The Sunny Side of the Street:
Four Ways to Rewire Your Brain for Positivity

By Laura Stack

Let's talk about brainwashing yourself.

Okay, I'll admit that sounds a little strange; but when you get right down to it, brainwashing is a kind of pounded-in, acquired training you find very difficult to break. That's not always bad. I'm not talking about Manchurian Candidate-level conditioning, just self-teaching that helps you succeed. This involves simple, practical ways of rewiring your subconscious mind from negativity to positivity, so instead of being what a colleague of mine calls a "PITA negatron," you automatically look for the best side of any situation.

Every affirmation you tell yourself each morning, every photo you look at to motivate yourself, every mantra you consider, every firm belief in this Secret or that—it's all a way of reprograming your subconscious mind to "direct your feet to the sunny side of the street," as the old song says. And that's great!

There's a reason we have so many sayings about maintaining positivity: "Every cloud has a silver lining." "It's an ill wind that blows no good." "Reframe challenges as opportunities." "Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together." We throw these sayings around to fight off the demons of negative self-talk, worry and depression. They help you "Just Keep Swimming" as Dory said from the movie Finding Nemo, pushing toward maximum productivity with a song in your heart and a spring in your step.

I'm sure a few of the curmudgeonly among you will greet that statement with rolled eyes and a "Hrmph," but give it a try. As one of my mentors used to say, "Everything's difficult until it's easy." It may sound simplistic, but it's deeper than you think. It's no newsflash that you get better at something the more you work at it, but this doesn't just apply to tasks. It also works for ways of thinking. The more you try to think positively, the more positively you'll think.

Here are just a few ways to help rewire your brain toward positivity:

1. Do nice things for people. Recently, someone in front of me at the Starbucks line paid for my coffee! So I paid for the person behind me! All of us went away happy, our days a bit brighter. A result of positive thinking? You bet!

2. Look for the positive. We're more likely to remember negative things, because back in the caveman days, it helped keep us alive. So before bedtime, think of several positive things that happened that day. Strive for at least three, preferably more, even if you have to stretch to get them. Celebrating someone's birthday at the office might be one high point. Maybe your best friend got a raise. You got a call from your son. Little gems like these can glow so brightly they light up an otherwise drab day.

3. Choose happy. Depending on your upbringing and personality, you may have an unreasonably high setting on your "happiness thermostat." Change it! Just because your parents demanded straight As on your report cards or your first boss required perfection in all things doesn't mean you have to be 100 percent perfect to be happy. Instead of a killer 100 degrees on the happiness thermostat, treat yourself to a cooler 80 degrees and smile and breathe deeply.

4. Cut bad thoughts off at the pass. You can't avoid all negativity -- and sometimes, you need a little stress to get you up off your duff. But you can't let negative thoughts eat you alive, either. So when negativity attacks you, think of something positive. Don't sweep anything under the rug, but don't let pessimism overwhelm you. Overcome it. I tell myself, "This too shall pass." They're clichéd but true and have worked for so many others.

The Good, the Bad, and . . . the Silly

Don't let yourself fall into the negativity trap. Bad things do happen, but don't dwell on them constantly -- because then you'll expect more bad things to happen, and may program your subconscious self into creating self-fulfilling prophesies. Look for the good, even if you have to force yourself, so you'll eventually default to expecting the best.