Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.
As I explained last month, the first step toward developing a positive outlook is realizing that negativity is not inevitable. You have the power to change your status quo! The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll be ready for the second step of your transformation into a positive person: actively developing your ability to be positive.
The Second Step: Shift Your Focus
When a negative thought creeps into your mind, instead of focusing on it, fixate instead on actions that can help you achieve a successful outcome. Learn how to ask the questions that can generate solutions. Remember, every action you take moves you either closer to—or farther from—your goal. So focus on the positive to keep moving in a positive direction.
Does that mean you should stick your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations? Of course not. Positive thinkers aren’t oblivious to the negatives of the world. They just approach those negatives with an outlook that makes it possible to overcome them productively.
Here’s a simple exercise (based on the work of development expert Debi Silber) to help you learn to focus on the positive. First, spend 30 seconds writing down all the negative things you can think of about yourself, your abilities, and your goals. Next, identify a few—say, two to four—that you want to change the most and write a positive version of each of them. Then come up with a statement that connects the two versions.
For example, for “I’ll never join the C-suite” you might write “I’m the CFO of my company.” The connection (what Silber calls “a bridge”) might be something like “Every day I am demonstrating my value to the organization” or “Maybe I can join the C-suite.” Focusing on the bridge and repeating it to yourself frequently throughout the day will, over time, help you shift from the negative to the positive—and be more likely to achieve your goals.
Stay on Track
It’s very likely (especially at the beginning) that your mind will wander back to Negative Land. When that happens, try a strategy that psychologists have been talking about since 1974 (and that people were probably using for years before that): rubber-band aversion therapy. That’s a fancy term for what can be summarized as “wear a rubber band on your wrist, and when you find yourself following a habit you want to break, snap the rubber band on your wrist to bring your attention back to where you want it to be.”
The rubber band works. Why? Remember, negative thinking is bad habit that you’re trying to change, and habits are mostly things that people do without actively thinking about them. Snapping a rubber band against your wrist “snaps” your attention back to the goal you want to achieve.
Another way to make the shift from negative to positive is to try to remove negative influences in your life. After all, style experts urge people to purge their closets annually of stuff they haven’t worn (and which doesn’t bring them happiness) for a long time, right? And last year organization expert Marie Kondo persuaded people all over the world to declutter their lives by getting rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy.”
Similarly, think about the people in your life and how they influence you. Are your social media circles full of negative naysayers who bring you down? Maybe it’s time to stop giving them your attention. (I can tell you from personal experience that trimming my “friends” lists on social media—removing the people who don’t bring positive influences to my life—can have life-altering beneficial consequences!)
And what about your “real world” friends—the ones you see in person and spend the most time with? Are you they helping you become who you want to be, or are they hindering your progress instead? As you think about the people whose negativity might be undermining your positivity and the achievement of your hopes and dreams, take some time to figure out both the pros and cons of each friendship. Most importantly, ask yourself, “Can I be myself with this person?”
If you find that the relationship has more shortcomings than benefits—and if you don’t think it’s possible to improve this relationship—then perhaps it’s time to start limiting your interactions with that person.
2018: The Year of Positive Thinking
Make 2018 the year in which you dump the negative and embrace the positive.
“Change your thoughts, and you’ll change your world,” wrote Norman Vincent Peale.
Making this change is even easier than you think! So what are you waiting for?
 Max Mastellone. 1974. “Aversion Therapy: A New Use for the Old Rubber Band.” Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 5(3–4), 311–312.