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.
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
- carrying too much weight
- 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:
- sadness or melancholy
- low self-esteem
- 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:
- 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:
- low self-esteem
- 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.