How often do you catch yourself in a positive thinking loop?
Are there days when your thoughts are so constantly positive, self-affirming, and confident that you feel upbeat and happy all day?
I’d bet the opposite scenario occurs far more often than the one I just described. I bet on any given day, you could catch yourself in a negative thinking loop, where your mind spirals down a rabbit hole of anger, jealously, fear, self-pity, or despair. The more you ponder the problem or painful situation, the further down the hole you descend — until your mood is completely tainted and your day is ruined.
You aren’t alone in these negative thinking benders. Everyone gets trapped in them, and they are stealthy and insidious. One small comment from someone, one bad memory, some minor unexpected problem can send us off on a mental nose dive from which it’s so difficult to recover.
Isn’t it ironic how we rarely get caught in positive thought loops? Imagine if one kind comment from someone, one good memory, some unexpected solution or victory resulted in the same mental engagement and emotional longevity as perceived negative events.
Why is it we become so much more ensnared in negative thoughts than we do in positive thoughts?
Research has repeatedly proven that negative information has a far greater impact on the brain than positive information. This mental response is so prevalent that researchers have named it the “negativity bias.” The negativity bias is a reaction to perceived danger, the fight-or-flight response activated only during negative experiences.
The adrenaline surge and increased heart rate that arise during the perceived danger cause people to experience negative events more intensely. These negative events and the resulting thoughts are imprinted on the brain more firmly than positive events.
As a result, it takes a lot more deliberate effort to experience and appreciate positive events. When we’re hyper-focused on the negative, we can’t see beyond the dark cloud to notice the good things around us.
When we get sucked into this constant negative thinking vortex, we can create significant psychological distress for ourselves. This trap of thinking, triggered by past, current, or perceived future events, can lead us to severe anxiety, depression, or even physical illness.
The only way to be free of the vicious cycle of negative thinking is by consciously practicing positive thinking.
Here are 10 scientifically-supported reasons to start practicing positive thoughts:
1. It leads to a longer life span.
Researchers have found people who feel bad about getting old actually accelerate the aging process. A team of American psychologists found that people who had positive outlooks about getting old lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who regretted the passing years. In fact, a positive attitude will add more years to your life than avoiding smoking or regular exercise.
2. It lowers rates of depression.
A growing number of studies are showing how intentional positive behaviors and thoughts, expressing gratitude, thinking positively about others, and performing acts of kindness can reduce symptoms of mild clinical depression.
3. It lowers levels of distress.
Studies have revealed optimistic people experience less distress and emotional pain when faced with potentially life-threatening cancer diagnoses. They found having a strong fighting spirit and positive attitude predicted a far better quality of life one year after breast cancer surgery.
4. It provides greater resistance to the common cold.
Researchers have repeatedly shown that your mind has a powerful effect on your body. Immunity to common illnesses shows how your thoughts and attitude impact your health. In fact, a person’s fluctuation in positivity levels from one point in time to another were associated with complimentary changes in immune functioning. As positivity increases, immune function increases as well.
5. It promotes general psychological and physical well-being.
Positive emotions contribute to overall psychological and physical well-being by affording more effective coping mechanisms.They serve as a buffer and counteract the problems associated with negativity and poor health.
6. It reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
According to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, happiness and positive thinking are linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, with the most optimistic people having the greatest benefits.
7. It fosters better coping abilities during stressful events.
Researchers found that when positive thinkers encounter a disappointment or difficulty, they are far more likely to focus on what they can do to improve or resolve the situation.
8. It leads to a healthier lifestyle.
According to the same Harvard School of Public Health study, optimistic and happy people have healthier lifestyles in general. They exercise more, have healthier diets, and get more sleep.
9. It enhances your ability to build skills and create resources.
Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, published a research paper in which she refers to the “broaden and build” theory — the idea that positive emotions broaden your sense of possibilities and open your mind, thus allowing you to build new skills and resources that provide value in other areas of your life.
10. It improves your relationships.
Licensed marriage and family therapist, Athena Staik, Ph.D., suggests that “when a member of the couple is the recipient of a positive action, the brain releases Oxytocin into the bloodstream – a chemical that floods the body with feelings of love, safety and connection. In contrast, when the brain is in survival mode, the brain’s ability to use Oxytocin is impaired, and thus, we do not feel safe enough to love or even open to learn from our experiences.”
Positive actions, thoughts, and words from both partners increases the health and success of the relationship. Negativity from a partner promotes the “fight or flight” response which is detrimental to the relationship.
How to practice positive thinking
It’s clear that positive thoughts have a profound impact on your health and happiness. However, positive thinking isn’t a passive activity. You must choose to practice it and create a daily habit of catching yourself in negative thinking, followed by actively turning your thoughts around. There are many ways to practice positive thinking.
- Become aware of areas in your life where you get trapped in negative thinking. Reframe the thoughts so you approach the situation in a more positive way. Wear a rubber band on your wrist, and when you catch yourself in the negative loop, gently snap the rubber band to break the cycle. Then consciously focus on your positive, reframed thoughts.
- Focus on gratitude. Take time during your day to meditate on all that is positive and good in your life. Think about friends and family who love you. Think about your success, good memories from the past, or simply the sensations of sitting outside in the warm sun. Write a gratitude list so you can have it handy when you take these gratitude breaks.
- Talk to yourself lovingly. Become your own best friend, and don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to your loved ones. Consciously practice positive self-talk, even if you don’t believe it initially. With practice, you will come to believe what you are telling yourself.
- Don’t indulge. Don’t allow yourself to indulge in a pity party or a mental self-whipping. When you catch yourself doing this, stop immediately and do something to distract yourself. Helping someone else or doing something creative is a great way to unhinge from this negative behavior.
- In your relationships, stay focused on the positive. Don’t dwell on the problems and disappointments in the relationship or the perceived flaws of your partner. Offer far more positive statements and actions to your partner than negative. Address issues calmly and respectfully, and seek the support of a counselor to sort through more difficult relationship challenges.
- Laugh often. Don’t take yourself or the situation so seriously. Find the humor in life challenges. Spend time doing fun and lighthearted activities. When you do encounter challenges, try to find the bright side and adopt a “this too shall pass” attitude.
- Have a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood in addition to its many health benefits. Try to adopt healthier habits like eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, and eating whole grains. Learn to drop unhealthy habits like smoking, watching too much TV, and eating junk food.
- Hang around positive people. Surround yourself with people who also practice positive thinking. Look for those who are supportive and uplifting and stay away from people who put you down or drain your energy. Negative people increase your stress levels and foster negative thinking.
The conscious, daily practice of positive thoughts and behaviors WILL change your life. It will foster more happiness, self-confidence, better health, and inner peace. Are you willing to commit to the practice of positive thinking? If so, share your commitment in the comments below and how you intend to create your daily habit of positive thoughts.
photo credit: plaits
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