“Positive thinking” has always been a favourite topic of conversation, but the release of best-selling author Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book, ‘The Secret’, in 2006 encouraged the subject to become a point of focus for millions of us, worldwide. One of the many observations, written by Byrne in ‘The Secret’, includes: “A person who sets his or her mind on the dark side of life, who lives over and over the misfortunes and disappointments of the past, prays for similar misfortunes and disappointments in the future. If you will see nothing but ill luck in the future, you are praying for such ill luck and will surely get it.” Simply put, this statement suggests that negative thinking will cause negative things to happen to you, which, in turn, proposes that having a positive outlook on life will encourage positivity. Although this sounds fabulously hopeful, the real question is – can positive thinking really have an impact on your life? Below, we explore positive thinking and its benefits.
Positive thinking, or optimism as it’s better defined, is a state of mind that involves taking time to focus on the positive things in life, expecting positive results in turn, rather than adopting a negative outlook, always expecting the worst to happen.
The use of “I can” and “I will” is always encouraged in positive thinking, rather than “I can’t” or “I won’t”.
Typically, positive thinking suggests that by telling yourself you can achieve great things, you are more likely to succeed. Regularly reaffirming positivity in your life, is one of the most common practices of positive thinking. This commonly involves using positive affirmations, telling yourself things such as “I deserve to be happy” and “I deserve to be loved”. Most importantly, you must remember that positive thinking doesn’t instantly make everything in life perfect; it’s a process that simply focuses on hoping for the best outcome, even when challenges arise. For instance, if you attend a job interview but unfortunately do not end up securing a position, positive thinking enables you to take away positive points from the process. Was the interviewer impressed with how you presented yourself? Did you excel in giving meaningful answers to any questions that arose? Ask for feedback on the interview, questioning why you didn’t secure the role, then use this knowledge next time to try and better yourself.
Over the last few years, extensive research has gone into the power of positive thinking, and how it can benefit the body both physically and mentally. For example, research by a social psychologist from Yale University, Becca Levy, found that having a positive mindset about growing older can ultimately help you to stay healthier, and therefore live longer. Adopting a negative outlook, including partaking in negative lifestyle choices such as smoking and alcohol, could, in fact, speed up the natural aging process. From Levy’s research, it was also apparent that positive thinking could help to improve memory and hearing. But this information isn’t new. For many years, we have believed that a positive outlook on life, will ultimately prolong our time on earth.
In 2011, research carried out by Robert Gamling showed that patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease that chose to take a positive outlook on their recovery were less likely to pass away within the next 15 years and, often, showing significant signs of improvement just one year later. Taking studies like those of Gamling and Levy into consideration, it seems that, there’s no question that positive thinking leads to improved health and life longevity.
It’s not just physical functioning that positive thinking can improve, choosing to have a positive outlook on life can lead to a substantial advancement in your mental health and happiness. For instance, those that think positively have been found to benefit from lower stress levels, and lower rates of depression, as well as being able to cope and manage stress better than those who decide to dwell on it. These benefits to your mental health can then cross over into your lifestyle, too. By deciding to apply positive thinking to your natural thought process, you can increase productively, success, and even relationships, simply by telling yourself “I can do it” and reaching outside of your comfort zone, therefore throwing yourself into the arms of success by going the extra mile and trying your best. For after all, if you go above and beyond for your job or relationship, you will, of course, reap the benefits.
It is sometimes misinterpreted that positive thinking is a fast-track ticket to success, which, of course, it is not. It is important that when applying positive thinking, you do not make the mistake of becoming complaisant in putting in place the necessary steps to a positive outcome. As just one contributor to success, positive thinking alone will not solve all of life’s problems.
Research by Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, showed that positive thinking alone could potentially hinder success. She conducted a study documenting weightless in obese women; spitting the test group down the middle, she asked half of the women to picture themselves succeeding, and the others to imagine themselves cheating their diet. The results found that the women who pictured themselves cheating lost a higher percentage of weight than the others.
When questioned about her doubt for conventional positive thinking, Oettingen replied: “The problem with merely dreaming about the future and imagining that we’ve reached this desired future is that we’re already imagining being there.” She added, “that [thought process] saps our energy to understand the obstacles and hindrances that are on the way to our reaching this positive future.”
Due to the result of her findings, Oettingen put together the concept of “mental contrasting”, which combines traditional positive thinking together with reality and encourages you to think positively while still adequately understanding the end goal, and the challenges you must overcome to enhance your chances of success.
Whether you’re looking to excel in your relationship or career, apply positive thinking through self-communication and remind yourself that you “can” and “will” achieve, treating every hurdle that arises as a learning curve and an opportunity to better yourself. Above all else, remember to not mistake positive thinking as a fast-track method to achieving success or great health. Combining the thinking process with realistic goals, a healthy diet and a low-intensity exercise such as yoga will increase your chances of life longevity and overall happiness. Work hard, splurge on some comfy yoga pants, and always stay positive.