How (and why) to cultivate a positive mental attitude

November 8, 2021 - 17 min read

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What is a positive mental attitude?

Why is it so important to have a positive mental attitude?

5 characteristics of a positive mindset

5 examples of positive attitudes

How can a positive mental attitude help you at work?

4 tips to have and maintain a positive mental attitude

A smile is contagious. 

People with a positive mental attitude have an infectious way about them that compels others to gravitate in their direction. They’re optimistic, uplifting, and don’t give in to hopelessness even in the worst of times. 

But what’s their secret? Can anyone develop a positive mindset, or are you born with it? 

The truth is, everyone can adopt a more positive mental attitude. And while a positive attitude doesn't guarantee business success, developing a more positive orientation can improve your mood, relationships, and job and life satisfaction. Research has found that a positive outlook has a real impact on your physical health, too.

All of that combines to make a strong argument for the power of a positive mental attitude on your performance, too. 

Let’s look at how to adopt a positive mindset and how it can enhance your work and your life.

What is a positive mental attitude? 

Positive thinking is not the same as smiling, being cheerful, or forcing positivity. 

A positive mental attitude (PMA) means approaching every situation and challenge in life with optimism. 

Author Napoleon Hill first introduced this concept in his 1937 self-help book “Think And Grow Rich.” Throughout the book, he explains that the right mindset attracts positive circumstances and increases your chances of success

He later expanded on the subject by publishing a separate book — “Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude.” This bestseller teaches readers that health, happiness, and success depend on mindset and attitude. 

According to the positive mental attitude philosophy, a positive mindset is synonymous with hope, optimism, courage, and kindness. It also means not giving in to negativity and hopelessness even in difficult situations. When the going gets tough, someone with a positive mental attitude deals with their emotions in a positive and constructive way

A positive mindset is a choice. It promises that when you choose to look on the bright side of life and make the best out of any situation, you’ll create a better reality for yourself. 

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Why is it so important to have a positive mental attitude? 

Your mind is a powerful tool. A positive mindset helps you unlock your full potential and achieve your goals. Someone with a positive mental attitude sets ambitious goals, is confident in reaching them, and sees challenges as opportunities. 

The mind is so powerful that your mindset can affect your health, your performance on cognitive and physical challenges, your ability to relate to others and how they perceive you, and ultimately your life outcomes. 

Napolean Hill may have overstated it when he wrote, Whatever your mind can conceive and can believe, it can achieve.” It has sometimes been misinterpreted to mean that success comes through positive thinking and visualizing alone rather than in combination with work and planning. The more damaging corollary, that people facing difficulties just haven't had the right attitude, isn't helpful. Yet the core of that compelling statement holds true. 

A Stanford University study of 240 school children concluded that a positive mindset influences academic success. The children’s positive attitude improved memory and problem-solving skills. This contributed to achievement as much as IQ. 

A positive mental attitude also strengthens your ability to navigate uncertainty and deal with stress. By making a conscious choice to have a positive outlook, you become more resilient and strengthen your mental fitness. This mentality allows you to be more adaptable and overcome difficult situations with ease.

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A person with a positive outlook interprets things optimistically. In contrast, someone with a negative outlook sees their glass half empty. Subjective well-being, or thinking and feeling that your life is going very well, increases the quality of your life. 

It also makes you more enjoyable to be around. People naturally gravitate toward people who find the small joys in life and uplift others. 

5 characteristics of a positive mindset 

What does having a positive mindset look like exactly? Let’s explore five traits people with a positive mental attitude embody.

1. Resilience 

In positive psychology, resilience is being able to recover from stressful and challenging life events. Resilient people face difficult situations with ease and don’t give in to negative emotions during hard times. 

Take the Covid-19 pandemic as an example. Those who thrived during the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic had a consistently positive outlook and quickly adapted to their new environment. 

2. Courage 

Courage allows you to go after what you want without fearing failure, rejection, and other mind-made fears. Instead of fearing failure, courageous individuals embrace it as an opportunity to learn.

This positive mindset helps you reach your goals more easily and grow personally and professionally. 

3. Optimism

Optimism is the main pillar of a positive mental attitude. 

It’s important to note that optimism isn’t always thinking happy thoughts and dismissing problems. It’s about challenging negative thought patterns and reframing them into positive ones

A Harvard study found that optimism increased women’s survival rates from serious illnesses by 30%. An optimistic outlook is proven to improve health and well-being

4. Gratitude

People who feel thankful even for the smallest joys in life are happier and healthier. They show and feel an appreciation for the good things in their lives like family, good health, or even a sunny day. 

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Practicing gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal is a common habit among those with a positive mindset. 

5. Acceptance

We’re naturally inclined to judge a situation in our life as good or bad. 

But what if we stop judging it as positive or negative and just allow it to be? 

This is the concept behind radical acceptance — accepting things as they are. This mindset allows you to take the best course of action in any situation because you don’t have a negative attitude when things go south.

