Positive thinking is a mental and emotional attitude that focuses on the bright side of life and expects positive results.
some studies show that personality traits like optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of your health and well-being. The positive thinking that typically comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits. If you tend to be pessimistic, don’t despair — you can learn positive thinking skills.
Understanding positive thinking and self-talk ?
Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.
Positive thinking often starts with self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create because of lack of information.
If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you’re likely an optimist — someone who practices positive thinking.
How Positive Thinking Works ?
Chuck Carver from the University of Miami and I were doing research on human motivation. We were trying to understand how to think about goal-directed behavior, and expectancies were an important part of our approach. The idea was, and still is, that when people encounter difficulties doing what it is that they intend to do, some sort of mental calculation takes place that results in the generation of an outcome expectancy — the person’s subjective assessment of the likelihood that he or she will succeed. We thought these expectancies played a role in the nature of the affect that was experienced and the person’s subsequent behavior.
Initially, we considered outcome expectancies in a very circumscribed way. We focused on specific situations manipulated in controlled experimental contexts to validate our ideas. For example, we studied snake phobics who approached a boa constrictor in a cage. We weren’t interested in snakes or phobias per se but in how these expectations drove behaviors.
At some point in the early 1980s, things changed. A number of our colleagues in health psychology — my wife, Karen Matthews, included — urged or maybe even challenged us to consider applying some of our ideas to real-world settings, particularly those that might be relevant to well-being. Our formal area of study in graduate school was also personality, and I started to hear the voice of my advisor, Arnie Buss, in my head gently pushing us to do what it was that we had been trained to do.
The health benefits of positive thinking
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
Increased life span
Lower rates of depression
Lower levels of distress
Greater resistance to the common cold
Better psychological and physical well-being
Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
What Negative Thoughts Do to Your Brain
Play along with me for a moment.
Let’s say that you’re walking through the forest and suddenly a tiger steps onto the path ahead of you. When this happens, your brain registers a negative emotion — in this case, fear.
Researchers have long known that negative emotions program your brain to do a specific action. When that tiger crosses your path, for example, you run. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. You are focused entirely on the tiger, the fear it creates, and how you can get away from it.
In other words, negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts. At that same moment, you might have the option to climb a tree, pick up a leaf, or grab a stick — but your brain ignores all of those options because they seem irrelevant when a tiger is standing in front of you.
This is a useful instinct if you’re trying to save life and limb, but in our modern society we don’t have to worry about stumbling across tigers in the wilderness. The problem is that your brain is still programmed to respond to negative emotions in the same way — by shutting off the outside world and limiting the options you see around you.
What Positive Thoughts Do to Your Brain :
Fredrickson tested the impact of positive emotions on the brain by setting up a little experiment. During this experiment, she divided her research subjects into five groups and showed each group different film clips.
The first two groups were shown clips that created positive emotions. Group 1 saw images that created feelings of joy. Group 2 saw images that created feelings of contentment.
Group 3 was the control group. They saw images that were neutral and produced no significant emotion.
The last two groups were shown clips that created negative emotions. Group 4 saw images that created feelings of fear. Group 5 saw images that created feelings of anger.
Afterward, each participant was asked to imagine themselves in a situation where similar feelings would arise and to write down what they would do. Each participant was handed a piece of paper with 20 blank lines that started with the phrase, “I would like to…”
Participants who saw images of fear and anger wrote down the fewest responses. Meanwhile, the participants who saw images of joy and contentment, wrote down a significantly higher number of actions that they would take, even when compared to the neutral group.
In other words, when you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life. These findings were among the first that suggested positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to more options.
How to Increase Positive Thinking in Your Life
3. Long Outing