Volume 19, Issue 3
The Practice of Positive Thinking
You’ve heard it before… “Positive thinking yields positive results.” “If you think it, you can do it!” “Just think positive.”
Studies conducted by universities all over the world have demonstrated that positive thinking has a positive result on our daily life. So why is it that everyone isn’t on the Positivity Train?
Optimists and Pessimists
Well, sometimes it just isn’t that easy. People can generally identify them- selves as an optimist or a pessimist –a glass- half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person. That part is easy. It’s what we do with that information once we have it that makes all the difference. If you already lean toward the optimistic end of the spectrum, you probably know some of the benefits of that sunny disposition – better rest, healthier lifestyle, stronger interpersonal relationships, but most of all the peace of mind that comes with a general feeling that things will work out for the best. We don’t need research to tell us that if we are more positive, we will feel better. However, trying to be more positive can be more challenging than you might think.
Pessimists – our “glass-half-empty” friends – tend to struggle with what comes easily to their more optimistic counterparts. According to research done by Barbara Frederickson of the University of North Carolina, people who tend toward the negative often struggle with being able to “get past” an adverse situation.
The Positive Side of Negative Thinking
Not only is this normal, but it is actually evolution at work. The development of the human brain allowed us to focus our “fight or flight” instincts with such intensity that it became easy to block out “irrelevant” data that could interfere with the need to be safe. In a situation where we would be in potential danger, the brain hones in on the threat and the means of escape. Details of our surroundings, consequences of our actions, and other environmental stimuli go unnoticed until the threat is dispelled.
Flash forward a few millennia and that fight-or-flight instinct still exists. However, now instead of fleeing the threats of the rainforest we are fleeing the threats of our own 21st century jungle. The menacing tiger is now a harsh review from a supervisor, an argument with a loved one, being passed over for a promotion, or a call from a bill collector. Unfortunately human nature’s ability to laser-focus on a negative situation now becomes less of a survival aide and more of a hindrance to well-being.
Practice Positive Thinking
So what can you do? This is where PRACTICE comes in. “Thinking positive” is great. But even more so, PRACTICING positive thinking is critical for those who do not come by it naturally. Here are some exercises to get started:
Franklin Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparing yourself to others throws an immediate road block into your ability to feel good about your true self. Do you post your proud moments on social media, only for them to be replaced by others’ critical comments or their “one-up” accomplishments? Stop measuring yourself by what others think or accomplish. Use your own judgment, not the perceptions of others to measure your worth.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brené Brown writes, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.” The healthy alter- native to striving for perfection is striving for self-improvement. This switches the focus from what you think others think about you (perfectionism) to what you think of yourself (self-improvement) Goal-setting becomes about learning, improving, and growing instead of self- punishment.
Stop measuring yourself by what others think or accomplish. Use your own judgment, not the perceptions of others to measure your worth.
Reduce Negative Self-Talk
When the chatter in our minds are an endless stream of criticism, doubt, or even self-degradation, negative results become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Why do we think it is OK treat ourselves with such disregard? To train the brain, start by writing down the negative thought.
Putting words on paper can reveal how unreasonable the thought may be. Once on paper, use a tally mark to track how often that thought reoccurs throughout the day. At the end of the day review your record and see how much effort and thought went into the negativity and make a commitment to change.
Ultimately, Positive Thinking is about how you choose to treat yourself. Treating yourself with more respect and acceptance is the first step to growing a more positive, confident, optimistic outlook. Sound like a tough thing to do on your own? You don’t have to! PAS professional counselors have the experience and knowledge to help you, and they are only a phone call away. They can help you identify your goals and design a plan to help you on a journey towards a more positive life.
Every thought we think is creating our future. ~ Louise Hay
Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures. ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr, Life’s Little Instruction Book
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