18 Simple Ways to Keep a Positive Attitude at Work

What if there was a way you could easily expand your mind and see greater possibilities in life? What if you could develop better skills naturally?

When people think of having a positive attitude, they probably think it’s little more than plastering a smile on their face and trying to think happy thoughts.

But it’s more than that.

A positive attitude is something that goes deeper and has an effect beyond surface cheer. Negative attitudes promote fear, and a narrowing of focus and the mind, while positive attitudes do the opposite. No one should live in a constant state of “fight or flight”, but negative attitudes create exactly that scenario.

Studies have also shown that having a true positive attitude makes your view of life seem broad, full of possibilities. That view leads to actually living your life in a way that makes it natural to be exposed to and acquire new skills.

Here are some ways to maintain a positive attitude in the workplace, regardless of whether it comes naturally or not:

1. Surround yourself with positive people.

The old saying “birds of a feather flock together” can be viewed two ways. Either people who are similar naturally find each other, or people in a group become the same over time.

Surround yourself with positive people.

Who you hang around with rubs off on you. If you’re always with negative people who complain about everything, you’ll become a complainer and see the world as negative as they do. You might think you can stay positive and change them, but that’s not going to be the case. Try to connect with people who like their job, have new ideas, and are interested in lots of other things besides work. It’ll make your whole outlook better.

You can’t always pick your co-workers, but you can be cautious about how much time you spend with them, and in what setting. If you’re stuck with a negative bunch, be careful not to participate in the negativity. Take breaks and go for a walk rather than immerse yourself in negative breakroom drama and gossip.

2. Fill your mind with positive input.

The same way that the people you are around change you to be more like them, so is what you feed your mind.

Listen to positive music with headphones. Listen to uplifting audio books on the drive into work. Read books that are encouraging. Watch videos and listen to podcasts that are positive or help you improve skills.

If you are what you eat holds true for your body, your mind is what you feed it.

3. Control your language.

No, this isn’t about the language police, or trying to swear less (although the latter is probably a good idea). This is about being conscious of the words you use when speaking and thinking.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which played heavily into the recent movie “Arrival”) suggests that the structure of language affects a person’s view of the world, and the way they think. Taken to the furthest extent, your language actually limits or delineates how you are able to perceive the world.

It’s a hypothesis, granted.

But on a smaller level, the language you use every day, both in thought and spoken word, has a cumulative effect on how you think about yourself, your work, and those around you.

This may seem like a silly example, but it might be the difference between seeing your day as filled with tasks, or filled with opportunities. The former is tiring and arduous, making you feel trapped in a daily grind. The latter is exciting with potential.

Be aware of how you choose to think and speak at work. Find a positive way to view everything and everyone.

4. Create a routine for the day.

Routines get a bad rap.

It’s easy to think that if you have a routine at work, you’re stuck in a rut or you’re not “flexible”. The truth is, though, that routines give us good fall-back structure. A morning routine is especially good, since for many people, the morning is both when we’re most alert and awake yet sometimes not able to buckle down and get started.

Create a routine that helps you get the most important work done, take breaks at the right time, and leaves the last hour or so of the work day for less arduous work and preparation for the next day. Most of us get tired by the end of the day, so don’t leave tough work for then. It’s important to end each day by getting prepared for the next.

5. Be nice to other people.

Being kind to other people makes you happy.

A study in the Journal of Social Psychology found that doing something kind for people has the same effect as trying new and exciting things when it comes to feeling happy.

Even better?

A study in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that the memory of doing something kind for someone causes us to want to do it again.

If you make being nice to other people a regular thing, it’ll become a cycle of generosity and happiness that makes you feel good and causes those around you to feel happy as well.

Think of the worst negative work environment possible. Negativity feeds on more negativity until it seems overwhelming. Be nice to other people and watch them pay it forward.

If your work is difficult and you can’t get away from that, and finding a positive attitude about the work itself is a challenge, be kind to the people around you and let that be an effective substitute.

Appreciating and recognizing coworkers can go a long way in making your day better.

6. Don’t rely on an outside source of positivity.

Carry a positive attitude with you.

Think of a positive attitude like a survival tool: carry it with you at all times for emergencies.

Whether you rely on a phrase that you repeat over and over when times are stressful or you have some other trick to help resurrect and keep a positive attitude, be sure to come up with a mechanism that doesn’t rely on someone else or a specific situation.

7. Create high points in each day and week.

One of the best parts of an exciting vacation is the days leading up to it, when you have it to look forward to. Knowing something good is coming can make otherwise dreary days more bearable.

You can create the same effect by creating small “high points” in each day to help you get through projects or days that might otherwise seem draining. This is why taking breaks is important, but not every break is as valuable as they could be.

A few suggestions:

  • Don’t turn to unhealthy food as a reward. You’ll end up with negative effects and a bad habit for junk food or excessive coffee.
  • Take breaks outside or away from work when possible.
  • Consider a walk, solitude, silence — whatever sounds good and is doable where you work.
  • Find a place to read a book not related to work.

Daily high points should be small and simple, not requiring money or creating a habit that could have negative effects on your health or budget if you do them every day (e.g. walk to the bakery for a donut and coffee every day). Weekly or monthly high points can be a bit bigger. Maybe every Thursday you eat lunch at a restaurant nearby instead of bringing in your own lunch. Whatever it is, create something to look forward to.

