Note from Scott: Leo Babauta, head writer of Zen Habits, has offered to provide a guest post while I’m recovering. Check out Zen Habits  for more great articles like this one. Or read the other popular articles he’s written for this website, Do Less to Be More Productive  and 20 Procrastination Hacks .
Photo courtesy of Lin_Pernille 
I was talking to two friends recently, both of whom have life issues to tackle (like any of us don’t!). The first friend kept telling me how bad everything is, and especially how bad he is at everything. The second friend would tell me her problem, but also talk about how she was sure she could do it, and pointed to her past successes.
The difference between these two friends is night and day, and it revolves around their attitude.
The first friend has a negative attitude and a negative self-image, and will have a much harder time solving his issues. The second friend has a positive attitude, sees the positive in everything, and has a very positive self-image, and I have no doubt she’ll succeed.
Today we’ll take a look at why a positive attitude can be the key difference in whatever you do, and how to develop a more positive attitude to ensure the greatest likelihood of success.
Why a Positive Attitude is So Darn Important
Those who don’t have a positive attitude don’t realize the incredible difference that it can make. They roll their eyes, very often, and think that “the power of positive thinking” is just a bunch of gibberish. I know, because I was one of them.
But then I started running, and the importance of positive thinking soon became clear to me. On days when I gave in to negative thoughts, and told myself that I wasn’t having any fun, and told myself that I wanted to quit … those were the days when I would give up early instead of completing a run, and when running would be pure torture. However, on the days when I turned those negative thoughts on their head, and saw the positive aspects of running, and didn’t allow negative thoughts to flourish … those are the days when I’d have a great run, full of joy, never giving up.
Run after run, the importance of positive thinking was pounded into me, until it became a part of me.
Positive thinking and a positive attitude (there’s a subtle difference, but they’re inextricably linked in my mind) are not just some “success coach” gibberish that you read about in books. They’re the tools you need to do anything in life, to change your life, to even enjoy life to its fullest.
It changes how you interact with people, and that in itself is huge. If people perceive you as a negative person, they tend to get tired of dealing with you after awhile. But if you’re a positive person, you come off in a more positive light, and you’re a joy to talk to and work with and be with.
It will determine whether you reach your goals or not. Like I said with running, thinking negative thoughts means you’re more likely to give up. But if you use positive thinking, you won’t quit, and will do the things required to make something happen.
But I Can’t Change My Thinking!
I hear this from many people who believe that they are the way they are, and there’s no way to change that. However, the statement “I can’t change my thinking” is a great example of negative thinking. If you think you can’t do it, you won’t. If you think you can, you will — and I have, and so have many others.
It starts with an awareness of your thinking. You can’t change something if you’re not aware of it. So start simply by monitoring your thoughts — and decide whether those thoughts are negative or positive. You can often tell by also monitoring the feelings inside you, and whether those feelings are negative or positive. For example, when I start thinking thoughts like, “I don’t wanna do this anymore — it’s too hard!” I also start dreading the activity and feeling bad about it. But when I change that thought to, “I can do this! I’ve done it before! And running can be lots of fun.” … then I start to enjoy the running more, and I can lift my spirits up just by changing my thinking.
Once you’re more aware of your thoughts, try changing them. It’s simply a matter of stopping a negative thought, and replacing it with a more positive thought. Repeating a mantra works well (“I can do this!”, for example) — if you repeat it enough, you start to believe it, and it affects everything you do.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes practice, like anything else. You won’t be good at it at first. But take it in small steps, and you can do it. What follows are some way to practice and get better at positive thinking.
Practices to Develop a Positive Attitude
Each of these practices are just a variation of positive thinking and a positive attitude, but from slightly different angles. They give you an opportunity to practice your skills throughout the day — and the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and the more benefits you’ll see.
- Squash negative thoughts. After I learned to monitor my positive and negative thoughts, I started to envision a negative thought as a bug … and then I’d squash it! “I can’t do this!” SQUASH! Then I’d replace that negative thought with a positive one: “I CAN do this!”
- Mantras. Anticipate your difficult situations and think of a positive mantra for that situation. Then, when things get tough, repeat the mantra over and over. For example, when I want to develop patience and learn to be in the moment, I just repeat advice from Thich Nhat Hanh : “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” It works!
- See the good in any situation. You’ve heard the phrase, “Every cloud has a silver lining” … and that’s pretty true. Try to see the positive side to any situation, and you’ll enjoy it more, and you’ll feel better. Even tough situations have good sides: When something is difficult, see it as a challenge, as a way to learn and grow and get better and stronger. When there is a loss, see it as a reminder of what is important to you, of a way to cherish what has been lost, as a way to move on to something new, as a way to learn and grow.
- Enjoy small pleasures. Every activity has small things that can be pleasurable if you pay attention to them and learn to enjoy them. A difficult day at the office can also be a time for you and others to come together — enjoy those moments with others. Running can be fun for its physical pleasure, for the beauty of the nature around you, for the peaceful time of meditation. Cleaning house can also be a time for meditation, and the pleasure of a clean room or laundered bedsheets cannot be overstated. Notice the small things and take pleasure in them, and any activity can be positive.
- See the good in yourself. This is very important, because if you are negative about yourself, that affects whether you believe you can do something. If you think you’re an undisciplined person, you’ll have sloppy habits. If you think you’re lazy, you won’t work hard. If you think you’re dumb, you won’t try to learn. Instead, think positive thoughts about yourself. Try to see your strengths, see the good things you’ve done, see the silver lining in anything about yourself.
- See the good in others. Similarly, every person has good in them — and if you look for their strengths and the good things they’ve done, you will be more positive in dealing with other people. This will result in people treating you better, and you’ll feel better as well.
- Positive imaging. This is a tried-and-true method that has been tested on athletes — and has worked well for all kinds of non-athletes too. Visualize your success, or a positive image of yourself or any situation or activity. Visualize it in great detail, and allow yourself to feel positive things about this image. Then make the image come true.
- Anticipate fun. Go into a situation or activity thinking it’ll be horrible, and it will be. Instead, go into that situation or activity thinking that you’ll have fun, that it’ll be a new challenge, that you’ll learn and grow from it … and it will be much more likely to be true.
Read more from Leo Babauta at his blog, Zen Habits .