The Power of Having a Positive Mindset
Health Benefits + How to Practice Positive Thinking
I’m sure everyone would agree that having positive thoughts is much more fun than having negative thoughts. Research shows that positive thinking can dramatically affect a person’s overall physical and emotional health. The problem is, it can be challenging to control your thoughts and emotions. How often do you find yourself stuck in a negative self-talk cycle or assuming the worst in every situation?
The practice of having a positive mindset is more than merely being happy or wearing a mask of positivity when you’re actually struggling. Positive thinking is critical but changing your mood is not always as simple as it seems.
So, what exactly are negative and positive thinking? And how can you change your mindset, so the majority of your thoughts are positive?
What Is Negative Thinking?
Negative thinking stems from an instinct that serves a purpose: the trauma response. Every human has a survival response to the threat of danger that is meant to catapult you into action that will (hopefully) save your life. Mental health experts agree that there are four main trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.
Imagine running into a bear. Your body will tense up and activate a trauma response, likely freeze or flight, so you’ll either not move an inch until the bear is gone or you’ll try to run as far away as possible. The only thoughts in your head will be those that will aid in your immediate survival.
Anything your brain interprets as a threat can activate the trauma response, whether truly life-threatening or due to anxiety or past trauma. The rest of the world will disappear, and your brain zeroes in on the danger. You will focus entirely on the threat and the negative emotions, such as fear, anger, stress, etc.
Stumbling across a bear isn’t likely, but your brain is still programmed by this survival instinct to respond to negative emotions in the same way — by shutting off the outside world and limiting the options, you see around you. In other words, negative feelings will prevent your brain from looking outside of whatever is causing those emotions.
So, if you have a health goal but aren’t doing it “perfectly,” then you may feel bad for skipping an exercise or “messing up” your diet. The trained negative mindset will conjure up negative thoughts about yourself, your worth, willpower, looks, attractiveness, etc.
You can get stuck there, focusing on the defeatist feelings and unable to see the opportunities for success and happiness just around the corner. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.
What Is Positive Thinking?
Positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring anything sad or bad. Instead, it means approaching difficult circumstances with more confidence and in a more productive, positive way. You’re expecting the best, not the worst. And perhaps the most important part of positive thinking is self-talk, the unspoken thoughts that run through your head about yourself. Many of us get naturally stuck in a loop of negative thoughts, which will cause a pessimistic outlook and make us feel defeated rather than motivated.
A positive mindset does the exact opposite of a negative one. Where negativity limits other options, positivity increases possibilities in your life. Emotions like joy, love, peace, and hope often help open your eyes to see more of what the world has to offer and more of the things you’re capable of.
Positive thinking also enhances your ability to develop other useful resources. Even if positive emotions like joy are fleeting, the skills being practiced will continue to sharpen. For example, when a child happily plays and communicates with other kids, they are experiencing happy emotions and forming good social skills. The joy from spending time with their friends may disappear when they have to do homework later that night, but the communication and social skills do not.
A positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, Barbara Fredrickson, refers to this as the “broaden and build” theory. She explains that positive emotions will open the mind and broaden the sense of possibilities, allowing the individual to build new skills that can provide value in other life areas.
Health Benefits of Positive Thinking
As you can see, your mindset will influence all areas of your life, and one of the most vital parts it will impact is your health. Researchers have studied the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health.
It’s not always clear how positive thinking causes these benefits but it’s safe to assume that when stress, anxiety, and depression are reduced then so will other harmful health issues be reduced. If your thoughts get more positive then, of course, you’re going to be happier. Depression feeds off of negativity and self-hatred. To fight that, practice positivity and self-love. Similarly, if you’re focusing on what can go right rather than all that could go wrong then you will begin to starve stress and anxiety.
Also, happier and more positive people are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle, make healthier choices, be active, eat clean foods, and avoid unhealthy habits such as substance abuse.
