I believe that many people, and I was among them, when they hear the words “positive thinking” conjures up visions of Pollyanna airheads spouting trite affirmations, al la the Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley. And if they’re not that harsh, they at least think of them as naïve and unrealistic.
Having a positive outlook doesn’t have to mean you deny the negative, that world events, both natural and those created by the human race, can be horrific.
Instead, having a positive attitude involves a choice about how you view the world. It turns out that optimist aren’t constantly trying to control situations, especially those situations that are beyond their control.
As it turns out, research has shown that those with a positive outlook are more aware of possible risks and threats. Another attribute of the optimist is they are aware that a positive outcome is dependent on their choices and actions.
How does positive thinking boost your happiness?
One way a positive thinker boost her happiness is as a self-fulfilling prophet. For example if you have a positive vision of your future you are more likely to take action that will move you in that direction.
Being an optimist means you see your goals as attainable and you see yourself having reached them, which means that when you run into the inevitable resistance you are, according to the research, more likely to push past it.
So you’re convinced becoming a positive thinker is the way to go.
Next question, how do you do that? Especially, if it’s not your natural inclination, having become jaded by the world and all?
First of all, it’s a practice. That’s one of my mantras. No one, no matter how gifted (exception – a savant), is able to do anything with competency, much less perfection, the first time they attempt anything. (No matter what that little voice in your head’s telling you.)
Knowing this the next question is naturally, “What practices can I do to become a positive thinker?
Glad you asked.
I found a great article by Roya R Rad, MA, PsyD that offers a wonderful place to start. Here are a few of her practices…
Change your self-monitoring: Instead of selectively attending to negative events, focus on the positive ones. Then pay attention to the delayed consequences of your behavior rather than the immediate ones. For example, if a job is not going like you want, focus on the fact that you have a job and how you can take your time to make the situation better.
Change your self-evaluation: Challenge any inaccurate internal attributions and see if you compare your behavior to standards that are excessively rigid and perfectionistic. If so, change these and be reasonable with your comparisons. For example, if you constantly compare your weaknesses with other peoples’ strengths, then switch this and compare yourself with those who are doing poorer than you as well. Overall, people who focus more on their strengths than their weaknesses but at the same time are aware of their weaknesses have a healthier self-evaluation result.
Change your self-reinforcement: If you have low rates of self-reward and high rates of self-punishment when it comes to certain aspects of your life, then you want to modify this. For example, think more of how far you’ve come, how hard you’ve worked, acknowledge yourself for it and then see how much further you want to go.
Draw conclusions with evidence: Look at the evidence, look at the events, look at patterns and don’t base your conclusions on assumptions. For example, don’t just assume someone will cheat you because they look like or in some ways act like an ex you didn’t get along with. Look at other elements to see if there is any evidence for your assumption.
Don’t take things personally: The majority of how people interact with you is due to their own personality, strengths, and baggage and does not have as much to do with you. Pay attention to how to differentiate between different interaction signals. For example, instead of immediately getting frustrated because the waitress was a little late attending to you, think that maybe she is having a really tough day or too may tables to take care of.
Continue reading practice to become a positive thinker…
Positive psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky, has a number of powerful practices and if you want to cultivate optimism I would highly recommend her book, “The How of Happiness.”
Here’s a good example; “Best Possible Selves diary.” According to the research, this practice has been shown too measurable enhance well-being.
The short version goes like this; sit in a quiet place where you are unlikely to be interrupted, and take 20 to 30 minutes, “to think about how you expect your life to be in one, five, or ten years from now.”
Envision your future life having turned out in just the way you’ve desired. You have work past all the obstacles, and achieved your goals. Now write it all down in your diary, everything you’ve imagined.
According to Lyubomirsky, and the research, this is a very effective way to exercise your “optimism muscle” and strengthen your practice.
There are other practices offered in the book, like the “goals and subgoals diary” or how to “Identify barrier thoughts.”
Ultimately, all the positive thinking strategies to increase your happiness are a means to direct you conscious thoughts in a more positive and compassionate direction. The reasoning is to create a new way and habit of thinking.
Some of us are born optimistic and some of us, not so much. If you find yourself, like I did, in the latter category, take heart, because now you know that positive thinking will boost your happiness.