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How top performers use positive psychology (even when things are bad)

If you study successful people, you find that luck has nothing to do with it. There are real skills involved in not just surviving, but thriving. One of these skills is positive psychology.

Ramit Sethi · December 9th, 2016

Have you ever wondered how it is that some people are basically fine no matter what happens? They always find a way to come out on top regardless of the curveballs life throws at them. They seem to live by the motto, “When life gives you lemons, make organic artisanal lemonade.”


Meanwhile other people, even with the bigger advantages, somehow lack the ability to plan and execute…and end up failing.

Sometimes we know what the problem is but can’t fix it. Other times, we self sabotage. I see this all the time. It’s heartbreaking, and so unnecessary.

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On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss positive people by assuming they somehow got a “lucky break.”

But if you really study what’s going on, you find that luck has nothing to do with it. There are real skills involved in not just surviving, but thriving. One of these skills is positive psychology.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve relentlessly studied (and interviewed) top performers in business, sports, medicine, art, and more. I’ve found that skill and talent will only take you so far. The rest is mindset.

But it’s not as simple as others make it sound. Your positive psychology and mindset start with setting yourself up for success.

Let’s dig into 4 powerful tactics that you can use today to change your mindset… and ultimately, change your life.

Step 1: Minimize failure by picking the right goal

One of the reasons that negative self-talk creeps in is failure.

And one of the main culprits of failure is setting the wrong goals. Too often, we don’t give ourselves a chance to succeed.

Here’s what I mean.

A goal someone might set is, “I’m going to learn Spanish and use it as leverage to get a raise or a better job.”

The problem is, “I want to learn Spanish” is a HUGE goal. Then “get a raise or a better job” is yet another huge goal.

Where it fails is we don’t know what to do right now, today, or even this week.

When you come home from work tired, how are you going to get started on this vague goal?

A better way is something like, “I’m going to practice Spanish 3x/week — MWF at 5:30pm for one hour each. By December, I want to be able to order in a restaurant.” Here’s my exact formula for setting goals.

When you get specific, you set yourself up for success. Plus, you allow yourself “small wins” along the way (like, “yes! I practiced every day this week!”).

The result is instead of feeling the sting of failure, you have the joy of victory. That’s positive psychology in action.

ACTION STEP: My mentor, BJ Fogg, has a free program called Tiny Habits. Use this framework to break down your goals and get started right away.

Step 2: Eliminate what drains your positivity

Now that you’ve picked the right goal, you want to give yourself every chance to achieve it. And one of the ways you do that is by not getting bogged down with other things.

We all have things we want to get done, but realistically just aren’t going to happen.

If you try to do it all, you end up with little to show for all that effort. The things that you do get done aren’t done well. You’re stressed out, distracted, overwhelmed. Which means your mindset is anything but positive.

But, when we’re doing the things that support our strengths and goals, we’re in the state that positive psychologists call “flow.”

Flow state is being in the zone — the focused state where you’re most productive, you lose track of time, and things just seem to fall into place.

Getting to flow isn’t random. It happens when we eliminate all the “other stuff” in our lives — the unproductive meetings, responding to endless emails — people and things that drain our time and energy.

The trick is to be BRUTALLY HONEST with yourself about what you REALLY want to do.

I used to have an inbox full of things I wanted to say no to, but felt that I couldn’t. We ALL have this — invitations, obligations, things we don’t really want to do. I’ve tried saying yes and then resenting it, and I’ve tried ignoring the requests. Neither made me feel great about myself.

So I got honest with myself (and others), said no, and took back my time.

ACTION STEP: Pick just ONE thing to say “no” to today. Once you do, note the freedom and closure that you suddenly feel. Remember this next time that you feel “obligated” to do something.

Step 3: Shut up your inner critic

Once you know you’re on the right path, it’s easy to doubt yourself.

Brian Koppelman, the writer and the filmmaker behind movies like Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen, and The Illusionist, said:

“Know this. Whatever your favorite movie is, at some point during the writing of it, the screenwriter felt completely lost.”

 

It’s too easy to let your inner critic overtake your positive psychology. But here’s the secret — everyone, no matter how successful, feels that, too.

Check out this video where Brian reveals the one key thing that keeps him going when he feels lost, stupid, and hopeless (which, as it turns out, happens on EVERY project!).

You heard us both admit that when you’re in the middle of trying to create something, it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

And if you didn’t know it was going to get better, that this was just a normal part of the process — you might give up!

This is where positive psychology comes in. What keeps me going when I have a difficult project is that voice in the back of my mind that knows that it’s going to be ok. If I keep working at it, I’ll figure it out.

ACTION STEP: Today, whatever project you’re working on, map out your mindset. How do you feel at each stage? If you write it down, you’ll be able to recognize it again during the next project. When your inner critic creeps in, you’ll be able to keep your positive psychology and continue attacking.

Step 4: Become unshakeable

Contrary to popular belief, positive psychology is not something some people have and others don’t.

We all know someone who is resolute in the face of difficulty. How did they get that way?

It’s not luck, or genetics, or the “it factor” (whatever that is). It’s a skill. You can develop confidence, too.

Over time I’ve developed hacks for confidence even when everything is going wrong. This video will help you develop that same unshakable resolve — no matter what challenge you encounter.

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