Does Positive Thinking Really Work?
Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking once said, “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.”
Many of us, when we face challenges in life, aren’t interested in people telling us to “look on the bright side” or to keep a positive attitude. We want to be acknowledged for our pain and suffering and validated for feeling sad, angry or lonely. When the challenges in life create hardship, it’s entirely appropriate to have negative emotions and to express them.
But we also know people who seem to live their entire lives in a constantly unhappy state. They tend to be unhealthy and always have something to complain about. And numerous scientific studies have shown that their negative attitude can actually impact their health and well-being. A study from Yale showed that negative beliefs about aging may be linked to brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease – specifically, people who had more negative thoughts about aging had a significantly greater number of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, two conditions associated with Alzheimer’s.
Many of us have negative associations with growing older, yet research shows how important a positive attitude really is in improving quality of life. Another study from Yale University demonstrated that positive attitudes about aging could extend one’s life by 7-1/2 years – a greater lifespan gain than low cholesterol, low blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, or even from not smoking.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean you are necessarily constantly happy or that you ignore life’s unpleasantness – it simply means you approach life’s challenges in a more positive and productive way. For instance, while we don’t always have control over the things that happen to us, we do control our response to them. So, if you receive a diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening disease, instead of reacting with fear, take a step back and allow yourself to be grateful for everything you still have and seek out support from people who can help you deal with your state of being, both physically and emotionally. If we learn to recognize challenges as a way to learn and to grow, we are better able to deal with them and have a more positive response to them.
Here are some ways you can help “reprogram” your brain into thinking more positively.
Be conscious of your thoughts
Your thoughts are very powerful. The first step to reprogram your brain is to be conscious of them. Repetitive thoughts – such as “Getting older is for the birds!” or “Old age comes with pain and suffering” – form neural pathways in the brain. The more you think them, the more ingrained they become in your psyche and your unconscious mind will continue playing these thoughts over and over until they become true. Fortunately, you can “rewire” your brain by actively thinking positive thoughts and focusing your attention on the good things in your life. If you find yourself thinking “Life is hard,” notice what you’re thinking and choose another thought to replace it. You may choose to shift your thoughts to “Life is hard and I continue to experience joy every day” or “Life is a blast and the challenges I face simply make me stronger.” If you change your thoughts, you can form new pathways in the brain which may, in turn, change your experience of life.
Start your day with gratitude
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Likewise, mornings are the most important time of day to work on creating a positive attitude, as it can set the tone for the entire day. Get up early enough that you can prepare for your day leisurely. Acknowledge the beauty of the day and all you have to be grateful for. When you start your day with gratitude, you’ve wired your brain to notice the good in your life.
Surround yourself with people and things that support a positive attitude
People can take on other people’s energy without even being aware of it. If you find yourself feeling negative, find some positive people to hang out with. Read a book with a positive message or listen to music that inspires you.
Focus your attention on the good in your life
We all have something to be thankful for. Your job is simply to discover those things and acknowledge them. Once you start focusing on the good things in your life, you’ll start attracting more and more things to be thankful for.