During a busy day, it can become all too easy to focus on the negative. You might feel tired, overworked, and stressed out by all of the conflicting demands on your time. As a result, negative thoughts can creep into your mind. While you know that thinking positively is better for your state of mind, you might be surprised to learn that it can also be good for your health. Research has demonstrated that positive thinking can have a wide variety of benefits, from improving your self-confidence and psychological well-being to actually boosting your physical health.
Positive thinking is not about putting on a pair of rose-colored glasses and ignoring all the negative things you will encounter in life. That approach can be just as devastating as ignoring the positive and only focusing on the negative. And simply repeating empty platitudes (“I’m good enough! I’m smart enough! People like me!”) can sometimes backfire and actually have a negative impact on your self-image.
Balance, with a healthy dose of realism, is the key
So what can you do to eliminate negative thoughts and replace them with a more positive outlook? Even if you are not a natural-born optimist, there are things you can do to develop your positive thinking skills and reap some of the benefits of positive thinking.
What is going through your mind when you are experiencing distress, feeling down, or upset. Are you saying to yourself “This is awful, I don’t deserve this”, “I’m never going to get through this”, “I can’t stand this anymore”?
These thoughts have a powerful influence over your mood and your behavior. Specifically, your own thoughts can make you feel frustrated, distraught, anxious, or powerless, and they can lead you to withdraw, stop trying to change, etc. However, in similar fashion, your thoughts can improve your mood, fuel your confidence, and propel you to take positive, constructive action.
- Foretell failure, suffering, or disappointment (e.g. ‘things will only get worse).
- Negatively evaluate a thing or another person (e.g. ‘he is an idiot’).
- Generalize about things (e.g. ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I can’t escape my past’).
Being a positive thinker is not about ignoring reality in favour of aspirational thoughts. It is more about taking a proactive approach to your life. Instead of feeling hopeless or overwhelmed, positive thinking allows you to tackle life’s challenges by looking for effective ways to resolve conflict and come up with creative solutions to problems.
- Are optimistic (e.g. ‘I am going to succeed’, ‘things will turn out okay’).
- Positively evaluate a thing or another person (e.g. ‘that’s a great idea’).
- Are realistic (e.g. ‘I can cope with this, even if I make a mistake’).
- Lyubomirsky, S., & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science. 22(1). 57-62.
- Reivich K., Gillham J.E., Chaplin T.M., Seligman M.E.P. (2013). From Helplessness to Optimism: The Role of Resilience in Treating and Preventing Depression in Youth. In: Goldstein S., Brooks R. (eds.) Handbook of Resilience in Children. Springer, Boston, MA.
- The road to resilience. American Psychological Association. Retrieved October 1, 2018 from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx.