The Power of Positive Thinking

» Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth, Psychology and Faith | 0 comments

optimism

Stop right now and consider the last few moments of your life.  What thoughts just flitted through your mind?  What concerns, worries, or complaints went through your thoughts over the last few minutes?  Were you stressed about being late for an appointment?  Or were you muttering under your breath about that lousy driver who just cut you off?

Did you find this little exercise hard to do – think about what you’re thinking about?  Many people find this difficult as they aren’t used to paying attention to their thoughts or emotions.  But if you aren’t taking the time to reflect or to think about thinking, then you may find yourself experiencing life as if you have no control over things – what is termed an external locus of control by experts in the field of psychology.  And even worse, research has shown that an external locus of control is linked to an increase in feelings of hopelessness and depression.  And so I would encourage you to develop the habit of paying attention to what is happening in your inner world – your thoughts, emotions and attitudes.

There is a growing body of research demonstrating  that the thoughts we hold in our mind have great power to impact our overall health and well-being (I would strongly encourage you to take the time to read the attached link).  Our thoughts actually impact the hormones that are released by our brain and can impact greatly the way we respond to a given situation.  They impact our sleep, our concentration, our moods, our resiliency and our ability to cope with stress.

If our thoughts are negative, our brain will release destructive neurochemicals that have an adverse impact on our brains, our bodies and our emotions.  Conversely, positive thoughts improve our happiness and well-being and lower our physical and emotional stress.  But because negative thoughts appear to carry greater weight in our brains, we need a minimum of 5 positive thoughts to balance each negative thought.  So that means that we have to be much more intentional to think positively.

Multiple studies have found that optimistic people have far more positive outcomes in their experiences, have better health, live longer, have greater resilience, have healthier relationships, and are more successful in their careers.  It really pays to be optimistic!

Some of us are more naturally wired to be optimistic, others, pessimistic.  Our way of thinking is also impacted by our family of origin experiences and the mindset of our parents.  Think back to some childhood memories:  Was there a lot of laughter, positive memories, and a sense of optimistic hope for the future?  Or was there a tendency to worry, negative ruminations, or critical comments?  If that is the case in your background, it may be worth doing the work of processing through how this impacted you and then choosing to shed yourselves of the negative filters that have developed in your mind because of these early experiences.  This kind of work is often some of what we do in our counselling offices, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!

And so there are definite influences in our lives that impact how we view things.  Regardless though, the good news is that you can learn to manage your thought life which can then give YOU control over your overall well-being and experience of life.  Optimism is a learned skill that, like everything else, takes practice and repetition before we master it.  ALL of us can learn to do this:  God has wired all of us to be able to overcome difficulties in our lives with his help — to experience great joy, peace and freedom regardless of our circumstances.  As I’ve said before, good science is biblical because it is based on truth.  God knew what he was talking about when he commanded us through Paul:  You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Philipians 4:8, The Message)

So if you’d like to learn how to be more optimistic and positive in your thought life, try the following:

  1. Pay attention to your thought life.  As you pay attention to your thoughts on a regular basis, you’ll get better and better at this skill, and you’ll be able to recognize negative thinking sooner.  Use your emotions to help you notice your thinking – when you’re feeling bad, there’s a good chance that there’s some negative thinking behind those emotions.
  2. Notice when you have a negative thought.  Identify the negative thought – the more specific you can be, the better.  Over time, you will find that you tend to have themes with your negative thinking.
  3. Reframe your negative thought.  The sooner you put a stop to negative thinking, the better.  How might your worry, your critical thought or your angry response be reframed in a more positive light?
  4. Refuse to give ground to the negative thought.  Actively fight your thought by refusing to ruminate on that negative thought.  Find a verse in the Bible that deals specifically with your thought, and repeat the verse as many times as needed to cancel out the negative thought.  Say the verse out loud to really fight the negative thought.
  5. Focus your thoughts on the positive.  On a daily basis, flood your mind with uplifting thoughts and words.  Set aside time each day to think about things for which you’re grateful.  Recall scripture verses that bring you a sense of hope and peace.  Here’s a challenge:  create a list of 100 things for which you’re thankful.  Keep generating as many positive thoughts as possible.  I know this may feel fake and weird to do, but remember that you are releasing good hormones in your brain every time you think a positive thought!
  6. Get some accountability and help.  If you’re really serious about turning things around in your mind, give permission to a few trusted friends and family to challenge you every time they sense some negative thinking happening with you.  If necessary, consider getting help from a professional if you’d like to really get a good handle on your negative thinking.

More than 50 years ago, a little book called The Power of Positive Thinking took the world by storm. Written by a minister, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the book was a remarkable mix of psychological insight and faith-based principles applied to everyday problems of living.  The publishers have recently re-released it to a new generation.  And so let the words of Norman Vincent Peale challenge all of us to:  Become a possibilitarian.  No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities…always see them, for they are always there.

 

 

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