A positive mental attitude can be major contributing factor to success, according to Napoleon Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937.
Norman Vincent Peale stated it this way “The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much, scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.”
There has been much research on the power of positive thinking. One study from the University of Pennsylvania interviewed 350,000 people over a 22-year period of time. They were called once a week and asked what they were thinking about at the time of the call. The top 10% were thinking about what they want and how to get it.
Research on positive thinking suggests that people with a positive mental outlook have better mental health, physical health, and live longer. This can reduce heart attack, catching cold, and being depressed. This, however, does not mean people who have a positive outlook cannot have times where they are struggling. It just means that they either look at things through a different lens and think of things that they might learn from this struggle or failure, or that they don’t get mired down in the depths of the struggle but instead look forward to the time when the struggle will not be the forefront of their minds.
Positive thinking is not toxic positivity.
People who seem to be hyper-positive may be living with toxic positivity. The Mayo Clinic defines toxic positivity as the “belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset.” While they acknowledge that being optimistic and positive is generally good, toxic positivity rejects all difficult emotions and focuses on a cheerful, falsely positive way of being.
The Mayo Clinic also released a video blog about listing three things daily that you are grateful for over a five year period helps decrease heart attack. Where’s my pen and paper?
Make a Top 10 List
Consider these ten benefits that positive thinking can bring to well-being and think about how they could improve your life:
- Better stress management and coping skills during stressful moments
- Lower risk of depression
- A stronger immune system and more resistance to the common cold
- Decreased risk of heart attacks and heart disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Better problem-solving
- Greater ability to adapt to change
- More creative thinking
- Consistent attitude with fewer mood swings
- Stronger leadership skills
Getting Started with Positive Thinking
So now we know that thinking positively not only helps our disposition but also our overall health. How do we make the leap to thinking positively? Well, I think that identifying negative thinking or self-talk is important. I know that catastrophizing, blaming, making small problems huge, all or nothing thinking, and personalizing or blaming oneself are key markers of a negative mindset. I have seen this in daily interactions with a family member. Its important to filter out negative aspects of a situation as well as the positive ones. Here is a classic example of negative self-talk: I should do xyz. My gosh, why didn’t I do xyz? This way of being is a vicious cycle.
So, again, how to I start thinking positively? First of all it begins with practice. This is why writing down 3 things daily that I am grateful for is a great place to start. If one tends to be more pessimistic it may take a while to bend the way of thinking. Much of the practice will be identifying the negative thoughts as they come and let them go or reframe them to be more positive.
Ask these questions when you become aware of negative thoughts.
- Is it true? (Is the sky falling, or is there another interpretation?)
- Is it helpful? (Does this interpretation help me get through this moment productively or inspire me to find a different solution.)
- Is it kind? (Does this thinking help me feel capable and able to reach out to others for help or support?)
I have found the following steps useful in my research and will begin implementing them soon.
- Remember to be grateful.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Accept situations as they are.
- Identify areas you need to work on.
- Remember to laugh.
- Keep it real.
The Power of Positive Thinking
Included in my research, I found a graph that can help us practice changing our way of thinking.
|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 couldn’t fit it into my schedule, but I 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.