Positive thinking can impact every area of your life, from how you view yourself to your relationship with others. But like many other people, you probably already know this.
Still, it is common to catch yourself being negative. I do too! We all do. While this is not something to be proud of, we can’t deny it.
Thankfully, we can do something constructive about it, and that’s why I’ve compiled a list of positive thinking exercises that can help you get back on track when your mind goes wandering in unhelpful directions.
By the way, if you’ve not yet done so, I invite you to take the positivity quiz to find out your positivity score covering the various areas of your life, including life and work, health and wellbeing, self-esteem, and relationships.
These exercises are not merely about “looking on the bright side.” I understand that some things cannot be sugarcoated, and it is okay to feel sad in some situations – it shows you are human and have a stable sense of wellbeing.
But you don’t want to ruin your entire week or life by wallowing in negativity, right? This is why it is important to know when your negative emotions are based on cognitive distortions rather than facts.
The following positive thinking exercises will help shift your perspective to be more optimistic and, in turn, help you handle whatever your day and week throw at you.
1. Mirror Exercise
Start your day on the right footing by complimenting yourself in front of the mirror. Take a look at your reflection and say nice things about yourself.
Here’s the thing. If you don’t love yourself, others will find it difficult to love you. And you’ll likely have a tough time getting through your days and weeks without feeling bad about just about everything.
Each time you walk by a mirror, pause and compliment yourself throughout the day. It doesn’t matter if you say the same nice things about yourself more than 10 times a day – just say something amazing about yourself.
But remember to mean what you say! Fake praises and empty words won’t impact you because you can’t fool yourself. This is one area where “fake it until you make it” won’t work.
2. The “However” Exercise
If you’re like most people, you’ll have heard the advice “banish negative thoughts” many times. But negative thoughts are part of what makes you human, and denying them is nothing but a head-in-the-clouds approach.
A more practical approach is to catch yourself in the middle of negative thoughts and quickly look for the opposite of that thought. This breaks the negativity cycle and allows you to see the good in seemingly negative situations.
Here’s how to use this exercise. When you catch yourself thinking something unhelpful, pause and say to yourself, “However…,” and chip in something positive.
For example, if you find yourself complaining about the poor working conditions in your job, stop and say something like, “However, I’m grateful for having a job.”
Back in the 12 century, the Persian poet Saadi Shirazi wrote something that perfectly exemplifies the message of this exercise. He wrote:
“When my feet were bare, and I had not the means of obtaining shoes. I came to the chief of Kufah in a state of much dejection and saw there a man who had no feet. I returned thanks to God and acknowledged his mercies, and endured my want of shoes with patience.”
By the way, you can use other phrases like “on the other hand” for this positive thinking exercise.
3. Thumbs Up Everyone
Usually, I’ll suggest high-fiving everyone that comes your way, but it might not be possible in a social distancing era. Still, you can give the thumbs up to as many people as possible.
Giving the thumbs up is quick and doesn’t cost anything, yet it is a good way to maintain your positivity. Plus, it is fun!
Hardly will you see any disagreeably pessimistic persons giving the thumbs up, let alone high fives. If you feel overwhelmed by pessimistic thoughts, go ahead and give thumbs up to everyone that comes your way!
Your day could be going very terribly, but heartily connecting with others around you – strangers included – can shift your focus from negativity to all the blessings communicated through a simple smile.
4. Write In Your Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is a commonly used positive thinking exercise for a reason. Consistently making journal entries of the things you’ve got going for you is an effective way to train your focus on positivity.
Every day before you go to bed, take some moments to think about the amazing things about the people you met in the day. What good things happened today? Who made you smile? What gifts or opportunities did you receive?
Reflect on these things and write what you’re grateful for in your gratitude journal. How does this help you get through the week? You will eventually carry this positivity into your day-to-day activities.
5. Forgive Yourself and Everyone
The day could be Friday, but you’re stuck in the past Monday because you are holding on to a piece of something negative that belongs to Monday.
You can’t change the past; you can only learn from it.
If something less than pleasant happened during the day, forgive yourself and everyone involved in the situation, and move on quickly. You don’t want to carry over any baggage to the next day because it will just weigh you down.
This is one of the most difficult positive thinking exercises to practice, yet we must learn to accept the past and move on if we want to live upbeat lives.
6. Reappraise Unpleasant Situations
We can’t completely prevent unpleasant things from happening during the week, no matter how hard we try. But we can respond to unpleasant situations differently. Responding positively to a seemingly negative situation starts by first reframing the situation – something psychologists call cognitive reappraisal.