5 examples of positive attitudes 

We can cultivate a positive mentality through the way we think and act. Here are some examples of a positive attitude in action: 

1. Changing your perspective 

Your perspective has a powerful influence on your life and happiness. Ordinary things you do day to day can either be an opportunity or a burden.

Let’s say you’re cooking dinner for your family tonight. At first, this may seem like a chore. You think to yourself, “I have to make dinner.” But what if you reframed that thought? Instead of saying “I have to,” start saying “ I get to.”

In other words, think of this moment as a privilege worth cherishing. You have a family that you get to spend time with. 

2. Smiling and being kind to others 

Positive people typically make friends and get along with others easily. People are drawn to them because of their consistently friendly demeanor and integrity. 

For example, a leader with a positive mental attitude smiles and treats their employees with respect even if they’ve had a bad day. Their kindness to others is independent of the circumstances they currently find themselves in. 

3. Practicing self-compassion

Being kind to yourself is just as important as showing others kindness. 

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Engaging in self-care practices that enhance your holistic well-being is how you take care of yourself. For example, start practicing positive self-talk each morning using positive affirmations. Phrases like “ I am confident” or “I am proud of myself” build your self-esteem and influence your subconscious mind. 

4. Not taking things personally 

Having a positive attitude means not taking things personally. Other people’s words and actions are only a reflection of who they are. As soon as you take something to heart, you give that person power over you. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt elegantly put it, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

For instance, let’s say you greet a colleague in the office, and you’re met with a hostile attitude. Instead of being offended and holding a grudge, you decide not to take it personally. Maybe your colleague was having a bad day or received some bad news. Their attitude was simply a reflection of how they were feeling. 

5. Being happy for others’ success 

Someone with a positive mindset isn’t in competition with other people. They understand that they’re on their own unique journey, and someone else’s success doesn’t undermine their own. 

For example, if your friend found their dream job before you, celebrate their accomplishment in a sincere way. Their win should make you feel motivated, not jealous.

How can a positive mental attitude help you at work? 

Why is it important to leave negativity at the door and bring a positive mental attitude to work? Your performance and well-being in the workplace depend on it. Let’s explore why approaching each day at the office with a positive attitude matters. 

Increases engagement and performance 

Optimistic employees with a positive outlook are more likely to be successful and engaged in their work

Senior Scholar Dr. Beth Cabrera explains that there is a strong correlation between optimism and performance at work. Another recent study found that employees are more likely to give their best effort toward a task and feel happier at work when they adopt an optimistic mindset. 

Allows you to build stronger relationships 

Positivity is infectious. Smiling, bringing your whole self to work, and uplifting your teammates or employees will help you build stronger connections and foster an inclusive work environment.

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Good work relationships increase job satisfaction and contribute to a stronger company culture

Helps you overcome challenges with ease 

Work can be stressful and challenging.

Positive employees make stress work for them and are in control of their circumstances. For example, studies show that employees with a positive stress mindset know how to cope with a high workload. Their resilience and optimism increase their performance and stamina. This is especially true during high-pressure situations. 

4 tips to have and maintain a positive mental attitude 

As previously mentioned, anyone can harness the power of a positive mental attitude. Here are a few tips to help you develop and maintain a positive outlook. 

1. Surround yourself with other positive people

Your friends have a big influence on your mindset. Would you rather be around people with a negative attitude who love to complain? Or would you rather be surrounded by vibrant, happy people who lift you up? 

Positive people’s emotions rub off on you and inspire you to maintain a positive attitude and become a better version of yourself. 

2. Do the Inner Work™

To maintain a positive mental attitude, you have to do the work — Inner Work™, that is. Inner Work™ means reflecting on your inner world so you can relate to the outer world better. This can be achieved through breathing exercises, journaling, or reflecting on your actions. 

Looking inward has many benefits. Better relationships with colleagues, increased confidence, and better decision-making are only a few. 

3. Practice visualization

A positive mindset attracts positive circumstances. Visualization is a powerful technique that helps you achieve your goals using only your mind. 

All you need to do is imagine the best possible outcome in any situation and feel the positive emotion of having achieved it. Successful athletes like LeBron James and Katie Ledecky use this technique to achieve their athletic goals. 

4. Meditate

To develop and maintain a positive state of mind, you need to learn how to keep your negative thoughts from controlling you. 

Daily meditation helps you let go of negative emotions like worry, fear, and anxiety, and it trains your mind to be grounded in the present moment. 

Start cultivating a positive mental attitude

Your success and well-being depend on your mindset. 

A positive mental attitude at work can bring out the best in you. It can supercharge your performance, work relationships, and resilience. The good news is that a positive mental attitude can be cultivated. 

If you recognize that you need a change in mindset but are not sure where to start, you’re not alone. BetterUp offers personalized coaching that gives you the guidance you need to develop the right mindset for personal and career growth.

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Published November 8, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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