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Blog Short #188: 8 Powerful Positive Thinking Hacks for Overcoming Obstacles

Photo by Yolya, Courtesy of iStock Photo

When life throws you wicked curve balls, positive thinking may sound like the last thing you want to pursue. More likely, you want to vent, rant, cry, or make an escape.

And if things are really bad, hearing someone say, “Don’t worry, it’ll all work out!” doesn’t help either. It probably makes you mad.

You know there’s a but coming, right? And here it is:

Positive thinking is not pretending that what you’re experiencing is not happening. It’s also not a means of trying to suppress your negative emotions. It’s an effective method of helping you regulate your emotions as you work through a difficult situation.

Today, I’ve got eight positive thinking hacks you can use to help you get through a trying time and achieve the best possible outcomes.

1. Reframe it.

How you frame a situation in your mind significantly impacts how you will experience and respond to it.

An optimist or positive thinker handles it this way:

  1. Allow yourself some time to work through your negative feelings about the situation, but not for an extended period.
  2. Accept the situation as it is and look for any positive aspects that could be useful.
  3. Create a narrative that includes possible solutions or actions you can take, as well as outcomes that will be beneficial.

A pessimist:

  1. Inflates the negative aspects of the situation by ruminating and catastrophizing.
  2. Resists accepting the situation and gets lost in complaining and venting.
  3. Creates a narrative that includes blaming themselves or someone else, which prevents them from taking action and engaging in problem-solving.

Positive thinking is both an attitude and an approach. You look for the silver linings, but with your eyes open; not like Pollyanna, but also not apocalyptic.

2. Focus on what you can control and what actions you can take now.

Positive thinking requires being realistic while assessing all the options you can use to handle the situation successfully.

Distinguish between what you can and can’t control. Positive thinkers are problem-solvers. They look for actions they can take rather than spend time lamenting about what can’t be done.

Once you’ve reframed the situation and are clear about what you can do, do it. Taking action reduces feelings of helplessness.

If the situation is super overwhelming, then take small single actions and complete them. As you do that, you’ll see what you can do next and keep going. It’s like riding waves: Stay steady on the surfboard, but pivot as the water shifts under you. Eventually, you’ll come ashore.

3. Watch your self-talk.

Self-talk is either a friend or foe, and too often, it’s a foe, especially if you:

  • Tend to criticize yourself against some perfect image you’ve constructed of who you “should” be and
  • Have a strong need for others’ approval.

Positive thinking requires having some faith in your intuitive and perceptual abilities to handle problems that come along. That doesn’t mean you don’t have emotional ups and downs, but it means talking to yourself kindly and encouraging yourself to do your best with what you’ve got to work with.

Setbacks are normal and to be expected, but use them to make corrections when needed without self-recrimination.

You can handle more than you think. We all can. Keep that mantra going in your head, and tell your inner voice to be a cheerleader, not a Debbie Downer.

4. Stay present.

When you feel yourself succumbing to anxiety or overwhelm, use breathing and grounding to help re-establish your emotional equilibrium.

Square breathing is the easiest and quickest way to calm your body and mind.

Inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale to a count of four. Do the whole sequence four times. Be sure to breathe in slowly through your belly. It also helps to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

Grounding is another technique that some people swear by to relieve anxiety.

A simple grounding exercise is called the 333 Rule for Anxiety. You name three things you can see in your immediate environment. Describe them to yourself. Now, name three sounds you can hear as you sit quietly and listen. Last, select three body parts and move them deliberately and slowly.

Using this technique pulls your mind away from fretting and re-centers you.

5. Identify and write down any positive outcomes or features of the current situation.

These are the silver linings we mentioned above. Positive thinkers always include this in their process because it strengthens and maintains a can-do mindset.

You keep your focus on what’s possible, and that creates momentum and energy. You don’t remove painful experiences or emotions, but you’re able to integrate them into movement forward rather than sinking into inertia and depression.

Writing crystallizes and clarifies. It also gives you some emotional space from your feelings.

6. Use humor as a relief valve.

When possible and appropriate, use humor to lighten up your load.

There was a movie called The Lion in Winter about Henry II and his estranged wife. In one scene, Henry and his wife had a horrific knock-down, drag-out fight. After it was over, Henry was lying across the stairs, completely emotionally spent. He looked up, lifted his eyebrows, and said, “Every family has its ups and downs.”

It was so ridiculous and funny because of its absurdity! Humor can be a very effective relief valve for tension.

7. Remind yourself that what’s happening now is time-limited.

When you feel immersed in something, it’s all that exists right now. It can feel endless, but it’s not. Do some future scoping and remind yourself that eventually, you’ll resolve the situation and be out of it.

Time has healing power, and keeping that in mind helps when you’re in a challenging situation.

8. Surround yourself with positive, empathetic people.

The company you keep has a powerful effect on how you feel, act, and perceive what happens around you.

Last week, I explained neural entrainment, which occurs when people click or spend time together. Our brains and bodies mimic each other, which means our emotions are contagious on a neural and biological basis.

The concept of mirror neurons also verifies that the more time you spend with someone, the more you take on their characteristics, language, ideas, and behavior.

Seek out people who are empathetic, supportive, and have a can-do attitude. Not an enabler, but someone who will help keep you straight.

You’ll find it easier to adopt those characteristics when those around you mirror them. The opposite is also true.

If you spend most of your time around pessimistic, negative, or otherwise toxic people, you will be duly affected by them, too.

What About Toxic Positivity?

There is such a thing as toxic positivity, which is different from what we’ve been talking about. Unlike true optimism, toxic positivity involves ignoring and avoiding issues that require attention. It’s like smoking cigarettes daily for years and saying, “No worries—I’ve got a great immune system! Everything will be fine!”

Toxic positivity is glossing over problems and pretending things will turn out well. “I think it, so it must be true.”

This is not optimism or positive thinking – it’s denial, and it’s dangerous.

The best approach is realistic optimism. Some people call it skeptical optimism, but I think realistic optimism is a better option because it means paying attention to what is and then using a positive, energized approach to deal with it.

That’s how to use positive thinking the right way.

If you’re interested in more information about positive thinking and some of the research behind it, I’ve listed several more articles below you might like to read.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week, as always!

All my best,


Suggested Reading:

The Power of Positive Thinking by Kendra Cherry, MSEd
How Positive Thinking Builds Your Skills, Boosts Your Health, and Improves Your Work by James Clear

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