The 4 Essential Variables for a Positive Life Outlook

Stop for a moment right now and think about how you feel physically and emotionally.

Take a quick self-inventory.

Are you tired? In pain? Energized? Do you feel calm and contented? Stressed or overwhelmed? Do you have any low-level anxiety or lingering sadness?

Did you wake up this morning feeling good about the day ahead?

Please, go ahead and do this now, and take a few notes on how you are feeling. We'll come back to this.

Barring any major life events (either positive or negative), I have found my outlook on life ebbs and flows according to four variables:

  • how I feel physically;
  • my thoughts about the past;
  • my thoughts about the future;
  • the people around me.

If I'm feeling bad physically, it taints my outlook on life. Getting sick or injured, persistent aches and pains, feeling tired or drained all make it harder to feel positive about life. And any of the other three variables can impact how my body feels as well. No surprise here — I'm sure you experience this too.

Thinking about the past can negatively impact my outlook because the thoughts often relate to regret, sadness, guilt, frustration, anger, embarrassment, or some other unpleasant feeling. However, if I'm replaying a happy or meaningful event from the past, it has (at least for a moment) a positive impact on my outlook.

Same goes with thoughts about the future. If I'm worried, anxious, or uninspired by some potential future event, it pulls me down. If I'm anticipating something fun or have a sense of enthusiasm about what the day or weeks to come might bring, then I'm uplifted.

Personally, I'm quite sensitive to the emotions and behaviors of the people around me. You may be as well. I pick up on the subtleties of the feelings of others, and I can react to that on physical or emotional level. This is a good thing when it comes to my work as a coach because it helps me tune in to my clients. But I've had to learn how to manage my relationships and myself accordingly.

Of course there are circumstances out of my control that can impact my outlook — the weather, having to deal with some unexpected negative event, etc. But even so, my response to these can often relate directly back to one of the four variables.

Through my own journey of personal evolution, I've learned that emotional and physical equilibrium fosters a positive outlook. And  maintaining that equilibrium involves getting to the source of the disequilibrium and doing something about it.

Sometimes, if things get really bad (ie: depression, panic attacks, severe physical reactions), this involves the help of an outside professional. But in our daily lives, when we are feeling off, out-of-sorts, not our best — we can often heal ourselves by getting to the source and addressing it. We just need a few tools in our self-help hardware belts.

Pay attention to how you are feeling and your positive outlook.

I hope you  feel  positive and energized. That's the goal after all, and if you're there, by all means savor it! But if you've read this far, you might be feeling a bit off. Either way, there will be times when you're outlook is not so great, and you might want to have these tools handy.

Physical Discomfort

If you feel bad physically for no obvious reason (illness, injury, etc.) then let's drill down and find the source. Some possibilities could be:

  • hormonal changes
  • something you ate
  • allergies
  • carrying too much weight
  • inactivity
  • too much activity
  • not enough sleep
  • too much sleep
  • too much to drink
  • too much caffeine
  • stress-related muscle tension or headaches
  • stress-related gastrointestinal problems
  • dehydration-induced headaches and malaise

Of course, some of these are easy to fix. I've learned over the years that too much alcohol (for me, more than a glass of wine) disrupts my sleep, makes me dehydrated, and makes me tired the next day. Certain red wines cause nasal congestion. Too much coffee in the morning makes me anxious and nauseated. Too little water makes me think I'm hungry and gives me a headache. Too little food makes me lightheaded and anxious.

My first line of defense when I feel bad is to drink water. I start with a big glass first thing in the morning and another big glass after I have coffee. Then I continue to drink water throughout the day. I keep a glass near the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and on my desk. I can't underestimate the impact being properly hydrated has on how you feel.

Having something small and healthy to eat (with lean protein included), moving my body frequently (preferably outside), and stretching regularly all help make me feel better physically and greatly improve my outlook.

If you are overweight, sedentary, not getting enough sleep, and/or eating or drinking too much, you're going to feel bad. If you are overworked, worried, and over-scheduled, you will have a physical reaction. But you know that.

