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Positivity can be a powerful tool. It can bring more happiness into your life, reduce stress, and give you a much more content and satisfied overall feeling towards your life and yourself. It seems that the words “positive thinking” or “positivity” are on everybody’s lips these days. Although it might almost sound cliché to enhance your life using the power of positivity, the effects thoughts have on our body, mind, and soul have been studied many times before. Harnessing that skill makes every moment in your life worthwhile. It gives meaning to your everyday experiences. Having an optimistic outlook can be the key to a successful and fulfilled life filled with love, happiness, and contempt. And isn’t that what we are all striving for?
What is positive thinking?
Positive thinking is a mindset. A mental attitude focused on the good, the happy, and not so much on the ugly. Being positive means dealing with matters confidently with a focus on a favorable outcome. Positive thinking embraces the growth mindset. It is the practice of nurturing the mental processes in our brains that are conducted in a constructive spirit. A positive mindset brings attention to thoughts, words, and images that support growth, success, and happiness. As a way of life it paves the way to more self-love and a deeper understanding of your own self-worth. Positive thinking strategies can and maybe should be incorporated in our daily lives if we ever want to change the way we perceive ourselves and the world.
And no, positive thinking does not mean that you are happy and shiny 24/7/365. We all have our moments of despair and suffering. But part of having a positive attitude means that sometimes it is just enough to bear the moment of suffering with the knowledge that it will pass. I don’t believe in the way of thinking that positivity should be about being happy about whatever life serves you. It should never encourage repressing feelings of sadness, pain, or hurt. Positive thinking is therefore not an escape into an illusory world and about denying feelings that are not so pleasant. We all go through the ups and downs of life, but with a positive mindset we just view things differently.
I do believe though, that positive thinking brings optimism. And optimism means to me that you accept things the way they are. Everything in life is moving. Nothing stays forever. And so even in the moments of suffering instead of desperately forcing ourselves to feel happy about something, it might be simply enough to just accept that it is a phase. And that there will be other and brighter times. That right now, as odd as that may sound, going through a tough time is the lesson in our lives that we need to learn in that specific moment. Because even the hard and difficult parts of life are needed to help us grow and become the person we were meant to be.
What does positive thinking do to our brains and body?
First of all positive thinking liberates us from external variables that influence our happiness. We begin to take charge of our own feelings and actions. We are taking responsibility for all that is part of ourselves.
A majority of empirical studies have shown the health benefits of positive thinking. With a positive attitude towards life
- we have a longer life span
- the probability of developing depression decreases
- we learn to handle stress better and develop more efficient coping skills
- our resistance against the common cold increases
- we are more creative and solve problems faster
As a general idea you could say that if you feel joy and positive feelings your brain naturally tries to reinforce pleasure. A happy brain that focuses on positive things in life is more productive and develops increased cognitive skills. New neural pathways are created. Our brain knows on which parts of life we spend a lot of energy on. So, if it realizes that positivity is the thing to go for, it adjusts its structure accordingly. Meaning a decrease in release of cortisol (a stress hormone) and an increase in the production of serotonin (a hormone that creates a sense of wellbeing). In turn, new synapses are formed in our prefrontal cortex.
What does that mean? It means you can train your brain to be more positive. Our brain has the impressive capability of neuroplasticity (the restructuring of neural pathways). So, if you focus on negativity, your prefrontal cortex will create neurons that support negative thought processes. On the flip side, if you repeatedly spend time and energy on positive thinking your mental activity will induce changes in your brain structure that are in compliance with that.
How to learn and practice positive thinking?
By practicing positive thinking you focus on the good qualities (inner peace, joy, love, etc) that life has to offer. And I have been talking about how that can restructure your brain in the previous paragraph. But what is also important to know is that it is not an overnight miracle experience. Continuous practice and repetition are key. Practice makes perfect as they would say. 😉
If you keep at it a little bit every day you will gradually notice how your self-talk is less filled with critical and negative statements and more accepting and loving towards yourself.
