In today’s chaotic, uncertain world, it’s understandable to feel anxious and pessimistic about the state of things. A global pandemic, climate change, multiple humanitarian crises, political upheaval, and conflicts around the globe are just a few of the many pressing issues sapping our good vibes. However, practicing positive thinking does not mean ignoring these realities, or that you have to be happy all the time. On the contrary, it’s a way to increase your emotional resilience and help you to be more equipped to deal with life’s harshest realities.
Positive thinking can shift your outlook and boost your mood and overall well-being by tapping into emotions like gratitude, joy, contentment and love, instead of feelings like frustration, stress and defeat. Changing your default mindset to the positive can improve self-compassion, emotional resilience and confidence. When the going gets tough, the tough get positive!
Many studies have looked at the role of optimism and positive thinking in mental and physical health. Though it’s not always evident which comes first – the mindset or the benefits – it’s hard to find a downside to personifying the positive.
Some physical benefits may include:
- Longer life span
- Lower chance of having a heart attack
- Better overall physical health
- Greater resistance to illnesses such as the common cold
- Lower blood pressure
- Better stress management
- Better pain tolerance
The mental benefits may include:
- More creativity
- Greater problem-solving skills
- Clearer thinking
- Better mood
- Less low mood
- Better coping skills
According to research conducted by psychologists Harris and Thoresen, “by increasing the amount of time a person spends thinking grateful and calming thoughts, there is simply less time to think upsetting and ”unhelpful” thoughts. Assuming that attention is a zero-sum game, the most efficient way to reduce negative and increase positive thoughts and emotions may be to focus on increasing the positive.”
How exactly can we shift our thinking to reap all of these rewards?
World renowned Mayo Clinic advises practice, practice, practice. It’s only natural to filter some of the thoughts we have about ourselves through the prism of pessimism, or think ill of others in times of high-stress, but in the long-run this outlook isn’t healthy and certainly isn’t helping us. However, simply by viewing ourselves and others as compassionately and non-judgmentally as possible, and working to improve our internal dialogue, we are creating lasting change both within us and around us.
Here are 6 tips from the Mayo Clinic for cultivating a positive mindset:
1. Identify areas to modify
If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about – whether it’s work, your daily commute or a relationship. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.
2. Check yourself
Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
3. Be open to humor
Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.
4. Follow a healthy lifestyle
Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week; you can break it up into 10-minute chunks of time during the day. Exercise can positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn techniques to manage stress. Even 10 – 15 minutes of yoga a day can have a real benefit.
5. Surround yourself with positive people
Make sure the people in your life are supportive, and that you can depend on them to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress levels and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
6. Practice positive self-talk and self-compassion
Start by following one simple rule: don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to somebody else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Think about things you’re thankful for in your life.
Here are a few examples of how to rearrange your internal dialogue and perception from the negative and defeatist towards the positive and productive:
Even if you consider yourself to be a relatively positive person, I’m sure at least one of the above examples could be helpful in taking your outlook even further towards the pro and away from the con. It sounds simple, but undoing old habits can be a challenge – your voice has been the voice in your head forever!
Another way that scientists and therapists alike recommend increasing positive thoughts is by starting a gratitude journal. Each morning, before doing anything else, write down one thing you’re grateful for. Really tap into that feeling of being grateful and try to bring it into your other daily interactions. If you feel stressed or anxious, try and recall that positive comforting feeling to help you reframe the problem, negative thought or feelings in a way that’s manageable and helpful.
Research done at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy, and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. In fact, they found that practicing gratitude decreased harmful cortisol levels by 23% on average. Science!
There really is no downside to the practice of positivity and it’s amazing how something so simple can have such major effects on not just you, but others around you. Just working a little each day towards viewing yourself and the world around you with compassion, gratitude and kindness can help you to begin feeling and thinking more positively about yourself, your relationships, your work and your fellow humans.