8. Assume responsibility, and choose your response.

Refusing to take responsibility for your actions and your situation, or not taking control of how you respond, kills a positive attitude immediately.

After all, if something happens and you’re at fault or in some way responsible, refusing to acknowledge it means you can’t correct the behavior and it will happen again, and you also set yourself up for a victimhood mindset in which things happen to you.

You will be more positive seeing life as something you have some control over rather than at the mercy of fate. Think of it as an equation: E + R = O (event + response = outcome). How you respond has an effect on the outcome, even when events are out of your control.

9. Decide your reaction to known problems ahead of time.

Whether it’s clients or co-workers or regular projects, there are some things at work that you are always going to dread dealing with.

You know they upset you. Decide beforehand that they will not.

If a client always has to make changes, expect it. Choose to be calm about it, to not let it bother you. Try to look at the client or co-worker that’s driving you nuts in a different way. Maybe they are having a bad time at home, or they are stressed themselves.

10. Breathe deeply.

Breathing deeply tricks your body into calming down. Calm people have better attitudes.

If you find yourself getting a bad attitude about something, find a place where you can be alone, and do some deep breathing exercises. Not only does it reduce stress, but it helps you clear your mind and see the situation in a different way.

11. Make a mission statement.

Do you have a personal mission statement?

Where you work probably has a mission statement, but you should have one yourself.

A personal mission statement will help you define your purpose at work, what your life is about, and what motivates your behavior. It’s a good thing to fall back on when work gets crazy and you’re confused about what it is you’re doing.

When you feel like you have purpose, you can be positive. When you feel like you don’t have a purpose or you don’t know what you’re doing at work…not so much.

12. Have personal goals.

Goals are a bit different from personal mission statements in that they are specific things you want to achieve. They’re kind of like the rewards I talked about earlier in that they give you something to look forward to.

However, goals aren’t just “fun in the future”, but are the actual guides that you use to achieve.

It’s tough to be positive if you think you’re going nowhere. Goals are the proof that you have a plan and you’re working towards something. They are evidence of forward, positive motion.

13. Remember that no one owes you anything.

One of the worst killers of a good attitude is going through life thinking people owe you.

No one owes you anything. Life’s not fair. Believing anything else sets you up to be in a constant state of blame, victimhood, anger, passive-aggressiveness, and joylessness. Negativity is the standard state of existence if you think the world owes you.

How do you get rid of an attitude of entitlement?

  • It’s up to me to make things happen.
  • Hard work is what brings good things.
  • I have to be willing to accept change quickly.
  • When things are difficult, I still keep going.

If those four concepts are in your head, you’re not going to be wallowing in negativity waiting for the world to do something for you.

14. Stop complaining.

We mentioned how you need to control your language. That obviously covers complaining, but complaints are such a huge issue that they warrant their own section.

Stop complaining.

Complaining does nothing. If you’re around people who complain a lot, get away from them. Try to see the situation in a positive or different light.

Complaints are a way of seeing everything in a negative light without considering any other explanation. It’s a one-way road to dissatisfaction that builds the further you travel it.

15. Embrace laughing.

Laughing is good for your physically, and of course, it helps you feel much better. Who doesn’t love a good laugh?

Humor is especially good when things are going terribly wrong. Who doesn’t love the guy who, in the middle of some nightmare project, offers a quip that suddenly makes the entire mess seem hilarious? Be that guy. Try to find humor wherever you can.

Laughing with people is different than laughing at them. Never joke about others to get a laugh at their expense.

16. Be curious and embrace learning.

A mind that is closed to learning new things grows stagnant and negative. Change, new ideas, or any additional task becomes onerous to someone like that.

Be a person who is willing to learn and is curious about many things. Your attitude will be positive because you are forward-looking and wanting to understand instead of closed off. Being curious about a new situation or what’s going on tends to make you mindful and aware of the present moment, and that tends to force out negative attitudes.

17. Look to long-term instead of short-term.

When the situation is difficult in the short-term, adjust your vision to the long-term.

Short-term situations tend to be heavy on the emotion. Making decisions or taking action based on that is not only a bad idea, but tends to feed negative attitudes. Viewing things in the long-term, on the other hand, make the challenges of the now seem much less terrible because the bigger picture reveals an exciting outcome.

While it’s not good to live in a realm of make-believe, thinking realistically in the long-term provides a positive spin to your day and helps you construct those goals we mentioned earlier.

18. Fake it until you make it.

No, this is not a call to be be a hypocrite.

The reality is, though, that sometimes we don’t always “feel” the emotion we want. Sitting around waiting for it to come upon us is a sure way to make certain it never comes. You often have to fake it until the real deal arrives.

Don’t feel happy? Don’t feel excited about a presentation? Fake it. More often than not, the real emotion will show up. You’re not going to feel super excited and positive every day, but don’t let that stop you from the behavior that goes along with it, anyway.

Drive your emotions; don’t let them drive you.

At age 76, Gen. MacArthur said: “You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of every heart, there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage; so long as you are young. When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then and only then are you grown old.”

Take this list of ways to keep a positive attitude. Add to it the tricks you’ve figured out on your own. And then, do it. Constantly. Do the work of keeping a positive attitude alive at work. It will have a huge impact on your entire life, and in the lives around you.

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