How to Leverage the Power of Positive Thinking
“Believe in yourself”.
“Manifest your success”.
“What you dream you can achieve”.
These are but a few of the popular anthems of today.
To some, they may seem like phrases for the woo-woo. But in fact, there’s a lot to be said for the power of positive thinking.
Before we get into the benefits of positive thinking, though, let’s first talk about what it is and why you should care.
Positive thinking is a mindset, or mental attitude, in which you naturally believe good outcomes will result from your actions. It’s that “glass half full” analogy we love to reference.
Positive thinkers are eternal optimists who choose to view life through rose-colored glasses, instead of focusing on the negative. They approach every situation with a confidence that things will work out in the end. When things don’t go as planned, they focus on the positive, extracting learnings instead of seeing falling short as a failure.
Why Positive Thinking Is Important
Research shows that there are many, many benefits to adopting a positive mindset. Being positive can improve overall health and well-being. It can also help you become more resilient and adept at handling anything life throws your way.
According to the Mayo Clinic and WebMD, positive thinking can offer a variety of physical and mental benefits including:
There have also been several studies on the effects of positive thinking, including the following findings:
- According to a 2016 study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, women who adopted an optimistic mindset had a much lower risk of dying from cancer, stroke, heart disease, infection, and respiratory disease than women who were less optimistic.
- In another study, people diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder were told to visualize positive outcomes instead of worrying (a typical symptom of people with GAD) for one week. At the end of that time, they showed a significant reduction in their overall anxiety.
- Researchers from the University of Kentucky examined biographies from a group of nuns who lived in a convent together in the 1930s, rating their autobiographies on a scale of positivity. They then contacted the surviving nuns 60 years later, who were by that time, between the ages of 75 and 90. They found that the nuns who were still living were also the most positive of the bunch!
- Another study concluded that people who were infected with HIV and maintained a positive outlook carried a lower load of the virus, were more likely to take their medication as instructed, and did not need antidepressants.
- Positivity is contagious. The study above also found “in pilot testing this intervention we learned that participants were not the only ones whose positive affect increased; facilitators, staff, and investigators also experienced increases in positive affect.”
Pretty amazing, right?
No one knows for sure exactly how positive thinking positively impacts health and wellness, but there are two prevailing theories:
- Positive thinking may help people cope better in stressful situations, thereby minimizing the dangerous health effects stress can have on the body.
- Positive people may generally lead healthier lifestyles—embracing nutritious foods and physical activity and avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and other harmful behaviors.
Understanding Positive Thinking
Okay, you may be thinking, but how does positive thinking work?
It all goes back to what you believe.
If you want to become a more positive person, you must first change your beliefs—the scripts in your head that you hold as true. This can be achieved by reframing your thoughts from negative to positive through a process of choice and sustained repetition. In short, you need to turn positive thinking into an unconscious habit.
If you’re a bit of a pessimist, the great thing is you can absolutely change that! As Marie Forleo points out in her new book Everything is Figureoutable, “Any limiting belief can be erased and replaced. Best of all, changing your beliefs doesn’t have to be hard, it just takes awareness, desire, and practice.”
You can quite literally “rewire” your brain to live your better than ever life. How motivational is that?
How to Adopt a Positive Mindset
As we mentioned above, there are three central steps to changing your mindset: awareness, desire, and practice. Let’s break them down…
STEP 1: AWARENESS
Start by developing a practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of heightened mental awareness and presence that is achieved through focused concentration, stillness, and meditation. Practicing mindfulness can help you slow down, recognize when intrusive thoughts creep in, and learn to let them go for good. With mindfulness, instead of allowing yourself to be hijacked by your thoughts and holding them as true, you learn to pay close attention to them. So start by noticing what beliefs are playing on repeat inside your head and any harmful thought patterns you’d like to change.
