“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”- Buddha
Our minds are incredibly powerful and have the ability to shape our reality.
Everything we see, experience, and understand is filtered first visually and then mentally—so our thoughts can have a huge impact on our personal reality. What's more, for those that default to negative worldview, they disproportionally view neutral events as negative.
Confirmation bias occurs when we search for information to confirm our pre-existing ideas or beliefs.
Say you have a deep anxiety that your work isn't up to par for an upcoming group show. With a negative outlook, you are more likely to monitor for signs that other people in the show also feel this way. When you approach your life and career with negativity, you are biased toward all the negative information that you receive about how people act toward you and interpret neutral behavior as negative.
That’s why viewing life through a positive lens is so essential when it comes to your success and happiness, especially in the art world.
However, it's not as easy to just "stay positive," especially if you deal with anxiety or high levels of stress. When your mind is so ingrained with negative thoughts, you don’t just flip a switch to turn it off. It’s a habit that needs time and practice to be broken.
So where do you begin? Here are eleven practical ways to become a more positive person:
Break it down.
We can become negative because of feelings bubbling up that we can’t quite place: guilt, inadequacy, regret, etc. So, when you start to feel a sudden onset of negativity, a healthy dose of logic can help bring you back down to earth.
Giving yourself a reality check helps you work through those “hunches” that something is wrong to actually determine if you should be worrying and what you can do solve the problem.
Ask yourself questions to help define the problem, like “Why am I feeling this way?”, “Is it necessary?”, "Is it based on facts?" and “Am I headed in the right direction?” This little exercise in critical thinking will either allow yourself to feel better or help you work towards a concrete solution.
Have compassion for others—and yourself.
Imagine this all-too-familiar conversation: A friend or family member confides in you that they are feeling down about themselves, doubting their abilities and self-worth.
What do you say? You jump right in reassuring them that they are one of the kindest, smartest, most hard-working people you know—because in your eyes, that's all true! Even if they’ve failed, you know for a fact that they’ll bounce back, and you won’t leave their side until they realize it, too.
So, why is it so easy to have compassion for others, but so hard to love and believe in yourself? Because we’re willing to bet you’ve also been on the other side of that conversation.
Have as much faith in yourself as you do your loved ones. See yourself the way your friends and family see you. Listen to them. Believe them; and use this to grow your confidence.
Learn to let go.
Some artists keep a mental laundry list of failures in their back pocket. While it serves as a cautionary tale on the journey to success, giving your "failures" too much attention corrodes your self-worth and leaves you feeling stressed out.
You have to let past failures go. Everyone who’s ever lived has experienced failure, especially the greats. Your work is just your work, it’s not all that you are—it does not encompass all that makes you an incredible and dynamic human being.
But if you must keep a tally, why not focus on your successes? You have a lot going for you, and you’ve probably experienced more success in your life than you realize. Write it down if you need a reminder on those harder days.
Master your mind.
You’ve probably heard the term mindfulness thrown around—but what exactly is it? Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.
This intentional practice of “living in the moment” helps you deal better with the situations in front of you. You aren’t feeling the guilt of past failures or worrying about your never-ending to-do list for the week ahead.
Instead, you are tuned into the fact that you can only do one thing at a time—and that is enough.
How do you get started? Force yourself to slow down and appreciate each moment you experience. Sit in a quiet space and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Set smaller goals for yourself. Yoga is a great way to stretch those tired muscles from the studio, but also focus the mind and be aware of your body as it is in the world right now without judgment.
When it comes to being mindful, and ultimately staying positive, practice makes perfect.
Complain a lot? Cut it out.
Complaining doesn't help fix your current situation. It doesn't make you more profitable, more successful or less stressed. It does, however, steal joy and exacerbate the problem.
But as bad habits go, complaining can be hard to quit cold turkey. The solution? Flip the script. When you want to complain, think of three things that you are grateful for instead.
