There’s absolutely no doubt that happy and resilient people think about the world in a fundamentally different way. And there’s absolutely no doubt that some people are born with this different, more helpful attitude; whilst others find it more difficult.
But the good news is that even for those who’re born with a slightly (or extremely) more negative slant to their thinking style; healthy and helpful thinking is something we can all learn to do.
Now you might have noticed I’ve not specifically referred to “positive thinking”. That’s because our goal should actually be “optimism”, which is not exactly the same as “positive thinking”.
Optimism does involve focusing on the positives where possible but notably, it’s also grounded in reality so if problems do exist, if adversity really is present, optimists don’t pretend everything’s fantastic but rather, they face up to the cold, hard realities and then look for solutions!
Unrealistically positive thinking (especially if it involves the denial of real challenges) can be just as unhelpful as excessively negative thinking; because it can set us up for failure and disappointment which not surprisingly, isn’t good for anyone.
As long, therefore, as we have the right definition of optimism in mind, here’s how you can shift your thinking to enjoy it, and its benefits, more often:
- To begin with, practice being more mindful of ALL your thoughts. We can’t change a negative thought if we’re not aware of it and we can’t appreciate a positive thought if we don’t even know we’ve had it
- To do this, set aside just 5-10 minutes a few times each day and observe what you’re saying to yourself; try to pay attention, as much as you can, to your inner dialogue and ideally, do so with curiosity but without judgement
- Once you get better at noticing your thoughts and interpretations, develop the habit of then reflecting upon whether or not different thoughts are helping you or not. Are they, for example, creating positive emotions (such as happiness and contentment, calm and satisfaction) and desirable behaviours? Or are they more often more closely associated with unpleasant emotions (such as stress and anxiety and depression) and self-defeating behaviours?
- If your thoughts are serving you well then give yourself a pat on the back and keep doing what you’re doing
- If, however, your thoughts are unhelpful and destructive then ask yourself some or all of the following questions:
- Just because you think something does that mean it’s true?
- Do you have to believe all your own thoughts?
- Is it really as bad as it seems? Even if it is bad, will it last forever?
- Is there another way of thinking in this situation? Or another way of interpreting whatever’s happened?
- If so, what would be a more helpful way to think about things?
- How would someone, someone who you know to be cool, calm and collected, think in this situation?
- What can you DO to take control of and/or change the situation?
- What could you learn from what’s going on?
- What’s the BEST thing about your current circumstances?
In addition, it can be helpful to remember that if you don’t like what’s going on inside your head (i.e. your thinking) then you have the right to think something else. Just like you would change the channel if you didn’t like a song that came on the radio, so too can you “change your thinking channel” and actively, consciously, think something more positive!
“There is nothing either good or bad ‘cept thinking makes it so.” - Shakespeare
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” - Norman Vincent Peale