Positive thinking means the conscious choice to be happy and positive. Happiness is not a condition of the mind, or a goal, or a dream, it is a choice that you must make every day. When you wake up in the morning you have several choices: to be happy, to be sad or to be in between. Most of you make that choice unconsciously and this leads to questionable results.
Positive thinking can be reasserted by seemingly mundane choices in your life: the movies you watch, the songs you listen to, the books you read, the people you hang out with. It can help you be healthier, more productive and ultimately happier. Yet for most of the people it is hard to put optimism fist.
Negative thinking on the other hand is very easy to achieve. The human mind has a strange tendency to get pulled into negativity and self-criticism. Once in there, it could be very hard for you to pull yourself out of it. Your self-esteem and self-confidence suffer when you dwell on the negative things that others say about you, or that you think about yourself.
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Time to read: 16 minutes (based on 150 wpm)
Only tips (no introduction): 7 minutes (150 wpm)
What is positive thinking in general?
You could find a lot of definitions about positive thinking, but this is how I understand it.
Positive thinking is:
- … NOT looking at your life as a dark place full of bad things.
- … accepting the world as it is and approaching the unpleasant parts of life in a positive and constructive way.
- … NOT letting your self-talk turn negative (or to self-criticism) and ruin your day.
- … being aware of your self-talk and using it to sow positivity.
- … NOT worrying for little problems that could hardly affect you.
- … approaching problems with understanding and letting go of those problems that you cannot affect.
- … NOT being afraid of tomorrow, because of all the bad think that COULD happen.
- … regarding the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism.
- … NOT letting yourself doubt your own skills, knowledge or abilities
- … having faith in yourself and keeping positive about everything that you could do.
What are the benefits of positive thinking?
Can you imagine the impact on your life if you could wake up happy and energetic every day? The impact on your job, on your family, on your friends. You could be the center of attention, you could be the soul of every gathering.
Now, could you imagine the impact on your life if you wake up grumpy every morning? How long would you keep your job? Or how would this affect your family?
In general positive thinking has the following benefits on your health:
- Increased life span (stress, worry, unhappiness are the greatest enemies to your health).
- Lower rates of and higher resilience to depression.
- Better psychological well-being.
- Better resilience in general to the hardships of life.
- Improved immune system and better defense to diseases.
It has the following benefits on your personal life:
- More happiness and laughter in your life.
- The ability to “contaminate” the members of your family with positive thoughts.
- Better relationships, because other people are more accepting of those that are more positive and happy.
- Healthy aging with the consequence of smile-wrinkles on your cheeks. Who wouldn’t want those?
And last but not least, the benefits on your work life:
- People that are positive and that smile more are more likely to earn a promotion.
- You get to be on friendly bases with your colleagues, if you smile at them and greet then every time.
- Less stress leads to better results.
- Higher job security, because a bad attitude can more easily get you fired, regardless of your results.
- Higher control of your career, because you do not lose time on bad thoughts or unproductive behavior.
How to be aware of your thoughts?
In order to understand the techniques of positive thinking, you first have to be able to identify your thoughts and be aware of them. This happens by paying attention to the present moment. By approaching your thoughts and emotions just as what they are – thoughts and emotions, nothing more, nothing less.
Every human being has somewhere between 55,000 and 75,000 thoughts per day! Can you imagine how much that is? That is about 3000 per hour, or 53 per minute (on average, not counting the time you sleep).
There are many authors that believe that thoughts could and can shape your life, there are others that are not that sure. To be honest, I fall somewhere in between. I do not believe that each and every thought can be reviewed and controlled. And I am not convinced that every bad thing in your life is caused by bad thoughts. I do believe, though, that you can control and influence your thoughts in general. And I also believe that you could and should concentrate on the positive aspects of your lives, rather than dwell in and over-analyze the negative parts of it. And last, but not least, you have to learn to concentrate on the present and be aware of what is going on with you in the present.
Learning to control (or at least be aware of) your thoughts is one of the first steps towards positive thinking. Concentrating on the present and not dwelling on the past, or contemplating the future is another powerful tool.
There is no better tool for concentration on the present than meditation. Set aside some time for meditation every day. Go somewhere quiet and empty your head from thoughts. Or just observe the flow of thoughts in your head without judging them.
There are many situations during the day, when your mind would just wonder: when you are driving the car, when you are taking a shower, when you are eating. Do not let your mind wonder, but concentrate it on what you are doing. Appreciate the food that you are eating (and also that you have food at all). Notice the forest in the morning on your way to work and how the trees are lit by the rising sun. Feel the water massaging your body in the shower.
Stop assuming what the other people will say, but listen to what they are actually saying. You could learn something new and that would force you to concentrate on the moment.
Do not lead imaginary conversations with your colleagues or significant other. Most of the times they would some something entirely different than what you imagined and anticipating their words is a waste of time. Remember that your brain remembers the emotions that arose during those “imaginary conversations” as though they were real.
Set aside time each day to empty your mind from everything that you think and just say something encouraging to yourself. You can do it! I love you! Or something in that sense.
Music and Movies
Listen to music that calms you down and that improves your mood. Watch positive movies that will leave you in a good mood. Avoid movies and songs that make you emotional.
Notice your breeding and make sure you inhale slowing and exhale fully. This would help reduce stress and would also force you to concentrate on the present moment and your present thoughts.
Learn to notice your emotions and give them proper names. There are more emotions than “stressed“, “worried” and so on. By identifying your emotions you can put yourself between the emotion and the reaction.
