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Developing a Positive Outlook

Updated: May 23, 2023

It can be challenging to develop a positive outlook. Real life stressors and challenges can make it hard to focus on what is good even in difficult situations. Here are a few of the areas I look at to help pinpoint obstacles that prevent a positive outlook.

July 8th there will be an in person event in Toronto to cover these issues in more detail. Learn more here.

What prevents you from developing a positive outlook?

Expectations You can recognize your expectations through

Thoughts or Words • Should • Must • Ought • Have to

Emotions • Guilt • Anger • Frustration

Clinging to Assumptions

If you assume that you are a victim of your circumstances, then you will struggle to develop a positive outlook.

• Someone can have a poor outlook when things are going well. ☹

• Someone can have a positive outlook and thrive even when things are going poorly.

Making the most of things by focusing on what’s within your control can help with developing a positive outlook.

Have you ever asked:

How much of my suffering comes from my perspective?

What would change how I feel about my circumstances?

Recognizing your threshold for offense

Recognizing what causes you to feel offended can reveal insight about your outlook.

Ask yourself:

• What causes you to feel offended?

• Do you get offended even when someone has good intentions?

• If someone says the wrong thing does it cause anger?

• Do you get offended when receiving feedback?

• Do you get offended by body language?

• How intense are my feelings of offense?

• Do others think I should be offended by this?

• Do I ignore positives?

• Do you get offended at everything?

Considering what causes you to feel offended can help you assess your values, determine when boundaries are needed or when it’s better to let something go.

Different context can also determine whether or not something is offensive. Words like sweetie can be a term of endearment, but in some contexts to may feel condescending or demeaning.

If you have trouble forgiving yourself or others you may find the DIY Workbooks by Worthington helpful.

Difficulty managing stress

• Low frustration tolerance

Liz Millican (IncreMental Health Tips) has a series on getting along with difficult people.

Understanding Difficult People (Episode 36)

Working with Difficult People (Episode 37)

4 Tips for Dealing with Emotional People (Episode 38)

Tips for working with Manipulative People (Episode 39)

Tips for managing Controlling People (Episode 40)

• Lack of self-care habits

Sensory, Pleasure, Mental/Mastery, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, and Social

• Refusal to challenge negative thoughts

Clean vs. Dirty Pain by Therapy in a Nutshell

• Allowing stress to build instead of routinely releasing it

Our brain and body can cause feelings of anxiety when they perceive a threat. In response to danger our brain tries to protect us from initiating a fight/flight/freeze response. When we engage in one of the 3 f’s then our brain thinks it has protected us from a threat to our life and is likely to cause us to feel anxious the next time the “threat” is detected. If your current situation isn’t life threatening then it can help to relieve anxiety by reminding yourself that you are safe and taking some deep breathes to calm your body and allow those anxious feelings to pass.

Shifting Towards Positive Thinking

What would help you:

◦ Let go of expectations

◦ Is it worth the energy to be offended?

◦ Develop resilience

◦ Consider positive alternatives

Locus of Control

Your locus of control relates to your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Other people’s thoughts emotions and actions are not within your control. Focusing on what’s within your control can help with developing a positive outlook.

Positive Thinking has Limitations

In situations where someone has an addiction problem or becomes violent when angry, we can have hope for their recovery, but accountability and help is needed to teach them the skills they need to take ownership over their behaviour.

How can I give the benefit of the doubt for…? (violent, dismissive, forgetful, addictive)

And when do I need to set boundaries?

Developing Grit

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth discusses the importance of putting in effort to develop skill, then putting in effort to pursue the desired outcome.

She also encourages people to consider their goals. A helpful exercise can be to write out 25 or your (professional) goals. Then circle your top 5. See if there are any themes that connect these 5 goals into a life/long-term goal. Then consider what short-term goals would help you in pursuing your top 5 goals and ignore your other goals because they will distract you from what you want. You can also develop different goal sets for your personal life that differ from your professional life.

Find the humor in your situation

Laughter has health benefits:

◦ Releases endorphins

◦ Relieves stress and tension

◦ Boosts the immune system

◦ Can relieve physical pain

◦ Improved mood

◦ And more!

Find reasons to laugh:

◦ Finding humor in the unbearable can make it tolerable.

◦ Watching a comedy can improve mood

◦ Your body doesn’t know the difference between forced laughter and finding something funny. Forcing yourself to laugh can help release the same endorphins as genuine laughter and help improve your mood.

Self Compassion

Considering things like how you would respond to a friend in the same situation can help you realize when you’re being harsh with yourself.

For more exercises to improve your self-compassion visit

Recognizing labels

“I am…” Sad, A failure, Angry, Competent, Punctual

Don’t use feelings as a label. “I feel emotions” instead of “I am emotions.”

Define the term – What does it mean to be lazy?

How broad is the definition?

How many people does this definition apply to?

Separate yourself from the behaviour.

“I failed the test.” instead of “I am a failure.”

Challenging the Inner Critic

“your self-critical voice is so common for you that you don’t even notice when it is present”

Increase your awareness of your thoughts – writing them down can help.

Speak to your inner critic “I know you’re worried about me and feel unsafe, but you are causing me unnecessary pain. Could you let my inner compassionate self say a few words now?”

What would a compassionate person say to you? “Darling, I know you ate that bag of cookies because you’re feeling really sad right now and you thought it would cheer you up. But you feel even worse and are not feeling good in your body. I want you to be happy, so why don’t you take a long walk so you feel better?”

Avoid speaking critically (to others and yourself)

You can encourage change without criticism by:

• Focus on complimenting positive change

• Understand other perspectives

• Brainstorm options

• Research what facilitates the results you want

Try the Zero Negativity Challenge

Authors of “Getting the Love you want” HARVILLE HENDRIX, PH.D. AND HELEN LAKELLY HUNT, PH.D.

From the “Zero Negativity Challenge for Couples”

Negativity is any thought, word, or deed that tells your partner: “You’re not okay when you think what you think or act the way that you act.”

“When people tell us how hard it is to stop being negative, we remind them it’s like first learning to ski. We can’t imagine going down the slope with our feet turned inward. When we ask, “Why?” the instructor answers, “So you won’t die.” It’s the same answer for eliminating negativity. You have to learn how to stop, or your relationship will die.”

Providing 3 positive affirmations

“Each positive statement had to be unique and specific, and we couldn’t repeat anything we had said before. A hidden benefit of this rule was that we discovered many wonderful things about each other that we had been overlooking when we were upset.”

Thankfulness and Appreciation

Helps you focus on the positives of what’s good right now instead of what could be improved.

Appreciation can soften unwanted/unexpected feedback


Distinguish between what you can take action on and what you can’t take action on

Identify and challenge your inner critic

Put a positive spin on it

Think the best about others and yourself

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