Here are 7 strategies and exercises that help you to be more positive:
Start Your Day on a Positive Note
Your morning sets the stage for the rest of your daily experiences. How often have you ever woken up and felt that everything is just not going to work for you today? And of course, if you ran out of toothpaste, you will spill that coffee on your shirt. And yes, of course this is just one of those mornings where you’re late anyway, but now, life just took it to a whole nother level. I do have these mornings, too. I do wake up, stab my toe on the bedpost, get stuck in traffic when I particularly didn’t want to be late today, and would just like to scratch that whole day of the list and start over.
Here’s the good news: What if I tell you, you sort of can start your day over?
- Humor: Laughing about yourself and finding something to laugh about even in the most difficult situation releases endorphins that encourage a more relaxed state of mind. You reduce stress because you release tension by laughing. So, when everything is so not going your way, I always find that at some point it becomes so ridiculous that I just have to laugh about it. And before you know it, things will take a turn for the better. Because then, you’re not focused on everything that goes wrong anymore.
- Practice Affirmations: Affirmations are one of the major techniques to develop a more positive mindset. Use them as often as you possibly can to encourage yourself, to ground yourself, and to start loving yourself. Start your day with one or two positive self-affirmations no matter what your morning is going to be like. And then maybe weave them in here and there throughout your day whenever you have a moment to pause. It can be just a simple sentence. For example, every time you wash your hands in the bathroom, take a quick look at yourself in the mirror and say one self-affirmative sentence to yourself, either in your head or out loud. You’ll see that the more often you do it, the more natural it will feel to talk to yourself in a kinder and more compassionate way.
Also, if you’re looking for supporting material that inspires you to create more affirmations, and which will help you ease into the whole process of using affirmations: Here are my personal Amazon favorites:
One of my favorite authors that writes about positive thinking and the power of affirmations is Louise Hay. Her books are just so encouraging and meaningful, it is a true joy to read them. This Power Thought Cards: A 64 Card Deck (Box Set) is based on her work. I truly love those cards! They have a nice design and also make it easier to practice affirmations when you’re having a bad day.
If you’re looking for a more humorous approach to practicing affirmations, then this deck of cards might be more for you:
I mean, come on, there is a unicorn and a rainbow on the cover! 😀 But seriously, humor is the best way to get yourself out of a funk. And if you can start your practice with a smile on your face you’ll be even more successful! 🙂 Give it a try and check out these Affirmators! cards.
- Practice Gratitude: You can also start your day with one or two quick gratitude exercises. Being grateful opens the doors emotionally and mentally to look for more positive things in your life. As multiple studies have shown, gratitude enhances positive emotions and supports mental wellbeing. By appreciating people, or things that you have already accomplished in life, you can start your day on a positive note with a thankful attitude towards your daily experiences.
Positive Choice of Words
This one is closely related to practicing affirmations. But I would like to step up a level and look at it from a more general point of view. It is not only about the way you talk to yourself, but also how you talk to others and what words you use. Try to be mindful of your choice of words. You could easily interchange negative words with more positive ones. I believe that it is more powerful to say sentences such as “I am capable of producing the work that suits my skills and knowledge” instead of “I am incapable of doing my job correctly.”. Or even when you talk to others instead of saying “You are not smart enough” try “You are on the best way to increase your knowledge.”
If you mindfully weave a more positive choice of words into your general way of speaking, positive thinking will come easier to you. By using affirmative words when speaking about yourself or to others, you are already in the process of creating new neural pathways for a more positive mindset.
Tune into Your Thoughts throughout the Day
Check yourself. Try to listen to what kind of thoughts you have. What are you thinking about right now? What have you been mostly thinking about throughout the day? Are your thoughts positive or negative?
If they are negative, try to give them a positive touch. Let’s say you feel self-conscious and nervous about an upcoming meeting or interview. You might hop on the train towards the downward spiral of negativity by thinking “All the other applicants are way smarter and more equipped than I am”, “Who would want to listen to what I have to say, everybody is going to laugh behind my back”, or “I don’t think I am good enough to do this job”. If that is the case, notice it and then check yourself. Recognize that these thoughts stem from your fears and doubts that are a natural part of the human psyche. Accept that you are maybe a little bit scared or nervous and then use words that encourage and support you.