  • So where do you feel bad physically?
  • What do you think the source of the problem is and what can you do about it?
  • What changes can you make in your diet, lifestyle, sleep habits, work, or exercise habits that can reduce your physical discomfort?

If you aren't sure, go drink a big glass of water, eat a small, healthy meal (if you haven't eaten in the last few hours), and take a walk outside. That's always a good place to start.

Thoughts About the Past

Let's get inside your head and see what's going on with your thinking. Some of the feelings you might experience if you are stuck in thoughts about the past include:

  • remorse
  • sadness or melancholy
  • regret
  • shame
  • guilt
  • anger
  • embarrassment
  • low self-esteem
  • frustration
  • low-level depression

Sometimes these feelings are legitimate reactions to issues that have been left unresolved. As you know, if you don't deal with issues from the past, they will follow you around like a bad rash. Again, some big issues from the past require the help of a professional counselor to help you sort through them.

But quite often, with a little digging and some courage, you can resolve them on your own.

  • If you need to forgive someone, do your best to forgive them. This may take some practice, but work on letting it go. Visualize your anger inside of a balloon and watch yourself release the balloon.
  • If you need forgiveness from someone else, apologize, show genuine remorse, make it right, do what you can to correct the situation.
  • If you have done what you can to correct a situation, but feel remorse, shame, guilt, or embarrassment, practice forgiving yourself. Ask yourself for forgiveness, and then offer it lovingly and completely. This takes practice too.

Once you've taken action to right any wrongs or offer forgiveness, then you have no reason to dwell on past negative events. At this point, it becomes a matter of interrupting and redirecting your thinking habits. You can read more about that here.

Practice mindfulness and meditation to help you stay in the present so you can fully enjoy and experience the moment at hand.

Thoughts About the Future

Getting stuck in future-thinking also impacts your outlook. But the emotional reactions manifest differently. Here are some of the feelings you might experience:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • worry
  • fear
  • boredom
  • hopelessness
  • confusion
  • indecisiveness
  • agitation
  • mental exhaustion

Unlike dwelling in past-thinking, some amount of future-thinking is necessary. We have to set goals, plan events, prepare for certain potential problems, and try to anticipate certain outcomes. But this should occupy only a small amount of time and should be relegated to thinking that leads to action.

Worry for the sake of worry only leads to anxiety and stress. Over-thinking a situation creates mental exhaustion and confusion. Dwelling in ideas without a plan for action leads to restlessness, boredom, and indecisiveness.

Generally, the future takes care of itself regardless of your best laid plans.

  • So set aside a little time for goal-setting and planning.
  • Every week plan something fun in your life to look forward to.
  • If you are worried or stressed, ask yourself what actions you can take to address the cause, and take the actions.
  • Practice mindfulness and daily meditation to redirect your thinking back to the present moment (the place of reality). Keep yourself in the present as much as possible.
  • Make the present moment as interesting, engaging, fun, meaningful, and positive as you can. Or simply change your view of the present moment to see the positive rather than the negative.

The People Around You

Like me, you may find that the demeanor, attitude, and behavior of people around you impacts your outlook profoundly. If people are negative, not supportive, angry, bitter, impatient, controlling, or generally difficult, then you need to manage your exposure to these people and your reactions to them.

Do you have people like this in your life?

Your feelings when around these people might include:

  • anxiety
  • defensiveness
  • stress
  • exhaustion
  • low self-esteem
  • resignation
  • anger
  • agitation
  • physical distress

Admittedly this can be a hard problem to correct.  Sometimes you can walk away from a difficult or draining person or release them from your life without too much impact.

But if the difficult person is a spouse, child, family member, boss, co-worker, or someone you must be around regularly, then it gets trickier.

Often difficult people have low emotional maturity and aren't able to deal with conflict and behavior change in a positive way. They can't be counseled, coached, or negotiated into personal evolution. If this is the case, then you have a few options.

  • Minimize your exposure to these people. Stay away from them as much as realistically possible.
  • Prepare yourself emotionally when you are around them. Visualize an invisible shield protecting you from their emotions and behaviors. Do your best not to react to them.
  • Let them go from your life. Of course there will be consequences with this decision, but weigh the possible consequences against the impact their presence has on you. What are your options?

