Positive Retrospective Interpretation

As an early Christmas gift, we’d like to share with you an exercise to strengthen the mind’s faculty of optimism (a trait both learnable and trainable) and simultaneously habituate these more positive thought habit patterns.

We developed the “Positive Retrospective Interpretation” exercise to teach the subconscious how to be open to the possible existence of something good, somewhere in ALL situations. The mind is then trained to find positive elements of a situation and focus its attention and gratitude upon these.

  • Positive Retrospective Interpretation - A 5 – 10 minutes exercise to practice three times a week, in a distraction-free environment.  
    • Consider a past event that appeared to be a small inconvenience to, or had some negative impact on, your emotional wellbeing. Perhaps a traffic jam, a broken or possession etc.
    • Revisit this moment in your mind and spend 3 or so minutes searching for as many positive outcomes as possible, from positive learning outcomes to personal growth and development that resulted from the event.
    • Ask questions like: “What was great about this? Why was that exactly what I needed? What else did I learn from this?”
    • Did it challenge you to bring out some aspect of yourself that you value? Did it show you some aspect of yourself that you need to be aware of and work on? Did the event create an opportunity for fresh new beginnings, justify a new purchase or open unexpected alternative pathways?
    • Think about the new information you obtained through the experience, the lessons learned that will help you in future or if the situation were to repeat itself.
    • Then move on to a more recent event and do the same.
    • Then consider a current challenge you are facing and apply the same approach.
    • With time and practice, the mind becomes increasingly capable of optimism and finds opportunities to feel grateful and happy for ever more frequent events.

Details of this exercise, as well as 99 others like it, are in our book – 100 Steps Happier, available here.  Here’s one example of how this exercise benefited me a few years ago:

I had arrived at the train station early and managed to catch a similar train one hour earlier than I’d planned. A fair way into the journey, the ticket inspector strongly verbally encouraged me to get off the almost empty train, and wait one hour for the next one. I had originally thought I’d be getting an extra hour with an important friend that lived way across the country.  In that moment I was so certain, that the universe was conspiring to make my day better, that I leapt out of my seat with a genuine smile, and left the train in search of the inevitable silver lining. Within a couple of minutes, I found myself in the middle of the Welsh countryside, on a sunny summer afternoon, listening to the birds and watching a stream trickle through a beautiful meadow, weaving past great Oak trees and meandering through to the next field. I had a whole hour of blissful, uninterrupted tranquillity in this hidden Eden.

If ever unexpected or uncontrollable external events change a path we thought we were on, remember that the original path was never destined at all, every apparent change in direction is simply an opportunity to find more good where it was least expected.

When we practice this positive interpretation of apparent inconveniences we train a naturally more positive mindset. When things happen that may aggravate other people, a well trained positive mindset will be able to maintain emotional peace and even smile with the knowledge that it is being offered a chance for something even better.   We can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust the sails…


A Good Way To Think is a happiness growing community using practical exercises and proven methods like this Happy Idea to empower you and your world live even happier.  Passing on this little “Hi” is a great way to share our mission of making the world an even happier place, one thought at a time thanks for being a part of the community!

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There’s heaps of free content, workshops and Personalised Happiness Training Programs all at AGoodWayToThink.com

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