Thinking Positively

by Riley Collins

A few steps toward a more optimistic lens.

Over the last couple of months, I have spent so much time thinking about what I felt passionate or knowledgeable enough about to speak to, or what topic had captured my interest lately. Nothing was really sticking. The more I thought about it, the more stressed I became about it, but this is not supposed to be something to feel so negative about! This thought process made me realize that I should talk about something that has always been important to me and something I think everyone could benefit from putting a little bit more intentional time towards.

That something is thinking positively. Some of you might think, “Optimism is bogus.” Or maybe you’re saying, “Think positive things. Ok seems simple.” But as I’m sure many of us know, this is easier said than done, and there’s much more to it than just thinking a few positive thoughts every now and then. I’m going to share 3 components of positive thinking.

1. Understanding why we tend to lean negative and how that can be harmful

Think about how happy most little kids are, or how carefree, hopeful and just purely positive you were as a child. When you’re five years old, you can draw a scribble on a page and be so proud of it. You want to put it on the fridge for everyone to see. You’re excited and prideful and full of wonder about what you’re going to do next. You’re not afraid to fail. But as we get older and experience more, we lose so much of this. We develop fears, doubts, and insecurities, and these are the things that seem to clutter our minds more than anything. Sounds pretty lame, right? But why does this happen?

Overthinking is such a common struggle for so many of us. This is because our brains are legitimately incapable of not thinking. Research shows that as humans, we have anywhere from 12,000 – 60,000 thoughts per day. Sadly, research shows that overall, nearly 80% of our thoughts are negative leaning. That’s an insanely high percentage. Quite honestly, it makes sense when you think about it: we need to notice what is wrong in order to fix things and improve. We’re wired to look for what’s NOT going right, and we tune out what IS going right. Your brain is always on guard and erring on the side of caution. It’s no wonder anxiety is the most common mental diagnosis in the United States, with depression not far behind. You literally have to work harder to be happier.

Letting those negative tendencies take over can have lasting harmful effects. Habitual negative thinking drains us mentally, physically, and emotionally. It feeds anger. It limits us creatively and socially, it lowers our motivation and quality of work, and it also impacts the people around us. It’s no surprise that we have these negative tendencies, considering that more than 90% of the news headlines are negative. This age of social media and visibility opens up a whole new world of self-esteem issues for young people. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. Our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to lean towards the negative, and it’s easy to develop harmful habits that we may not even be aware of.

2. The benefits we can gain from developing a more positive attitude

I realize this all sounds incredibly, well, negative. The good news is that you can actually develop and train your brain to think more positively and counterbalance these tendencies and biases. The benefits we can gain from reframing to a more positive mindset are pretty dang amazing.

A few months ago I watched a Ted Talk called ‘The Happy Secret to Better Work’ by Shawn Achor. He talked about how it’s not necessarily our reality that shapes us, but the lens through which our brains view the world that shapes our reality. So essentially, if you change the lens, you can change your happiness. That line resonated a lot with me.

He also discussed the power of positivity in the workplace and how only 25% of job successes are predicted by your IQ, whereas 75% of job successes are predicted by things like optimism levels, social support, acknowledgment, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat. Putting intentional effort toward thinking positively can completely transform our day-to-day. Studies show that people who are optimistic actually have longer life spans, stronger immune systems, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. This positivity can help us better cope with stress because it helps us reframe problems and also see the bigger picture. Research even shows that your brain, while positive, is 31% more productive than in a negative, neutral, or stressed state. And lastly, obviously, positive habits can lead to increased overall happiness in general (for both yourself and those around you).

3. How we can work to intentionally develop our positivity

So how can we go about actively embracing positivity and incorporating it into our everyday lives? We’ll get right to that. But first:

Disclaimer:

This does not mean that you are never allowed to think negatively or recognize that the struggles and challenges that we all will inevitably face are valid. Because they are. Yes, some things are just flat out crappy, and not all days will be wonderful because you decided to think about rainbows and puppies while you were frustrated. It just means we can work to reframe how we see things, how we approach them, and how we react to them so that the negativity becomes minimized and positive thinking becomes our natural reaction. Thank you, now we can proceed.

So what are some things we can do to help embrace the positive? It all starts with recognizing and believing that positivity is a choice, and taking the responsibility of making that choice our reality. It has to come from within.

  • Regularly practicing gratitude is a great tool. Personally, I am going to journal 3 things that went well each day and practice putting emphasis on the things I’m grateful for each day.
  • Celebrate the tiny victories. Showing appreciation and support or celebrating even a small goal is fun and keeps you and others motivated and looking forward.
  • Realize when you’re thinking negatively and consciously replacing those thoughts with positive ones. Eventually, you’ll notice the negative thoughts don’t come as naturally.
  • Find the humor in anything and everything. Be willing to laugh at yourself. Make other people laugh. It can’t ever hurt.
  • Speak positivity. Speak it into existence so it becomes a habit. Both out loud and in your head.
  • Encourage yourself + others constantly. Your words matter. Use them for good.
  • Take intentional time for things that make you happy, relieve you of stress, etc. and make sure they are part of your normal routine. Exercising, meditation, listening to music, dancing around your bedroom are just a few examples.

Whatever your outlet may be, control what you can control, and do just that. This is something we all struggle with accepting but it truly helps. It makes you realize what is actually worth your time and effort to worry about.

Sure, it may come more naturally to some. But with just a little bit of effort and directed attention, thinking positively can be possible for all of us.

Watch my 12-minute talk above!

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