Why are some people more accomplished than others? Aside from sheer talent, highly successful people have a winning frame of mind that catapults them to untold heights. Serena Williams had it with tennis. Michael Phelps had it with swimming. Tiger Woods had it with golf. Meryl Streep had it with acting.
Scientists say Mother Nature hardwired us with a negativity bias for survival. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. We routinely assess risks by making judgments about people and situations for safety. To keep us out of harm’s way, negative events grab more of our mind’s attention than positive ones. You probably remember where you were on 9/11 but not the following week. Forget the blooming azaleas along the roadside. If you don’t focus on the car in the other lane zooming ninety miles an hour, you’re road kill.
Experts tell us that it takes three positive thoughts to offset one negative thought. No wonder it’s difficult to remain hopeful and persevere in uphill challenges where we’re bombarded with the same bad-news bias that keeps us safe. We tend to overestimate threats and underestimate possibilities. Without realizing it, we build a negativity lens: the same lousy job, the usual inconsiderate coworkers, or the lackluster party that was nothing to write home about.
But here’s the good news: grass grows through concrete. When negativity strikes, you can underestimate threats and overestimate possibilities with the same tried-and-true strategies that highly successful people use to navigate obstacles. Studies show that optimists, compared to pessimists, have lower stress levels, move faster up the career ladder, have fewer health complaints, and live longer. But you don’t have to be a card-carrying optimist to realize that misfortunes are rarely as bad as the brain registers them. Here are some strategies you can use to cultivate a winning frame of mind:
1. Focus on the upside of a downside situation. Every loss contains a gain if you look for it. “I have to pay more taxes this year than ever before” becomes “I made more money this year than I’ve ever made.”
2. Pinpoint the opportunity contained in the difficulty. Make it a habit to focus on the good news wrapped around bad news. Ask, “How can I make this situation work to my advantage? Can I find something positive in it? What can I manage or overcome in this instance?”
3. Develop a growth mindset. Think of a setback as a lesson to grow from instead of a failure to endure. Ask what you can learn from difficult outcomes or failures and use them as stepping-stones instead of roadblocks.
4. Broaden your scope. When threatened, your brain is designed to constrict and target the threat like the zoom lens of a camera. This limits your ability to see the bigger picture. Expand your outlook with a wide-angle lens that steers you beyond doom and gloom to bigger possibilities.
5. Be chancy. Take small risks in a new situation instead of predicting negative outcomes before giving them a try. “I won’t go to the party because I’m afraid I won’t know anyone” becomes “If I go to the party, I might make a new friend.”
6. Avoid blowing a negative situation out of proportion. Don’t let one bad experience rule your whole outlook: “I didn’t get the promotion, so I’ll never reach my career goals” becomes “I didn’t get the promotion, but there are more steps I can take to reach my career goals.”
7. Focus on the solution, not the problem. You’ll feel more empowered to cope with life’s curve balls when you step away from the problem and brainstorm a wide range of possibilities.
8. Practice positive self-talk. After a big letdown, underscore your triumphs and high-five your “tallcomings” instead of bludgeoning yourself with your “shortcomings.” Give yourself a fist pump when you reach a milestone or accomplishment.
9. Hang out with positive people. Optimism is contagious. When you surround yourself with optimistic people, positivism rubs off.
10. Strive to see fresh starts contained in adversity. Failure is neither personal nor final. Envision letdowns as temporary and know that you can overcome them. Every time you get up and brush yourself off one more time than you fall, you succeed. Perseverance increases the likelihood of propelling you to the top of the leader board.