Mind Over Matter: How to Harness the Power of Positive Thinking
We’ve been taught from an early age that the words we say to others matter. Words have the power to encourage, inspire and influence. They also have the power to discourage, unnerve and isolate. But what about the words that we tell ourselves? In this blog, we’re focusing on the power of positive thinking. Positive thoughts are like superpowers, once you tap into them, the possibilities are endless. They can transform insecurities into confidence, giving you the strength to fight through tough situations.
What’s positive thinking and why is it important?
Maintaining a positive attitude doesn’t mean that “life’s curveballs” won’t affect you1, it’s a conscious choice to remain optimistic (not pessimistic) despite your circumstance. Positive thinking refers to the productive way in which you approach adversity.
What’s the difference between optimism and pessimism? For starters, they’re located on two different sides of the personality spectrum. An optimist tends to focus more on positive situations, while a pessimist may place greater emphasis on the negative1. Regardless of what characteristic you may identify with, when it comes to mental health there’s no right or wrong. Positive thinking is a mindset, and not a systematic view.
The destructive nature of negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk is likely provoked by unproven thoughts, preconceived ideas or assumptions that arise from a given situation1. To embrace the positive and filter out the negative, you must first be able to recognize the various types of negative behavior1:
• Highlight the worst and forget the best – Instead of looking at the positive in a situation, you continue to look toward the negative.
• Constantly blame yourself – When things don’t happen the way that you want them to, you point the finger at yourself.
• Thinking the worst – Negative thoughts feed your mind before the situation itself has even occurred.
• No matter how hard you try, you’re never doing enough – You remember every task you didn’t complete and blame yourself for not following through.
• Making a mountain out of a molehill – It could be a small problem that requires a minor adjustment, but you turn it into a seismic shift.
• No one is perfect, but you’re trying hard to be – Nothing is impossible, but the standards that you’ve set for yourself might have set you up for failure.
• It’s all good or all bad – Everything is good or bad, there is no between.
Positive thinking with a twist.
One of many great things about the human mind is that it’s constantly evolving. What does that mean for you? Change is possible, should you choose to embrace it. Positive thinking isn’t always linear, so your approach shouldn’t be either. Here are a few pointers that can help foster the positivity in your life:
a. Reframe your thinking – Challenging thoughts in a positive or productive way is called positive reframing. Finding something to be grateful about in a challenging situation is a way of successfully accomplishing this2. It’s basically reprogramming your brain to think in ways that you may have never considered.
b. Write in a gratitude journal – Gratitude is the state of being grateful3. Studies have shown that there is a connection between thankfulness and overall health. Set aside time during your day to think of all the things that went right. What are you grateful for? It can be as simple as having food to eat or a place to sleep4. Need pointers on starting a gratitude journal? Here are a few tips:
• Write when it suits you – Find a time to decompress. Research has revealed that writing in your gratitude journal before bedtime can help you get a better night’s rest5.
• Go with the flow – Don’t make things complicated. Start with a goal of writing a couple things in your gratitude journal for just a few minutes a day. As time goes on, you’ll build upon what you have written, and witness the progress that you’ve made5.
• Make your day… a positive one – Embrace the positivity in your life, daily. It can help reduce stress levels even when things aren’t exactly rosy, allowing you to reclaim your focus on things that matter most5.
• Details. Details. Details – This is the time to be as detailed as you want. Describe your moment of appreciation in its entirety. By doing so, you’re able to relive the positive experience which can be cathartic to your mind and body5.
c. The power of visualization.
Visualization (or imagery) is the process of cognitively creating an image to either develop or enhance a skill6. It’s one of the most popular psychological techniques, that’s even thought to improve athletic performance, although researchers aren’t sure about the psychological factors that play into it. You may or may not be an athlete, but you can still apply this exercise to your everyday life. Consider it practice for great things to come. Preparation for the positive can give you the self-esteem to excel when it really happens, and it will.
Conquering your mountain of negative thoughts.
Overcoming negative thoughts can be a huge obstacle, but there is a way to turn it around with self-affirmation. Self-affirmation is the belief in one’s worth and existence7. In laments terms, it’s understanding who you are and what you are made of. There’s an inner warrior in you. However, it may take time to reveal itself. Here are a few ways to overcome negative thoughts through affirmation:
Embrace change – Identify anything large or small in your life that may cause you to think negatively. Reflect on how to approach it positively1.
Fact check yourself – Negative thoughts can often be based on things that aren’t true. When you feel yourself going down that route, find something positive. It could be as simple as a lesson learned in a particular situation1.
Laugh it off – When things get rough, sometimes a smile or a laugh can help. Laughter can produce endorphins. Endorphins can decrease cortisol (the stress hormone) therefore helping to reduce your stress level1.
Live healthily – A healthy diet, frequent exercise, stress management and a great night’s sleep can provide the mental clarity necessary to help you sift through negative talk and finally speak the truth about yourself. Stressing less and maintaining a better night’s sleep are essential to healthy living1. CLICK HERE to learn how you can effectively manage your stress and achieve a blissful night’s sleep.
Happy is what happy does.
Exposing yourself to positive people, won’t always guarantee happiness, but it can provide encouragement. There will be days that don’t go quite as planned, and it’s during those times you’ll need positive reinforcements the most, helping you to see past the moment. The same principle applies to music, movies and books. The positivity you put in, is what you will get out.
Time to put that positivity into practice.
Before making a negative statement, ask yourself, “Would I say this to someone else”? Give yourself a little grace, disregarding the negatives. Think about the good things you’ve accomplished and what you are thankful for1. Not to worry if you don’t get it right away. Positive thinking requires practice and lots of it. Avoid negative self-talk by replacing it with a positive statement1, blocking out the negativity, and allowing you to become more accepting of who you are and where you’re going.
Negative self-talk is counterproductive. It allows assumptions and falsehoods to consume your life. For every negative, tell yourself something positive. Forget what you think you’re incapable of and focus on what you are. Positive thinking is a state of mind, it may require some practice, but it’s an achievable goal. If you can’t verbally say what you’re grateful for, write it down in a gratitude journal. Surround yourself with like-minded positive people and participate in activities that bring you joy. Be your biggest advocate. You are what you think, and there’s no doubt that you were meant to be someone great.
1 Positive thinking: stop negative self-talk to reduce stress, Mayo Clinic.
2 Positive reframing and examining the evidence, Harvard University Stress and Development lab.
3 Gratitude definition, Merriam Webster.
4 Can expressing gratitude improve your mental, physical health?, Mayo Health System.
5 4 tips for keeping a gratitude journal, Cleveland Clinic.
6 APA Dictionary of Psychology, American Psychological Association.
7 Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation, National Library of Medicine.