Life is full of ups and downs. Here are some tools from the science of positive psychology to get the most out of whatever life throws at you.

What went well and why

As the name suggests, this strategy is the act of identifying what has gone well, and why it has gone well. This technique is useful both when you are happy with how things have gone, and when you are disappointed. It might sound difficult to do when things aren’t going well, but usually, we can find at least one or two things that have gone well.

Take the example of getting back an assignment with a disappointing grade. We often focus entirely on the overall grade and dismiss any positive comments. Instead, try to find what went well. Was there a section you received positive feedback on? Or was there something that you did well as you studied and wrote the assignment? Just because it didn’t translate into the overall mark you received, don’t discount what you did well.

Identifying why it went well also helps to provide a roadmap for what to do more of next time. Did it go well because you worked hard on that particular section? Were you interested and therefore more motivated about that topic? Maybe you sought advice and support which helped you?

Gratitude

Research shows that the regular practice of gratitude, such as identifying three things every day that you’re grateful for, improves our physical and mental health. Just like what went well, practicing gratitude helps to turn our minds toward the positive. Even on a really tough day, identifying a couple of things that you appreciate in others, in the world around you, or in your own experience, helps to buffer against the stress and upset of difficult experiences.

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Savouring

Savouring is also about tuning in to the positives, and really ‘being with’ the positive parts of our experiences. This practice can be as simple as saying thanks and sitting with a compliment rather than shrugging it off, or really noticing what’s happening in a pleasant moment (what you can see, hear, and feel), or spending time remembering positive experiences and the enjoyable emotions that came with them.

Whatever it is you choose to savour, deliberately take time to really immerse yourself in the pleasant moment.

Helpful mindset

How we think about a situation has a massive impact on how we feel and how we cope with the situation. Often when things aren’t going well we can fall into unhelpful thinking about how bad it is going, how everything is terrible, and how much we stuffed up. Instead, try to turn your mind toward what you can learn from a difficult situation, what you might be able to gain as a result, or what the situation has taught you about yourself.

How would you be approaching the situation differently if you were feeling positive, rather than stressed and overwhelmed? You can probably see how these same questions might be useful even when things are already going OK to help you maximise the experience.

Watch out for judgements

Our minds are often very good at rushing to judgements, including about ourselves. Thoughts like “I should’ve known better”, or “I have to do better than that” are common judgements.

Words like should, must, have to, and can’t, can often be cues to overly harsh ‘self-talk’. Try to soften your language and be a bit kinder to yourself. What would you say to a mate in your shoes?

Find meaning

Ask yourself, why is what I am doing important to me? This awareness of what is truly important can be a source of motivation, perseverance, and clarity.

When facing a challenge, it can also be useful to look specifically for the meaning in that situation – if you were going to take something away from this challenge, what would that be?

Use your strengths

We all have strengths and weaknesses, that’s only natural. Getting to utilise and play to our strengths helps us to feel more positive and perform at our best.

Think about what your strengths are and identify a few ways where you get to really use or show these strengths every week. Unsure about your strengths? Take this quiz to find out.

The aim of all of these techniques is to get better at thinking about and savouring what went well, instead of focusing on what is bad or went wrong. Research has found that our ‘default’ is to pay more attention to what goes wrong, so practicing these techniques helps us to redress the balance and find positive in both the ups and downs.

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