The Power of Positive Thinking – Reap the Benefits of an Optimistic Mindset
When it rains, it really pours and, let’s face it, sometimes you find yourself standing in the middle of the street with no public transport in sight, no umbrella, no jacket, and definitely no waterproof shoes. What do you do? Do you stand there, like a soaked, dejected puppy, cursing the skies, Thor, Zeus, and Perun alike, or do you make a move to get somewhere dry?
I do hope it’s the latter because this mindset is a prerequisite for today’s practice session (otherwise, you might get stuck with permanent pneumonia).
Positive thinking is a powerful tool that can improve your well-being and outlook on life in unexpected ways. While you may be sceptical about books like The Secret and the Law of Attraction, a positive mindset has gained much attention in recent years. In fact, so much so that it has boosted the study of positive psychology, i.e. the examination of the effects of optimism on the body and mind. There is even some anecdotal evidence that positive thinking can help people with depression.
Some of the most beneficial aspects of positive thinking include:
- Better mental health. Practising positive thinking has been shown to produce healthier coping mechanisms and reduce stress. Namely, the positive outlook perceives stressful situations as less threatening and improves one’s ability to deal with them. As a result, positive thinkers show an increase in their overall mental health. (You don’t need me to tell you that stress is bad for you: from hair falling out and weight changes to panic attacks.)
- Better physical health. As an extension of taking care of your mental health and finding good stress-relieving practices, your physical health also benefits from it. Finding balance in life can even reduce the symptoms of the common cold (trust me, I know, I’ve been dragging one for weeks).
- Longer life span. In addition to sports, healthy food, and regular breaks, positive thinking makes you live longer, so you can chase those rainy clouds away even more!
- Reduced chances of cardiovascular disease. While some of it may be a genetic predisposition, how you view life can determine the health of your heart. So, let’s get that blood pressure under control.
Disclaimer: Naturally, positive thinking cannot dispel all problems and illnesses in life. Although there are studies that support the claim that the power of positive thinking contributes greatly to one’s overall well-being, life sometimes doesn’t work like that. Genetics, unpleasant circumstances, and external factors can impinge on your life beyond simple mindset changes. Don’t rely on your mindset alone to help you through an illness – please speak to your doctor. If you’re feeling down or showing signs of depression, seek professional help because depression is not simple sadness, it’s a complex problem.
Moving Beyond Words – Positive Thinking Techniques
I won’t lie; I am a born cynic and pessimist. If you needed someone to reel out every tiny detail of how it’s raining pitchforks in every situation, you wouldn’t need to look further than yours truly. Why? Who knows, I am just like that. However, even I have learnt to let some rays of sunshine through! 🌞
Don’t you just love it when people tell you those would-be smart things like, ‘Oh, but you just have to look at it from the bright side’ or ‘the glass is always half full’? Where is that metaphorical glass everyone talks about, and how does it help you have a positive mindset? Instead of vague witticisms, I’m all for a hands-on approach to life, so let’s dive right into positive thinking techniques.
Start by grounding yourself. Meditation is a great tool to centre yourself in the moment and tune into your senses. Try some simple exercises like focusing on what you can hear, see, smell, and touch before slowly listening to your thoughts and emotions. If you’re anything like me, your mind will be racing from one thing to another, but it doesn’t hurt to just let them be. Once you’re there, ask yourself the following:
- What are the predominant emotions around your thoughts?
- How many of those have to do with acute stressors, and how many are chronic?
- How many of those issues can you control?
When you know your mind, you hold the power to change your outlook.
Here comes the hard part: If there are negative emotions, thoughts, and memories, you must do your best to rewrite them as positive.
- Think positively about the past: Whatever you’re going through, see what you have learnt from your experiences. Believe it or not, a simple, ‘Well, at least it’s not X’ or ‘At least it’s better than Y’ can already shift your headspace towards a more positive one.
- Think positively about the present by practising gratitude and appreciation of your life as it is. Put some effort into really remembering all the good stuff in your life. Write it down if you need to. Cognitive behavioural therapy uses this technique to treat depression to a certain degree. It focuses on small things when the world gets too bleak, like finding joy in nice weather or petting a neighbourhood cat. In doing so, the mind learns to zoom into those aspects of life that could give you a serotonin boost, dulling the negative ones.
- Think positively about the future by visualising your goals and positive outcomes. I find this particular technique to be the most relief-providing of all. We cannot change the past, and the present is sometimes difficult, but if you genuinely start imagining a happier future, you might find you’re already feeling better.