The basic idea behind cognitive reappraisal is to change the way you think about situations that can potentially bring negative emotions, and in doing so, you change your response.
But don’t approach red-hot topics with this exercise – not just yet. If you’ve not done this before, you’ll likely have a tough time thinking differently about potentially emotion-eliciting situations.
Here’s what I suggest.
Start with situations where you are not directly involved. For example, watch a TV show or movie or try to recall one of your favorite movies. Look for negative situations in the movie, and once you find one, go ahead and put a positive spin on it.
What advice would you give the characters in unpleasant situations to make them feel better? What good things can you find in difficult situations in the movie?
Do this several times before gradually applying the strategy in your life. When your day or week seems to be going out of control, think of ways to put a positive spin on the not-so-pleasant situations.
Cognitive reappraisal or putting a spin on seemingly negative events doesn’t change the situation. However, it helps you see that things may not be as bad as you initially thought.
7. The Box Breathing Exercise
Meditation is one of my favorite spiritual practices, but my circumstances may not allow meditation when things get overwhelming. At such times, I use breathing exercises to refocus. After all, we breathe all day and don’t need any special place or position to breathe, right?
Box breathing or four-square breathing is easy. When negativity starts to take over your mind, simply close your eyes and pay attention to your breaths while you do the following:
- Breathe in for a count of four seconds
- Hold the air in your lungs for four seconds
- Breathe out for a count of four seconds
- Hold your lungs empty for four seconds
Repeat the process a few times, and you should start to feel some sense of relief, allowing you to think more clearly.
8. Affirmation Exercise
Repeating affirmations can instantly put you into a positive mindset. The good thing about this exercise is that you can do it just about anywhere and at any time.
You can say affirmations even before you get out of bed in the morning. This can set the tone for your day.
You can practice this exercise during the day. It is a great way to increase positive self-talk and reduce negative self-talk.
What about at night? Of course, you can repeat affirmations before you sleep. Check out this collection of positive thinking nighttime affirmations.
9. The Happy Props Exercise
Laughter is indeed the best medicine – both science and religion agree on this.
A hearty laugh improves your resistance to disease by strengthening immunity and decreasing stress hormones. In a nutshell, it reduces negativity.
Leverage this knowledge by keeping a handful of happy props nearby at all times. Whenever negativity creeps in, simply pull a happy prop and get a hearty laugh. This will help dissolve the negativity, improve your mood, and lift your spirit.
Your happy prop could be a collection of hilarious quotes, comical photos, or funny clips. Whatever you prefer, make sure to have them handy (like on your phone) so that you can easily access them.
10. The “Best Possible Future” Exercise
Do you enjoy writing? This exercise allows you to sharpen your writing skills while also increasing positive emotions in the present moment and strengthening your positive thinking muscles for the long term.
Here’s how it works: set aside 15 minutes or more to imagine and write about your best possible future. You don’t have to think too long into the future. Something about the coming week is more than enough.
Piece words together beautiful words about the week and all the things that could go right. Keep in mind that you’re not trying to force anything to happen with this exercise. You’re simply trying to increase your optimism by conjuring the best possible future for yourself.
Visualization isn’t only about things you want to happen in the long term. You can visualize how you want your day to go or crucial parts of your week.
For example, if you have an interview coming up within the week or an important meeting with a client during the day, you can visualize the outcome of these events.
See the outcome the way you want it on the screen of your mind. Make it vivid and feel as though it has already happened. Doing this puts you in the right frame of mind to actualize what you want.
12. Find Three Good Things
Like the gratitude journal exercise, this is one of the positive thinking exercises that can train your focus and shift your perspective to be more optimistic.
You can choose to write down what you think, but that’s not necessary for this exercise. All you need to do is spend a few minutes every night reviewing the day until you can find three good things that happened.
Consistently focusing on the good things in your day can increase your happiness level both in the short and long term.
Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a night. It might not be feasible to practice this exercise (or any of the other ones on this list) every single night or day. The most important thing is to do it regularly to get the benefits.
These positive thinking exercises might appear too simple, but they can get you through your day and week without drowning in negativity. Of course, you don’t have to do every exercise on this – at least not every day, even if that’s practical for you. I suggest you add just a few of them into your daily routine. Just make sure you go with those that perfectly resonate with you.
These exercises will help you develop and maintain a more positive attitude, regardless of what happens to you throughout the week.