Is your glass half-empty or half-full? How you answer this age-old question about positive thinking may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic.
In fact, some studies show that these personality traits — optimism and pessimism — can affect many areas of your health and well-being. Positive thinking also is a key part of effective stress management. Positive thinking doesn't mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life's less pleasant situations. It just means that you approach the unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way.
With all this in mind, take a refresher course in positive thinking. Learn how to put positive thinking into action in your own life, and reap the benefits.
Understanding positive thinking and self-talk
Self-talk is the endless stream of thoughts that run through your head every day. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create because of lack of information.
If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you're likely an optimist — someone who practices positive thinking.
The health benefits of positive thinking
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It's also thought that positive and optimistic people live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and have reduced rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.
Positive thinking: Reduce stress, enjoy life more
Identifying negative thinking
Some common forms of negative self-talk include:
- Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, say you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.
- Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
- Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. You refuse to go out with friends for fear that you'll make a fool of yourself. Or one change in your daily routine leads you to think the entire day will be a disaster.
- Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad, black or white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or that you're a total failure.
Focusing on positive thinking
- 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.
- 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.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise at least three times a week to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn to manage stress.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people, those who believe they have no power over their lives, may increase your stress level and may make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
- Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone 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 yourself.
Examples of typical negative self-talk and how you might apply a positive twist include:
|Negative self-talk||Positive spin|
|I've never done it before.||It's an opportunity to learn something new.|
|It's too complicated.||I'll tackle it from a different angle.|
|I don't have the resources.||Necessity is the mother of invention.|
|I'm too lazy to get this done.||I wasn't able to fit it into my schedule but can re-examine some priorities.|
|There's no way it will work.||I can try to make it work.|
|It's too radical a change.||Let's take a chance.|
|No one bothers to communicate with me.||I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.|
|I'm not going to get any better at this.||I'll give it another try.|
Practicing positive thinking every day
If you tend to have a negative outlook, don't expect to become an optimist overnight. But with practice, eventually your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. You may also become less critical of the world around you. Plus, when you share your positive mood and positive experience, both you and those around you enjoy an emotional boost.
Practicing positive self-talk will improve your outlook. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of positive thinking.
"Waste your money and you're only out of money,but waste your time and you're lost part of your life"