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November 3, 2020

6 ways to thrive—even in the most stressful times

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Jan. 3, 2023.

    Research has found that, amid the coronavirus pandemic, people have felt increasingly frustrated, worried, and angry—emotions that can have negative impacts on our health. But writing for Harvard Business Review, Christine Porath, a professor of management at Georgetown University, and Mike Porath, founder and CEO of The Mighty, offer six tips on how you can thrive—even if everything around you feels negative.

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    The importance of thriving 

    Research has found that negativity and rudeness can significantly affect our health, the authors write. For example, witnessing rudeness has been shown to interfere with our working memory and decrease performance, while exposure to rude words has been shown to reduce our ability to process and remember information.


    But a practice called "thriving" can counteract negativity, the authors write. They define thriving as "the psychological state in which people experience a sense of both vitality and learning."

    Thriving has been linked to people feeling healthier, more resilient, and better-focused on their work, the authors write. And even a small feeling of thriving has been shown to protect people against stress, distractions, and negativity, according to the authors. In one study of six companies in six different industries, for example, employees who were characterized as thriving were 1.2-times less likely to experience burnout and 52% more confident in themselves than their peers, the authors write.

    6 tips for thriving

    So how do you start thriving, even amid immense amounts of negativity? The authors offer six tips:

    1. Avoid negativity. Be cognizant of the things you read, the music you listen to, and the people you're around, the authors write. "Negativity seeps into our pores through these sources. So make simple choices away from negativity and toward positivity."

    2. Pay attention to what you say out loud. "[W]e have more control over our thoughts and feelings than anyone else," the authors write, noting that mental conditioning coach Trevor Moawad has explained that verbalizing a thought is 10 times more damaging to our sense of thriving than just thinking it. So, instead of saying things like "This is the worst I've ever seen," perhaps instead say, "This situation is challenging," the authors write. This allows you to recognize an opportunity for growth or learning while still acknowledging the truth of a situation.

    3. Start thinking neutrally. Negative thoughts can cause us to struggle while doing basic tasks, and constant negative thinking has been associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, the authors write. Instead of thinking negatively, Moawad recommends "neutral thinking," which is a way of analyzing and assessing problems that is neither judgmental or reactive. "This includes staying in the moment, reacting to each moment as it unfolds, and keeping your focus on how you can influence your next action," the authors write.

    4. Practice gratitude frequently. Gratitude has been shown to come with a litany of health benefits, including reducing stress, making us happier, and helping us reach our goals, the authors write—and practicing gratitude in conjunction with neutral thinking can be especially effective. According to the authors, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has touted the benefits of doing just that to help him work through his father's death, a Super Bowl loss, and how America's coronavirus epidemic has impacted his life and job. Wilson said having an "attitude of gratitude" can help you be thankful for a challenge and persevere through it.

    5. Manage your energy. Exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep can help increase your resilience to negativity, the authors write. According to the authors, exercise causes our muscles to pump "hope molecules" into our systems, which can help both mental and physical health. And those effects can be amplified by exercising outside, with friends, or with music, the authors write. Meanwhile, healthy eating helps combat negativity by giving us more self-control, and getting an adequate amount of sleep improves self-regulation and self-control.

    6. Cultivate positive relationships. Research has found that de-energizing relationships, in which one person has consistent negative feelings about another, have between four- and seven-times more impact on a person's sense of thriving than positive relationships, the authors write. So it's important to cultivate relationships with "energizers," or those who inject positivity into your life, the authors write.

    Overall, the authors note, "[y]ou may not be able to stop the flow of negativity in your life, especially right now." However, they write, "you can resist its toxic effects by making smart choices about who and what you surround yourself with, the mindset you adapt, and the information you consume." They conclude, "Not only will you be better off because of these choices—those around you will too" (Porath/Porath, Harvard Business Review, 10/30).

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