By Elijah Medge, Los Angeles, August 2015

Before trying to cultivate a positive attitude, let’s start by defining what a “positive attitude” actually is. Being positive does not mean that you have to be overly cheerful, jovial, or constantly smiling. This can be a bit disingenuous. Instead, having a positive attitude is a commitment to optimism and a decision to exercise control over everything that is controllable.

The most common reason for negative thinking is the feeling of lacking control. When you feel that you don’t have the power to change the things that bother you, it’s easy to become down. If you want to have a consistently positive mentality, however, you need to build the habit of asking yourself “what can I control here?” Of course, you won’t be able to change everything, but if you think long and hard, you should find many things that you can control. Once you’ve identified opportunities to exert control, you must fully commit to effecting change in those areas.


Flickr CC via Laura

The sales profession offers many great examples of this. The potential ups and downs of making or not making sales renders it very difficult for the average person to maintain a positive attitude in this field. What separates the professionals from the amateurs is their ability to control as many factors as possible throughout the sales process. For example, a strong salesperson will always be organized and prepared; he will always have his day and week meticulously planned; he will leave plenty of time for travel in case there’s traffic or he gets a flat tire; he will keep extra tools and supplies in his car in case he runs out of order forms or spills coffee on his shirt; he will implement tried and true best practices (instead of reinventing the wheel); he will continuously perfect his rebuttals and body language, and so on. By preparing and controlling for as many variables as possible, he is able to eliminate a great deal of uncertainty and is therefore able to achieve consistent results.

Despite all your best efforts, there will always be things outside of your control. If your goal is to cultivate a positive attitude, it’s important to regard uncontrollable factors as opportunities to learn and grow. Filling your mind with worries and focusing on things you can’t change will do nothing for your productivity. Even when you feel frustrated, you must consciously remind yourself to remain optimistic. You must make the decision to direct your thoughts and energy to the areas over which you have autonomy.

At the end of the day, cultivating a positive attitude starts with the decision to do so. Once you recognize the benefits of a healthy mentality, you’ll start to force yourself to look at problems with a solution-oriented mindset. Before you know it, this will become second nature to you. Once you start seeing the results of your shiny new positive attitude, the positive cycle will only continue.

This question came from Quora.  Check out other answers here.

Elijah Medge (Los Angeles, CA) owns and manages direct marketing firms throughout the United States. He is a coach and mentor to budding and experienced entrepreneurs in a variety of industries. Be sure to connect on Facebook and Tumblr.