Go back and look at your inventory of feelings you created at the beginning of this post. Try to pinpoint exactly what you are feeling and what the source of those feelings might be. Then take some action to turn your feelings around.

Just awareness and a little action alone will help improve your outlook on life.

Comments

  1. Thanks again, Barrie – this is a post I will be printing and posting near my bed. Mornings are tough for me sometimes, and thinking about those four variables would be a great point of reference when I wake feeling unwell or vaguely anxious. Once I am awake, I try to meditate and set my intentions for the day – but often I am still feeling “off” or find myself ignoring physical and emotional signals.

    I certainly agree about staying hydrated, it makes an incredible difference in how I feel physically. I’ve adopted the habit of having hot water with half a lemon squeezed into it first thing in the morning or ginger/lemon tea if I am on the run. I have a big glass of water after that and try to drink more around the top of every hour. It’s a small habit yet makes me feel as if I am doing something important for my health.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Marley,
      It stinks to wake up with that feeling of vague dread or anxiety. It is not the way we want to start the day. I think women often have a hormonal component to how we feel in the mornings. That’s excellent that you start the day with meditation and setting intentions. Sounds like you are paying attention to your mind and body.

  2. Jon Sollie says:

    Hey Barrie,

    More really great, thought provoking content in this post…sometimes I almost hesitate to start reading your posts since I know I’m in for a real “brain workout” which sometimes poses a challenge for this old coot! 🙂

    Above the array of medicine bottles in my cabinet I have the word “Believe” written in red magic marker. I can’t miss it. No matter what mood, or outlook I bring with me on any given day, this one word evokes whatever thoughts or emotions I need for making each day the very best it can be. To elaborate here would take up way too much space…but, it works for me!

    Be well and prosper,

    Jon

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jon,
      I’m sorry to tax your brain! 🙂 But a brain workout is sometimes part of transformation, right? I love that you have written “Believe” where you can see it regularly. It is amazing how the power of words can change our entire outlook. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Really great.
    All your findings and suggestions are really helpful to thousands of emotionally sick people, by theories.
    However, in the practical level, I am not able to get 100% results. I know my problems, over thinking, I know it is very very bad to my health, but, I cannot stop compulsive thinking. I had tried so many ways to stop this evil. But it comes back again and again.
    Please advise.
    Thank you and best regards,
    Jamal

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jamal,
      I know how frustrating and debilitating over-thinking can be. If you have worked on it diligently, through practice, meditation, distraction, etc., you may have a chemical imbalance that is causing the compulsive thinking. You might want to check with your doctor to see if medication would help you. In the meantime, keep yourself busy and your mind occupied so you don’t have room in your brain for anything except the task at hand.

  4. Barrie,

    Such a good reminder, thank you. I know someone who has 6 kids, and when she’s stressed or upset she asks herself, “Do I need to take anyone to the emergency room? No? Then we’re all good.” It’s funny, but a great way to check yourself on what’s worth worrying about and what’s not.

    Deonne

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Deonne,
      Ha!! That definitely keeps things in perspective. 6 kids — wow. I wonder if she has time to even consider what her outlook is. 🙂

  5. Hi Barrie,
    This is such a great post for working at the fundamental level of how we make our own lives hard for ourselves – not looking after our physical health, dwelling on the past, worrying about the future and what other people think/do. In identifying the four key problems we make for ourselves, you identify so clearly the solutions. I wonder about your thoughts on how past patterns intersect with future thinking – for me I sometimes wonder whether my past painful pattern of anxiety (over things that were real) wil ever be broken as a habit of being anxious about the future (despite the painful conditions of the past being resolved). I guess the solution, as always, lies in being in the present.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, you are right Kathy. The solution is always in the present. We must keep firmly placing ourselves there. Like a parent keeping a child in a chair! 🙂

  6. Yeah, I feel in that case in sometime before.
    As you, Now I believe life is simple by do something as you said.
    I just do it in short time, make feel happy and comfortable in this time is best for life.
    Thank you