If that doesn't work, make up a consequence for yourself when it happens, whether it's the ol’ rubber band on the wrist trick or a set of ten pushups, and hold yourself accountable!
Eventually, you’ll cut it out.
Talk disappointments through with those you trust.
Positivity isn’t achieved simply by ignoring your problems. Don’t feel like you have to carry the weight of the world by yourself. Unlike complaining, talking through your frustrations with a chosen few trusted people can be beneficial to your mental health.
Talking through tough times helps you release any pent-up emotion steering you towards negativity, gives you the opportunity to realize you aren't the only one that has had a less-than-ideal experience, plus you can ask constructive questions to help you fix the problem. You’ll be able to get some perspective (hopefully from someone who has mastered positivity themselves) and feel less isolated in your problems.
Positivity is linked to resilience—or being able to adapt in the face of adversity— because life is hard, and dealing with tough times will be unavoidable. Positivity is not achieved by avoiding tough situations, but from learning to wade through the choppy water with your head held high.
How can you develop resilience? Here’s what the American Psychological Association recommends:
- Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and wishing they would just go away. Ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"
- Accept help and support from those who care about you. No one can do it all by themselves.
- Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable. Look beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.
- Accept that change is a part of life. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
- Develop confidence in your ability to solve problems and trust your instincts.
- Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
In such a creative field, rejection is inevitable. Whether it’s dealing with a bad critique or not being accepted into a juried show, artists need to learn how to handle rejection the right way, so they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back to creating art they love.
Seek out the silver lining.
Mental Health America says it best: trying to be optimistic doesn't mean ignoring the uglier sides of life. It just means actively looking for the silver lining in a negative situation.
To find that silver lining, MHA recommends taking a step back and asking yourself, “How have I grown from this situation?”
Did you develop new skills? Are you proud of the way you handled the situation? Do you still have loved ones, a roof over your head, and enough food to eat? Take a breath, and remember the good things.
You may think of yourself as a grateful person, but how often do you put it into practice? Taking time out of your busy day to notice and appreciate the good is a proven way to become more positive.
It may sound sappy, but it totally works: try keeping a gratitude journal! At the end of the day, list three things that brought you happiness and made you feel fulfilled. It could be as small as a warm breeze dancing through the studio or as big as having a successful opening night for your latest showing. Eventually, you’ll be searching for happy things to stop and savor throughout the day to include in your journal.
It takes three minutes, but your outlook on life will be completely transformed.
TIP: Prefer a more structured practice? Pick up an inspirational book like Moorea Seal’s 52 Lists for Happiness which provides you with weekly journal inspiration for positivity, balance, and joy.
Exercise, sleep and eat well.
If you don’t feel good, how do you expect to be positive?
When you feel sluggish or hangry, it might be time to rethink your routine. While many artists would work day and night for their craft, it’s important to remember your basic needs. And, you can’t create the best art possible unless you are happy and healthy.
Be sure you are getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and feeling those endorphins with some healthy exercise. You can learn more about how to stay healthy as an artist here.
Share your good news.
Big or small, start celebrating your accomplishments with yourself and others!
“Studies of people's reactions to positive developments suggest that those who tell a friend about a happy event enjoy it even more.” - Mental Health America
If you are a perfectionist, you may feel like these are the things you should be achieving anyway, so why celebrate? But remember that list of successes we mentioned keeping earlier? When you start to realize how many times you’ve turned a roadblock into a success, your self-doubt and negativity will slip away.
Whether it’s with your spouse at the dinner table or with your Instagram followers, share your good news and don’t be afraid to let it fill you with joy.
Now you can put that positivity into practice.
Being positive improves more than just your mood—though that’s an amazing benefit! You’ll be able to think more clearly, put situations into perspective, increase your creativity, and leap and bound over obstacles standing in the way of your success.
Implement these practical positivity practices into your daily routine, and see just how far positivity can take you and your art career.