- Stop all negative self-talk. How you talk to yourself can be overpowering. Whatever you’ve found in yourself that you don’t like, it’s time to ditch those thoughts. Appreciate your mind and body for what they do for you, and, if you wish to improve your behaviour, do so gently and with as much compassion as you would have for your closest friends.
- Adopt a healthy fitness routine. It has been sung from the rooftops: Cardiovascular exercise improves your mood. Engaging in any sweaty session – whether dancing, swimming, or high-intensity training – produces many happy hormones. If you think exercise is not for you, I beg to differ; there are many types of exercise, and I guarantee you’ll find something for yourself.
- Laugh more. Just smiling properly already tends to boost your mood. If you meet friends for a drink, laughter will follow. Check out some good comedies (Monty Python really never fails to entertain) and, most importantly, allow yourself to be silly sometimes. Life is much more fun that way.
Positive Thinking Exercises to Try
My personal favourite is positive self-talk. I keep reminding myself that even though it may be raining cats and dogs at times, things have always worked out well in the past – no reason why they wouldn’t in the future.
- Positive affirmations. And this, again, coming from an absolute sceptic! Practising positive affirmations rewires your brain to focus on positive things more. Lemme tell you a secret: If you’re mostly negatively inclined, you will tend to see the bad things first. However, if you train yourself to see the flip side of things, life will be much brighter.
- Set daily goals. You can create a bullet-point list of things you want to achieve during the day. Be reasonable with your time and energy and enjoy the little hit of happiness every time you cross something off.
- Daydream. Let your mind roam the fields of potential and possibility. Think about your future and all the places you’ll see.
- Travel. Nothing boosts your spirits like a small getaway. It doesn’t have to be expensive or far away – a drink and a walk in the neighbouring town will do. A change of scenery, even if it’s short-termed, helps you relax and view the world differently. What is more, if you’re facing a problem, getting a physical distance from it might help you examine it through different eyes.
- Be kind to yourself. Find some time to relax, enjoy a pleasant evening routine, or indulge in some inspirational movies.
- Spend some time outside. Take a walk around the block or in the park and try to actively seek out beauty in the world around you.
- Learn to forgive yourself. If you’re at odds with something that happened in the past, put some effort into coming to peace with it. Whether you did something wrong or someone wronged you, allow yourself to heal by forgiving yourself.
- Write out lists of positive things. There’s an excellent play called Every Brilliant Thing in which the narrator learns to cope with his depression by writing every brilliant thing in his life in one endless list. He manages to find hundreds of reasons to be grateful for his existence and happy about his life. You should take a leaf out of his book and write your own lists. To help you out, I suggest using these toolkits: Things I Love and I Am Great Because.
- Link positive thoughts to situations and people. This requires some practice, but if you actively remind yourself to make these connections, your whole mindset will shift. For instance, your best friends or your partner are a source of love and support. Your workplace brings you joy because of X, Y, and Z. Similar to positive affirmations, this type of cognitive rewiring is mainly done through relentless repetition. Sometimes you just have to convince yourself 😊!
- Be proactive. If you feel like positive thoughts alone cannot help you in a certain situation, it’s time to grab that bull by the horns. Or better yet, beat it with an umbrella. Learn to recognise that you’ve done your best and move beyond positive thinking into positive action.
- Volunteer. I find that helping others is one of the best ways to help ourselves. Check out volunteer opportunities around you – from donating stuff you don’t need to helping elderly neighbours with their shopping to working for NGOs. Whatever you choose, the sense of being helpful will give you a more positive outlook.
- Spend time with your loved ones. Nothing can make your day better than spending quality time with those you love the most. Make sure you schedule regular meetings and indulge in some harmless gossip in addition to endless cups of coffee or cuddles.
The Link Between Positive Thinking and Happiness
Even when someone (or life in general) is trying to rain on your parade, you don’t have to stand for it. The power of positive thinking is irrefutable, if I may say so myself, but it doesn’t mean that everything needs to have a positive spin put on it. For instance, you should never stay in a situation that is constantly making you unhappy, e.g. a bad relationship.
However, despite some unfixable and incorrigible aspects of life, we learn to think positively as it has many benefits for our health and mind, like stress reduction, prolonged life, and fewer diseases.
The best ways to practise positive thinking include
- positive reframing of events (past, present, and future),
- meditation and positive affirmations,
- gentle self-talk, and
- time with your loved ones.
Ultimately, come rain or shine, you have control over your thoughts, so why not make them positive? PS Have you actually looked outside? Maybe it’s raining men 😉 (or anything positive, really, but that song delivers an absolute smash of serotonin!).