Here are some of the health benefits of positive thinking that have been discovered:
- Lower rates of depression
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Better cardiovascular health
- Lower risk of heart attacks
- Increased life span
- Lower risk of strokes
- Better emotional intelligence
- Better coping skills during times of stress
- Increase sleep quality
- Clearer skin (skin care is important!)
How To Change Your Mindset and Practice Positive Thinking
You don’t have to struggle with negativity and all its consequences all the time. You can change your mindset and turn negative thinking into positive thinking. It’s simple enough to do but takes plenty of time and effort. Breaking bad habits and forming good ones is always a process.
So, how do we take advantage of the “broaden and build” theory and experience the fantastic effects of positive thinking? Here are a few things to try and ideas to consider:
- Identify Problem Areas
There may be areas of your life that cause negative thinking such as work, exercise, or a relationship. Identify these and come up with new, positive approaches to them. Maybe you need to get out of a relationship or put up more boundaries. Or possibly, you need to stop dieting and try something new, like clean eating. Whatever it is, tackle the big problem area so you can be more optimistic all around.
- Check-in With Yourself and Practice Positive Self-Talk
Whenever you think about it throughout the day, stop and evaluate your thoughts. If you find some negative thinking, find a way to put a positive spin on it. Come up with three positive thoughts about your current situation, something you’re thankful for, or give yourself a few compliments.
If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, then don’t say it to yourself. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Encourage yourself. Love yourself! You deserve it.
- Get Outside and Move Your Body
Find a form of exercising you like, whether weight lifting, biking, walking, or dancing. Being active can help lower stress levels and elevate a good mood.
Whether while exercising or not, get outside every day. Vitamin D is essential to physical and emotional health. Nature is proven to help mental health and lower stress. Enjoy the outdoors in any way you can!
Spend time doing things that spark feelings of joy, love, peace, and other positive emotions. This may be playing, spending time with friends or your kids, playing an instrument, going on a hike, painting, wood carving, cooking new recipes, or anything you enjoy!
If you want to be productive, combine play with getting outside and moving your body. A hike or biking with a friend will check all these boxes.
- Smile and Laugh More
Several studies have found that smiling (even if forced or fake) reduces the heart rate and blood pressure in stressful situations. Turn on a funny video or listen to music that makes you smile. Remember, it’s healthy to laugh.
- Evaluate Your Surroundings
Surround yourself with positive people and positive experiences. Make sure your life is filled with positive, supportive, and loving people. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
Listen to podcasts that make you laugh or watch uplifting shows. Read heart-warming books. Make your workspace as comfortable and positive as you can. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy non-positive entertainment (I mean, don’t we all need a good cry now and then or enjoy a suspenseful movie?) but be sure this isn’t all you interact with and, preferably, that these interactions are fewer than positive ones.
- Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness can take many different forms. There is traditional meditation: sit in silence and focus on your breath or find a guided meditation online. Or try other forms such as mediation in movement while walking or through yoga.
You can also practice mindful eating. Get rid of all other distractions and simply pay attention to the food. Enjoy your meal without staring at a screen or worrying about all you have to do tomorrow.
Want help with mindful eating? Our 30 Day Clean Eating Challenge + Support Group is JUST the thing!
One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness is through writing or journaling. Try writing a few things you’re thankful for and love about life and yourself every day. Or, consider keeping a health journal. You can also be social by sending letters to friends, which can be a blast and make your loved ones feel special. Whatever you do, try to focus on positive experiences, not negative thoughts.
Many of us may not spend much time thinking about our thoughts, but they do significantly impact our lives. It is possible to have more control over our minds!
We all deserve to be happy and have positive thoughts! Give yourself permission to smile, laugh, enjoy life, and take advantage of the benefits of positive thinking. Schedule time to take care of yourself, have some fun, and work on having a positive mindset.
I hope this information and tips convince and help you make the much-needed mindset change. Let me know what you do to experience positive emotions in the comments, and I hope you all have a GREAT year full of positivity!!