In our last FISH! blog we explored how to mindfully Choose Your Attitude. In Part 2, we shed some new light on a particular attitude:

When people say “Choose Your Attitude”, they usually mean, “Choose a Positive Attitude!” It can feel like an accusation or an order. What if you’re not naturally outgoing or you don’t have a sparkling smile? If you take care of your customers and get your work done, does it matter how you do it?

The word positive has many definitions. One is to be certain of an outcome. Another is to be charged with electricity (as in “I had no idea when I touched that fence it was positive!”).

The definition we’re interested in is constructive and optimistic. Synonyms include effective, affirming, encouraging and helpful. To understand what a “positive” attitude looks like, let’s substitute some of these words for positive.

1. Choose a Constructive Attitude
Being constructive doesn’t mean seeing everything as peachy. It’s not about just smiling through every tense situation or looking for a rainbow in every tragedy. It’s not about letting people run over you.

It does mean trying to “construct” something better than what you have now. It’s working to improve outcomes, not just complaining. It’s building people up, not tearing them down.

The key is taking action. You may need to do things that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar—such as a courageous conversation with someone you are in conflict with. You may need to change your mind based on new information. You may need to forgive someone who made a mistake. The more you stretch yourself—being there for others and making their day—the stronger and more flexible you become.

2. Choose an Optimistic Attitude
Optimism isn’t easy. Our brains are built to install negative experiences into long-term memory much more easily than positive ones. This evolutionary trait developed because it was vital to learn how to avoid threats such as predators.

But for most of us, the main threats we face today are not saber-toothed tigers, but poor relationships and personal disappointments. If we have a negative interaction with someone, we do our best to avoid the “threat” again. If we make a mistake at work, we become overly cautious, even passing up great opportunities so we avoid another “failure.”

Optimists work to rebuild damaged relationships. They are not paralyzed by their mistakes; they learn from them. They know they aren’t assured success just because they try, but they know doing nothing guarantees nothing will change.

To be more optimistic, savor your positive experiences. Neuroscientists say it takes 20 to 30 seconds of sustained attention to implant positive feelings into long-term memory.

Become more aware of your thoughts—positive and negative. Write them down as they happen. Compare the two lists at the end of the day. Which one is longer? Try this for a week or two. See if you can spend more time looking for the good and less dwelling on the bad.

3. Choose an Affirming Attitude
To accomplish most work or life goals, we need to create healthy relationships. Studies say relationships require at least a 5-1 ratio of positive-to-negative interactions to thrive.

It’s more than just cooperating or collaborating on tasks. To build and maintain productive relationships, you must show people you care about them. You don’t have to listen to their life story or become lifelong buddies. You just need to affirm them.

When you affirm someone, you demonstrate you believe in them. It starts with regular recognition, not just for major achievements, but everyday effort. It’s encouraging people, especially when they are unsure of their ability. It’s lifting their spirits when you see they are down. It’s listening carefully to what they say without glancing at your phone.

Without regular affirmation, we lose track of each other, not just physically but emotionally. We stop communicating, filling the gap with “stories” that often assume the worst about what others may be thinking or doing. Trust suffers. Affirmation rebuilds connections. It attracts people to you.

The beauty of affirming people is that it picks up your attitude. It is hard to be angry or grumpy with people when you are focused on being there for them and making their day.

4. Choose an Effective Attitude
You don’t have to have a happy look on your face to be effective, but in a world that runs on relationships, it helps.

When you smile, it activates neurochemicals that relax you, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and relieve pain. Researchers have found when someone smiles at you, it triggers a subconscious, automatic desire to return the gesture. The only way to avoid it is to condition yourself not to smile back—a habit many people have mastered, unfortunately.

More than half of all human communication is nonverbal. If your face is expressionless and the tone of your voice flat, even though you think you’re being there, you are actually conveying that you don’t care.

Smiling, on the other hand, is the first step in making people feel safe, valued and accepted. It tells them you are ready to help and work with them. It invites them to do the same for you, creating an effective, cooperative relationship.