“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so……” - Hamlet
Are you a glass half full kind of person or a glass half empty? Optimist or pessimist? Maybe a little bit of both?
The mind is a powerful thing and no wonder with the average person having 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts daily. The idea of the power of positive thinking is not a new one with an entire field of psychology focused on this area. Yet statistics show that within those thousands of thoughts we have on a daily basis, up to 80% of those thoughts are negative!
Negative thoughts prime us to react physically and emotionally for survival- they narrow our thinking and make us less aware of the outside world thus more capable of surviving an immediate danger in front of us. But most often there is no immediate danger other than all of those negative thoughts taking up brain space, messing with our nervous systems, and decreasing our ability to learn new things or think beyond what is right in front of us.
On the other hand, research has shown positive thinking increases our life span, allows for better stress management, increases our resistance to illnesses, decreases our risk of cardiovascular diseases/death, increases physical well being and improves our mental health. Positive emotions allow you to see more possibilities in your life, enhancing your ability to learn new skills and think creatively now and into the future.
This does not mean you should or need to live with “rose-colored glasses" to achieve the benefits of positive thinking. Ignoring or glossing over the struggles in your life or the bigger world is not helpful. There is a difference between being negative and being realistic. Research has shown that being realistic also leads to positive results in the long run.
If you’re one to already frame life in the positive, awesome and keep up the good work! But you are more of the exception vs the rule, so what about the rest of us?
Here are a couple of ways to start improving your health now via your powerful mind!
Step 1: Awareness
Be honest and start paying attention to the internal stories you’re telling yourself. Many of us, myself included, are great at being positive for others but unfortunately don’t do the same for ourselves. Instead, the negative inner dialogue can run a little rampant through our heads. Being aware of negative thoughts is the first step to changing them.
There’s also something called “explanatory style”. This is how you explain (to yourself and others) why certain events happened. There is the optimistic style in which you give yourself credit for when good things happen and blame outside forces for the bad. This style tends to see the negative as temporary and not typical. As you can imagine, the pessimistic style is the opposite, tending to blame ourselves when things go array, and expecting the negative to be the norm. Take a deeper look at how you “explain” your day and how it can be shifted to the positive.
Step 2: Bring on the Positive!
This can be done in a number of different ways. Here are a few ideas:
Crowd out the negative with the positive. This is why that awareness piece is crucial! One way to do this is to use a method coined by Mel Robbins, author and motivational speaker called “the 5 second rule”. When you note a negative thought, count backwards from 5 which essentially puts the “pause button” on the negative thought train. Then replace the negative with a positive. Eventually this will become 2nd nature and the positive will become your default way of thinking!
Writing. Research has shown simply writing about positive experiences consistently over time impacts thinking and emotions for the better. This is one reason why having a “gratitude practice” is so beneficial. Pull out that journal or “notes app” on your phone and start writing down the good!
Smile. A LOT. The act of smiling helps you feel happier no matter what your mood or thoughts might have been before that smile happened. This in turn helps improve the quality of those thoughts!
Here’s to LOTS of happy thoughts and health.
* First published in Tualatin Life, February, 2020