The field of Positive Psychology has found that you can develop an awareness (or consciousness) about your thought patterns and how they influence you (negatively or positively). You can also change those thoughts and develop a range of positive thoughts. This is called Positive Thinking.
Research has shown that changing certain thought patterns can lead to:
- Increase in more positive thoughts
- Better health (due to for example a decrease in anxiety and worry)
- Increased confidence
- Better mood (for example related to better sleep and attitude)
- Increase in creative ideas
- Decision making
- The experience of happiness, or other positive feeling states such as joy, gratitude and hopefulness
- Feelings of success
This is not to say that all negative thoughts are bad. Our mind is always busy, neurons are constantly firing in the brain. They are seeking to sort through information about the things we see and experience. They interpret information for us to help in some way: protect us, help us understand something or help us make decisions. Some negative thoughts are really important – like warning signals when an emergency is happening. Sometimes we use them as a comparison when something doesn’t seem quite right, like the experience of happiness compared to sadness. Negative thoughts about a person or ongoing negative feelings when around that person might make someone realize that they have hit the breaking point in their relationship and need to end it. We use positive and negative thoughts to help us understand and maneuver in the world so some negative thoughts are really necessary. Sometimes expressing negativity is even important for authenticity. If the expression is real and heart felt, people will often relate to it in some way.
In Humanistic Existential psychology, like in Buddhist theory, they say it’s important “to be with” your thoughts and emotions, not stand in judgment about them or treat them (sorry for the euphemism) like a negative. Thoughts and feelings serve a purpose. They are there for a reason so it’s good to acknowledge and honor them. They are part of who we are. When you acknowledge them openly and without judgement it’s also much easier to let them go.
The practice of seeking to think more positively actually starts with, as Barbara Fredrickson recommends, awareness, openness and curiosity.
Awareness is defined as:
“The state of being aware; conscious”.
When a person actively seeks to become aware of the negative thoughts that come into their mind, then they can consciously seek to change them. It’s easy to underestimate the act and skill of becoming aware. But developing awareness is actually a widely used skill developed in many meditation practices. It’s taking on an “observer role” and seeing what is there with an open mind. It’s the act of allowing the thoughts to come and go freely without judgement or interruption. This can lead to a calming of the mind and body, as well as,a better understanding of what is happening.
An open mind is one the can hear things with an air of detachment. Using a more objective lens allows for more understanding. Hearing negativity with an attitude of curiosity means questioning and seeking to understand rather than criticizing or judging. This is a skill set that can also be developed.
Actively changing negative thoughts doesn’t happen overnight. It also has to be an authentic wish to change them, not a forceful influx of positive thoughts in unwanted territory. Forcing positivity doesn’t work. Research shows that with consistent and frequent practice, you can change some thoughts.
Ways to cultivate positivity in your mindset
- Use positive self-talk
- change a belief system that is no longer working for you
- keep negative comments to yourself
- replace the negative thought with a positive one
- try writing in a Positivity journal
This is not an “all or nothing” goal. You don’t want to get rid of all negative thoughts. Seek out the negative thoughts that are not helping you move forward. Perhaps they are keeping you stuck in making a decision or they are keeping you from finishing something important.
Find a practice, create a habit or routine and practice it in small doses, frequently.
Ways to develop a positive attitude:
- Become more proactive, move thoughts into action
- Take note of the things you accomplish
- Do one act of kindness
- Express appreciation to others
- Practice forgiveness – apologize or accept someone else’s apology
- Hang around positive people
- Practice Gratitude
- Practice using humor and be sure to laugh
SIDE NOTE: Sometimes simply changing thoughts isn’t enough. We are complex beings. We store and house memories, events from the past, as well as a complex index of thoughts associated with events. Emotions are often also attached to particular experiences, like fear or deep feelings of anxiety or sadness. Counseling is an invaluable tool for mental health issues, as well as, experiences, emotions or moods that don’t to go away and are negatively impacting someone. Working with a Counselor, Therapist, Psychologist or Psychiatrist who is skilled at digging a little deeper and helping someone understand what happened and why can be beneficial. It also provides a safe space to find alternative solutions and develop a new perspective and new habits.
The Power of Positive Thinking, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Where do our thoughts come from? https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2016/10/21/where-do-our-thoughts-come-from/#32f727dc2ee2
2 Minute Tips: How to be more positive
How to Reprogram Your Mind (for Positive Thinking)
Positive thinkers always get a positive result
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale/Youtube: