“The power of positive thinking” is a cliché thrown around so often that it’s difficult to believe there’s anything to it. The truth is researchers are starting to find positive thinking and optimism may have very real effects on our health and well-being, including an increased life span, lower rates of depression and greater resistance to the common cold.
Though the connection between positive thinking and better health is unclear, some research points to the idea that people who are optimistic are better able to cope with challenges and setbacks.
The Power of Self Talk
The unspoken thoughts that go through your head is what is known as self talk, and whether or not your self talk is positive or negative is a key factor in positive thinking. Some common themes for people who tend toward negative self talk are:
Filtering. Do you find yourself focusing your attention on the negative aspects of a situation while filtering out or ignoring the positive? For example, you have a great day, but you forgot a simple detail. Instead of focusing on all the good that happened during the day, you hone in on the tiny detail you missed.
Personalizing. Here, the assumption is that when something is challenging, you’re to blame. People with negative self talk tend to focus on what’s going wrong, and internalize stressful situations as their fault.
Catastrophizing. As the name suggests, this type of negative self talk involves always assuming the worst is going to happen.
Polarizing. In this case, you’re someone who sees things only as good or bad. When there is no middle ground or gray areas, falling into negative self talk is easier because you leave no room for compromise or differing perspectives.
Heading Toward Positive
If you recognize yourself in any of these areas, there are ways you can curb the negative self talk. For many, this process will take some time, as you’re developing a new habit. But, getting rid of the negative self talk will be well worth the effort.
First, try to identify areas to change. Take some time to really consider when you fall prey to negative thinking. Wherever you notice yourself falling into negative thought patterns, make a conscious effort to try to begin thinking differently. Don’t be afraid to start small.
To begin, you might want to periodically check in with yourself throughout the day. Take a few moments and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you notice that most of your thoughts are negative, try reframing to be more positive.
Think about who you’re spending time with—both personally and professionally. Surrounding yourself with positive people is a great way to begin changing your perspective. Positive, supportive people who can give you helpful advice might make changing some of that internal dialogue from negative to positive a little less difficult.
Perhaps one of the biggest myths about positive thinking is that by practicing optimism you’re ignoring a reality where problems exist and bad things happen. That’s not the case. Positive thinking is really about choosing to look at challenges and unpleasant situations in a more productive way. Sometimes, simply reframing how you think about situations can completely change your attitude. For example:
I’ve never done this before becomes I’m excited to learn something new.
I don’t have the resources becomes I can make this happen with some help.
I don’t have time becomes my schedule’s full, but I can reexamine my priorities.
Changing your internal dialogue isn’t going to happen overnight, but even small steps can help you better deal with the stress or challenges you face.
Source: This article was excerpted from mtj® (Massage Therapy Journal®) Fall 2012. Subscribe to read the entire article.