How to Cultivate a Positive Outlook on Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Law of Success" by Napoleon Hill. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a positive or a negative outlook on life? How does your general outlook influence your life outcomes?

Your outlook on life is a significant predictor of your experiences and outcomes. If you have a positive outlook, you manifest positive experiences and perceive opportunity even in the most dire situations. But if you have a negative outlook, you’ll feel hopeless even in the most opportune circumstances.

Here are some tips on how to cultivate a positive outlook on life and feel optimistic even when life throws curveballs.

Adopt a Positive Outlook

Your outlook on life determines the nature of your habitual thoughts—whether they’re negative or positive—and the overall impression they make on your subconscious mind. This impression then influences whether you move toward or away from success.

The more negative your outlook, the more negatively you think about your life. These negative thoughts leave a pessimistic impression on your subconscious mind—causing it to connect only to the parts of higher consciousness that reflect your pessimism. As a result, your subconscious mind creates experiences that reinforce your negative thought patterns and discourage you from moving toward success.

Conversely, the more positive your outlook, the more positively you think about your life. These positive thoughts leave an optimistic impression on your subconscious mind—causing it to connect only to the parts of higher consciousness that reflect your optimism. As a result, your subconscious mind creates life experiences that reinforce your optimism and encourage you to move toward success. 

(Shortform note: According to Shawn Achor (The Happiness Advantage), your attitude impacts your ability to achieve success by influencing your perception of your experiences rather than the experiences themselves. He explains that, when you have a positive outlook on life, your positive expectations train your brain to perceive opportunities in adversity and make the best out of your experiences. This helps you overcome challenges and setbacks as you move toward success. On the other hand, when you have a negative outlook, your pessimism blocks you from perceiving opportunities and trains your brain to shy away from challenges. This stops you from moving toward success and leaves you feeling powerless to improve your situation.)

Hill suggests that you can adopt a positive outlook on life by practicing seven methods.

1) Focus Only on What You Want to Experience

Doing this will help you overcome any feelings of worry or anxiety. For example, if you want to improve your financial situation, instead of dwelling on your current debts, focus only on the feeling of financial stability that you want to experience. 

(Shortform note: In contrast, some psychologists suggest that focusing on unwanted experiences can help you approach life more positively. This is because, without experiencing what you don’t want, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish among your experiences, recognize what satisfies you, and consciously move toward what you do want.) 

2) Appreciate What’s Going Well in Your Life

Taking time to think about experiences you’re thankful for keeps you focused on what you like about your life and how lucky you are.

(Shortform note: Though the benefits of appreciation and gratitude are well-known, it can be difficult to focus on what’s going well when times are especially tough. Psychologists suggest overcoming this difficulty by establishing a daily gratitude practice, such as keeping a gratitude journal. This creates a habit of thinking grateful thoughts. Some self-help practitioners also suggest using visual reminders to trigger thoughts of appreciation. For example, use a gratitude quote as your screensaver or place a picture of something you really appreciate where you’ll see it most often.) 

3) Think About Others the Way You Want Them to Think About You

This will inevitably improve the way you behave toward the people in your life, which, in turn, will positively influence the way they perceive and behave toward you.

(Shortform note: While Hill argues that your thoughts about others should mirror how you want them to think about you, Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life) argues that you need to think about yourself the way you want others to think about you. According to Hay, all the people in your life reflect your opinion of yourself: If you don’t like yourself, you send out emotional signals that make others not want to like you. Practicing self-love affirmations (for example, “I love myself”) improves the way you view yourself and the emotional signals that you send out—causing others to reflect these positive emotional signals back to you.) 

4) Reframe Criticisms and Setbacks as Opportunities to Improve

Reframing criticisms and setbacks as opportunities to improve will train you to focus on what you can control (your thoughts and behaviors) to make the best out of any situation.

(Shortform note: One way to achieve this type of reframing is to ask solution-oriented questions. For example, instead of asking, “Why did they leave a bad review?” or “Why didn’t I make the sale?” ask, “What three things can I accomplish this quarter to improve feedback and generate more sales?”)

5) Overcome Your Fears

Making an effort to overcome your fears will empower you to pursue what you want with a greater sense of ease and enthusiasm.

(Shortform note: While Jay Shetty (Think Like a Monk) also argues that overcoming fear is essential to maintaining a positive state of mind, he explains that you must get to the root of your fear before you can overcome it. Though your fears may appear to relate to a specific subject, they often arise from a broader, unconscious fear. He suggests that you should keep asking why you’re afraid of something so that you can identify what you truly fear. For example, you’re afraid of taking action toward your goal. Why? Because you’re worried about failing. Why? Continuing with this line of questioning will provide clues about what specific actions you can take to resolve your fears.) 

6) Avoid Anything That Inspires Negative Thoughts

Steering clear of anything that might trigger negative thoughts makes it easier to focus your attention on the more positive aspects of your life. 

(Shortform note: While it’s important to protect yourself from toxic people or situations, attempting to avoid all negative people or things can inadvertently create negative outcomes. This is because it limits your exposure to experiences that will help you grow, learn, and move forward. For example, avoiding all criticism from others prevents you from identifying and improving weaknesses that stand in the way of your success. On the other hand, facing and dealing with seemingly-negative things can create positive outcomes—because it develops resilience, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence.)

7) Eliminate Habits That Harm Your Mental or Physical Health

Identifying and replacing unhealthy habits will resolve many of your concerns. For example, if habitual overspending causes you to worry about your finances, saving your money will improve your bank balance and alleviate your financial stress.

(Shortform note: According to Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within), you’ll find it easier to eliminate harmful habits if you tackle them one at a time. He explains that if you try to change all of your habits at the same time, you’re more likely to focus on how difficult it is, feel overwhelmed, and resign yourself to staying in the same situation. On the other hand, committing to change a single habit allows you to effectively focus your energy and produce successful results. These positive results encourage you to feel more confident about your ability to take control of your behaviors and motivate you to improve all of your habits.)

How to Cultivate a Positive Outlook on Life

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  • How your subconscious mind creates your life experiences
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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