Last month we discussed all the benefits of positive thinking here. This month we look at how to think positively and improve your life. You can change your behaviour and thoughts to adopt a more positive mindset. It takes effort, but once you consciously practice adopting a more positive approach, you can change your brain and form new ways of thinking, which in turn will improve your health.
We explore how some optimists work hard to combat their negative emotions, and how negative thought patterns can be changed with mindfulness and self-compassion.
Side effects of negative thinking
Its important to realise how negative thinking can impact you and your daily life, as this can be a key in making the change to a more positive mindset. Negative thinking and the many feelings that can accompany it, such as pessimism, stress, and anger, can cause a number of physical symptoms and increase your risk of diseases and a shortened lifespan. Stress and other negative emotions trigger several processes in our bodies, including stress hormone release, metabolism, and immune function. Long periods of stress increase inflammation in your body, which has also been implicated in a number or serious diseases. Some of the symptoms of stress include:
- body aches
- difficulty sleeping.
Negativity, stress, anger, and hostility have been linked to a higher risk of:
- heart disease
- heart attack
So how do you become a positive thinker and avoid all of these side effects? Here are some tips that can help you train your brain to think positively:
Focus on the good things
Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When you’re faced with one, focus on the good things no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem. If you look for it, you can always find a positive. For example, a friend cancels your plans, focus on how you now have some free time to do an activity you enjoy or have a well-deserved rest from a busy week. This is also referred to as reframing a situation to give it a positive view.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and foster resilience even in very difficult times. Think of people, moments, or things that bring you some kind of comfort or joy and try to express your gratitude at least once a day. This can be by thanking a neighbour for their help, a loved one for doing some chores, or your pet for their unconditional love.
Keep a gratitude journal
Studies have found that writing down the things you’re grateful for can improve your optimism and sense of well-being. Have a gratitude journal and write in it daily – try listing three things each day. Also jotting down a list of things you’re grateful for on challenging days can also help.
Be open to humour
Many studies have found that laughter is good for you as it lowers stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also improve your coping skills, mood, and self-esteem. Give yourself permission to laugh and try and see the funny side to situations, especially the difficult ones. It will instantly lighten your mood and make your outlook brighter.
Spend time with positive people
Positivity and negativity have been shown to be contagious. Think about the people that you spend your time with, one person in a bad mood can affect everyone in the room, however a happy person can have the opposite effect.
If you spend your time with positive people, it will improve your perspective on life, lift you up and help you see the bright side of things. You should also see an improvement in your self-esteem and goal reaching – because you aren’t being held back by negative, self-limiting beliefs and thoughts.
Practice positive self-talk
We all tend to be hard on ourselves and be our own worst critic. This, over time, can affect your self-esteem and create a negative opinion of yourself. With some self-awareness you can change this. Be mindful of the voice in your head and respond with positive messages, known as positive self-talk. Research has found that even a small shift in your self-talk can affect your ability to regulate your feelings, thoughts, and behaviour in a stressful situation.
For example, change your self-talk of “what a stupid mistake I made” to “we all make mistakes, its part of learning, I will try it again a different way.”
Identify your areas of negativity
Take a good look at the different areas of your life and identify the ones in which you tend to be the most negative. If you are unsure try asking a friend or family member, they will probably be able to offer you some insight. A friend may tell you that you tend to always talk negatively about your work. Your sibling may say that you get especially negative when planning family events. Try and tackle these negative views one area at a time and turn them into more positive situations.
Start every day on a positive note
Create a positive morning ritual and set a positive tone for the day ahead. You could incorporate some of the following:
- Eat a tasty and nourishing breakfast
- Go for a brisk walk, practice some yoga or meditation
- Listen to your favourite music
- Do some positive affirmations
- Compliment someone you see or do a nice thing for someone.
Resiliency is the ability to adapt and recover in stressful and/or negative situation or loss. The following is recommended to help build resilience:
- Maintain good relationships with family and friends.
- Accept that change is a part of life.
- Take action on problems rather than just hoping they disappear or waiting for them to resolve themselves.
- Understand your locus of control. Accept what you can’t change and do your best to think of the positives instead.
It’s important to realise that positive thinking isn’t a magic wand that will make all your problems disappear. It can however make problems seem more manageable and help you approach tough situations in a more positive and productive way.
It’s also important to realise when you need to seek medical help. If you’re negative thoughts are consuming you and you are having trouble controlling your emotions, see a doctor. Medical help, such as positive psychology or therapy, may help you.
Also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, as you may not be able to undo years of negativity overnight, however with some practice, you can learn new ways to approach things and have a more positive outlook.