You could try something like “Yes, I am nervous, but that is okay. It is okay, and I am a smart and intelligent young woman, who knows her stuff and can handle whichever situation crosses her path.”
Here is another example: When you tune into your thoughts and you realize that you are upset about something, ask yourself this question: “Will it matter in 5 years from now, or in 10 years from now?”
If the answer is no, you already realized that it is not worth it to spend so much energy on that particular situation. This will free up your mind to focus on positive and good things.
If your answer is yes, then you might need to do some serious digging into your emotions and reevaluate your path of life that you are on right now. It might be that one or two serious and difficult decisions might need to be made.
Define Areas of Your Life That You Want to Change
Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Decide on one or two areas where you want to focus on. And then start incorporating positive thinking into these two areas of your life. Those areas might be your morning commute to work, your relationships, work, self-confidence, or others. Identify the ones that you feel you struggle most with when it comes to positive thinking. It is most helpful to pick areas that you usually think of in a negative way. This way you won’t be overwhelmed and can really focus on making a change.
View Mistakes as Lessons and Not as Failures
Everything in life, whether good or bad, teaches us something. Everything in life is a lesson that we need to learn in order to grow. And mistakes are a part of that. Everyone makes mistakes, nobody is perfect. A lot of the times we are so hard on ourselves when we err that we forget to see beyond that. We forget to put things in a broader perspective. Because mistakes do not define you. They don’t make you a failure. Quite the opposite is the case. Mistakes are opportunities to learn from. They open up new ways of thinking. They help us overcome obstacles and difficulties. If we see mistakes as new possibilities opening up for us, we learn to be optimistic. We don’t let ourselves be defined by what we can’t do, but by what we can do.
I know it’s a tough one. Probably the most difficult thing there is. But when we have been hurt by someone it can be really hard to let go of the pain and the grudge we hold. Forgiving means that we have to put our own ego aside and rise above the pain. Letting go can be such a hard thing to do. Especially when you know that you have to let the old hurt go, before a new thing has even shown itself to you. It’s that moment of not knowing what comes after the letting go. But exactly that brings the goodness and the freedom back into our lives. Resentment can make us feel so much worse on an emotional, physical, and psychological level.
There is a saying “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. And that is what it is really all about. We poison ourselves if we hold on to things that happened in the past and that we cannot change anyway.
Forgiving though is the only relief, the only cure, for that pain. Once we can let go, the burden is much lighter. There is much less to carry on our shoulders. And we are free to enjoy our life and all the good things it has to offer.
Forgiving means letting go of the negative, and being open for the positive. And I do know that there are some things that are way harder to forgive than others. But remember, one small step at a time to make the puzzle complete.
Visualizing a positive outcome can shift your mindset. Remember when I talked about neuroplasticity at the beginning? This is where it comes in handy. Visualization is not supposed to be an escape into some illusion and alternative reality. It is more about training your brain to focus on positive things. It can help you look for the good and the positive in people and situations. If you repeatedly imagine yourself as being a successful intelligent young woman who walks into the office with a purpose and with grace, then you will become that woman. You are what you think. Our thoughts form our character and are reflected in outer circumstances. Our environment is just a mirror of our inner feelings and thoughts.
When we visualize ourselves with positive character traits, or envision a favorable outcome of a difficult situation, then we will create the neural pathways in our brains that are necessary to look for those things on a day-to-day basis. It can’t hurt to try, right? 🙂
All in all, positive thinking is more about change and acceptance than it is about finding an escape and zoning out. It is about approaching life with a different mindset that focuses on growth and joy. Positive thinking creates an optimistic outlook towards life that encourages mental wellbeing and physical health. You can master the craft of positive thinking by repeatedly practicing positive thinking techniques. Positive choice of words, the use of self-affirmations, mindfully reflecting and redirecting your own thought processes are all part of the bigger healing process that takes place when we let go of negativity. Taking one small step at a time, we can rise above our own shortcomings and find inner peace, joy, and happiness in our lives. 🙂