marianne Williamson to keep her strong. She wasn’t born with an unstoppable spirit. She groomed it overtime by filling her mind with stories deeply rooted in triumph and forgiveness.
Nicholas Kristof’s book Half the Sky helped to ground my perspective. It chronicles the lives of extraordinary women from around the globe who rise from the rubble of life-threatening conditions daily. Marginalized, lowly women who persist and go on to become leaders, activists, and heroes in their community. I think of my own life as a single parent of two kids. Yes, it’s hard at times. But then I call upon the voices of women warriors around the globe and suddenly, moving through divorce and exhaustion from going it alone, suddenly becomes a little more tolerable. I get back in my lane, and push on with a positive outlook.
For those of us still skeptical of the whole “positive thinking” concept, here are three tangible practices for maintaining positivity in your life:
1. Call upon your women warriors. Are there women in your life who you greatly respect? Mothers, grandmothers, writers, etc.? On your toughest days, imagine sitting down with these women and soaking up their advice, their stories. What might you learn that could help shift your perspective? Close your eyes and really hear them. And if at all possible, pick up the phone or schedule a monthly chat with them.
2. Another very tangible practice that I’ve built into my week consists of a what I call a Love Box. My Love Box sits on my nightstand next to my bed. Every week I put something in it that represents all that I love in life (pictures of my kids, concert tickets, quotes, plastic wrappings of fancy cheese). These relics of joy keep me grateful and focused on things that are going well. You can make your very own Love Box or pick one up at your nearest craft store. This is also a fun exercise to do with kids.
3. Use a framework for challenging distorted thinking. I use Martin Seligman’s 3 “P’s” framework. Martin Seligman says that our ability to bounce back from life’s challenges depends on whether we see our problems as permanent, pervasive, and personal. Take whatever is bothering you and ask yourself:
>>Is this situation permanent? Let’s take a bad break-up for example. A distorted response would be, “Something is wrong with me and I know I’m going to be single forever.” A fact-based response might be “This relationship didn’t work because we were incompatible, but I know there’s someone right for me out there.”
>>Is this pervasive? Let’s take problems at work for example. A distorted response would be “Everyone at this job is fake, I need to get out of here.” A fact-based response would be, “My job provides for my needs right now. I can branch out and get to know other people until I’m able to move on.” Making generalizations from one bad experience to the whole leaves you feeling hopeless and stuck. Find motivation to change your situation by keeping an open mind.
>>Is this personal? Ever experience a divorce in your family and think it’s your fault? Accepting blame for situations you had no part in makes it difficult to view life with a positive outlook. We’ve gotta let go of guilt, before positivity can even take root in our lives.
Start building a more positive outlook by trying just one of these practices. Setting daily intentional practices can pack as much potency as any pill on the market.