How to practice positive thinking?
There are so many ways to practice positive thinking that it is not possible to cover all of them in a single post, so I will concentrate on the most important ones. If future posts I will also cover the rest.
Hopefully, until now you are convinced of the power of positive thinking. You can use the following tips and techniques to practice it every day.
Tip 1: Be a neutral observer
Instead of taking everything that happens in your life personally, try to pretend that it happens to somebody else. It is usually so much easier to be objective about a situation when you are looking from the outside. Try to become neutral observer of your life, even for a brief time. This would often help you diminish or laugh at a situation about which you usually feel very personal. And you could also view it from the positive side.
Tip 2: Reframe
If you happen to catch a negative thought, try reframing it. And in general try to use the appropriate labels. If you are late with a deadline, do not tell yourself: “I am a bad employee!” But instead reframe the thought: “I did not do that well this time. What can I do to improve?” This is where the difference lies. By reframing the thought, you already think and plan improvement. By calling yourself “bad employee”, you just punish yourself, but do not take measures.
Tip 3: Be nice and positive to yourself
Do not treat yourself too harsh and do not be your worst critic. Often people say negative things to themselves, that they would never tell somebody else. Because it would be too hurtful. Why would you say them to yourself then?
Have your heard that gratitude is one of the best weapons? Well use it on yourself! Be grateful for what you are and for what you do. Tell yourself: “Nice job!” Or: “I am proud of you!” And even: “I love you!”
Tip 4: Do not use generalizations
If you had a bad day and and/or a few bad things happened to you, avoid using the words always, ever and never to describe the situations to yourself. You are not “always so clumsy“, or “never ready for a meeting“. Your presentations are not “always awful” and your situations is not “ever going to improve“. Those words often carry negative thoughts, emotions and consequences.
Instead try to reframe the thought like in Tip 2:
- I was clumsy today, but I will be better tomorrow.
- I was not ready for that specific meeting, but I will set aside some time and I will be ready for the next one.
- That was a pretty bad today, but it is not the end of the world. I will put more work into my slides next time.
- You did not show improvement on that specific occasion, but you will show it next time.
Tip 5: Practice visualization
There is a very old marketing term “fake it, till you make it“. Try to visualize yourself as a positive person, having positive thoughts, living a happy life. Use your mind to draw a picture of your better life and strive to achieve it. Your mind has the skill to connect the invisible dots and to guide you to achieve the impossible.
Put a picture of your dream vacation resort on your desk. Put a picture of your family where you are all smiling. Or a picture of your dream house. Or a picture of you smiling. All that would help you visualize you in a positive way.
Tip 6: Counter negative thoughts with the extreme positive counterparts
I have planned to spend more time in the future on negative thoughts and how to deal with them, but here I just want to slip in a very practical advice.
When you have a negative thought of any kind, you can try immediately thinking of the very opposite possibility. For example, when you catch the thought “I will fail the exam“, counter it with “I will succeed the exam and I will be so good that the teacher will make me stand in front of everybody“. This could be a nice way to get rid of the negative thought. Most often the truth will be between the two extremes and usually none of the extremes is ever going to happen.
Tip 7: Slow down
If you are stressed, the deadline is coming close, the bad thoughts come rushing to your head. Just slow down and let you have some time away from the problem. Meditation, a walk, even a long stay at the toilet could result in miracles when you come back feeling refreshed and positive. Get a few deep breaths and visualize that the problem is solved. Your mind will take care of the rest.
Tip 8: Remember Murphy’s law
“Smile, it will be worse tomorrow!”
Sometime it could help to think that things could be worse than they are now. Be grateful about all the things that are positive in your life, even if it seems that the bad is stronger than the good.
Tip 9: Surround yourself with positive people, books, songs and movies
You are the product of the five of your closest friends (more on the subject in this article: How to Model Your Inner Circle). If you surround yourself with positive people, they will also influence you, because it is contagious. Spend more time with those friends who are the positive and challenge you.
On the other hand avoid or let go of those people in your life that are negative. Do not hang out with them, or limit your exposure. This is not easy, but in the article above I have exposed and defended the idea that you should let go the people in your life that prevent you from achieving your goals.
Tip 10: Set meaningful SMART goals
A great way to be positive is to get meaningful and SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals and achieving them. This is how video games hook the player by keeping them happy and letting them achieve a set of easy goals. You could use that technique (called gamification) to set goals that feel meaningful and important to you. By achieving them you, you gain confidence and your self-esteem increases.
Tip 11: Stay in the zone
Find the skill that puts you “in the zone” and use it every day (more on the topic in the article: 5 Original Ways to Discover Your Strengths). By using your primary skills, you will feel happy energized and you will not notice the work day passing.
Tip 12: Have fun
And last but not least, remember to have fun and to do the things that make you happy. Set aside time for that every day.
Practicing positive thinking has lead to one of the biggest jumps in my productivity and has pulled me from one of the deepest emotional and personal holes in my life. To the outsiders I look like a person, who is always happy, smiling and energetic. I could say that I owe this to my studies in positive thinking.
Positive thinking is about making a choice: “Do I want to be positive or not?” As easy as it seems, it is not that easy to answer that question. Everybody is willing to live a happy and positive life, but not everybody is willing to do what it takes. I am borrowing this line from a motivational speaker, whose name I forgot, but it is the essence of life and success. If you want to live a happy and positive life, you have to think positive and be prepared to give what it takes.