STEP 2: DESIRE
Next, you need to decide that these negative and fear-based beliefs aren’t serving you and make a conscious choice to let them go. Once you make the decision that you want to think differently, your thoughts will start to move in that direction. This will take some work, but we promise it will be well worth it! (After all, what’s better than being healthy and happy?!)
STEP 3: PRACTICE
Finally, it’s time to practice, practice, practice training your brain to adopt a new belief system of positivity. Don’t let the word “practice” deter you…this work can be fun! What this entails is surrounding yourself in a cozy bubble of positivity. If, for instance, you struggle with confidence, recite an affirmation to yourself, like “I am confident and courageous!” Say it to yourself as often as humanly possible—when you wake up, in the shower, while you’re making breakfast, while driving to work, while you’re working out—until the thought becomes an unconscious belief deep within. To reinforce the belief, make that message as highly visible as possible in your daily existence. Make it your screensaver on your phone, your wallpaper on your laptop…you get the idea. Take it one step further by committing to write out your new belief over and over in a notebook, filling a page a day.
10 Ways to Develop a Positive Mindset
Here are some tangible ways you can cultivate a more positive mindset.
Gratitude journaling is a great way to shift your focus to the positive. You can buy a gratitude journal or easily create your own with a blank notebook. We recommend sitting down with your journal in the morning or evening and writing down 3-5 things (big or small) that you’re grateful for. Another great exercise is to list 3-5 things that went well that day. Again, they don’t have to be anything earth-shattering. Making note of even the smallest achievements can help you become more optimistic.
- Embrace Affirmations
Affirmations—or empowering positive statements—can help you internalize positive thinking. Consider buying a deck of affirmation cards, downloading an affirmation to use as a laptop or phone screensaver, or hanging some wall art…the more you see positive statements, the more thinking them will become natural and a force of habit!
- Consume Positive Content
In the same vein, exposing yourself to positive podcasts, books, social media accounts, and other types of content can help you harness the power of positive thinking. Take the time to unfollow or “hide” people if you find yourself being negative affected by them.
Studies have shown that people who meditate on a daily basis display more positive emotions than their non-practicing counterparts. By focusing your attention on a constant (like taking long, deep breaths), meditation can help you anchor yourself in the present and reach a calm and relaxed state. So make like a tree (pose).
- Exercise and Eat Right
The mind-body connection is super important when it comes to feeling good on the daily. Taking care of yourself physically can have an enormous impact on how we feel mentally. So make it a habit to be active for even 15-minutes a day and eat a nutritious diet.
- Hang With Positive Friends
Spend more time with the positive people in your life and you’ll be a lot more likely to lean toward optimism yourself…it’s contagious! If positivity is rare in your circle, find local groups, or take up a new hobby and seek out like-minded friends who always look on the bright side.
- Stop Comparing
You likely know this, but the comparison game is harmful and usually only highlights the things we don’t have. Instead, focus on what you do have and how you are already blessed. Instead of looking at your weaknesses, ask yourself what your strengths are. Celebrate them! Be proud of them. So, stop beating yourself up about how successful Shelly is and how behind you are. In fact, don’t worry about Shelly at all!
- Practice Self-Care
Schedule intentional time out weekly to take care of yourself and do things that make you happy. Hobbies, relaxation, and play are all activities that fan the flames of happiness.
- Do Something Good
Find a cause you believe in and get involved. Being part of something that’s bigger than you is a great way to increase those feel-good feelings. Take a look at volunteermatch.org to see what best suits your serving style and find out where you are needed most.
- Reframe Your Thoughts
Positive thinkers view failure as a learning opportunity and setbacks as challenges for them to tackle and approach from a new angle. So make it a regular practice to reframe difficult situations and look for the silver lining. Ask yourself, what can this experience teach me? How can I grow from this?
Final Thoughts on Embracing the Power of Positivity
Persistence pays off. Will there be tough times? Of course. It’s not realistic or even possible to never have a sad or negative thought again—you are human after all. But be persistent in your path to positivity and we promise—your mind will follow suit.
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