There’s a proven connection between positive thinking and a number of life benefits, including a stronger immune system, lower stress, and better coping skills.
If thinking positively has so many advantages, why don’t we all live in a state of complete bliss and happiness? The answer is twofold: Consistently adopting a positive attitude is not always easy, and few people care to admit that they are negative in the first place.
In researching this article, I spoke with dozens of men and women in an attempt to find someone who would admit to battling negativity. My success rate? Zero. These same people were also (understandably) hesitant to talk about those they know who tend to have a more pessimistic outlook.
If you acknowledge that you have a negative streak, take heart. You’re not doomed to an unhappy life. There are practical ways you can become a less critical and more-optimistic person. While this won’t happen overnight, making small steps in the right direction will be well worth the effort.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at a handful of ideas that will help you integrate positive changes into your life.
1. Think about what you think about.
Throughout the day, pause to evaluate the thoughts running through your head. In her book The Writing Life, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard states, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our life.” Certainly, this applies to our attitudes––whether positive or negative––that naturally become habitual. If you notice your thoughts have spun in an unconstructive, critical, or just plain depressing direction, quickly assess how you can incorporate a more positive twist.
Frustrated with a complicated project on the job? Try tackling it from a different angle. Facing another frenzied day with the kids? Perhaps it’s time to reprioritize your family’s schedule. Annoyed by your meddling mother-in-law, noisy neighbor, or complaining coworker? Make a conscious effort to hone in on something you enjoy about that person.
You are in charge of your thoughts, and shifting your focus is a terrific first step
toward triumphing over persistent negativity.
2. Identify and avoid triggers that lead to negative thinking.
“We all have our own struggles, and I think awareness of what ‘sets you off’ is key toward developing more positive thinking,” says California counselor Kristi Hussain. “The bottom line is that negativity can become a bad habit that is hard to break. When you identify your triggers, finding positive things about that particular event or situation is helpful for maneuvering around negative thought patterns.”
For some people a downturn in thought can come from an activity as routine as watching the nightly news, paying the bills, or picking up after the kids. When you catch yourself taking a negative turn, intentionally cancel it out with a positive thought or redirect your attention elsewhere. Awareness of these triggers will help you curtail obstacles to optimism.
3. Choose your friends wisely.
If the coworkers, neighbors, and friends you spend time with are constantly complaining about their stressful jobs, looming financial pressures, or unruly kids, you may want to think about developing relationships with people who have a more positive perspective.
Proverbs 13:20 says it well: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” After spending time with a friend, ask yourself this simple question: “Do I feel better or worse than I did before?” If you find yourself drained or just plain unhappy, it may be time to develop new relationships. Certainly this is easier said than done, but replacing negative influences with positive ones will help you take strides in improving your lifestyle.
4. Regularly do something you enjoy or are good at.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.” You’ve got to wonder how much of the population shares in this sentiment! It’s all too easy to allow the humdrum nature of life to lead to cynicism or even deter you from trying new things.
That’s why it’s crucial to give yourself something to look forward to each day. It can be as simple as playing on an intramural sports team or taking a refreshing walk outside on your lunch break. A healthy dose of anticipation adds a pleasurable element to even the most routine life.
5. Remember every day is a fresh start.
Consider the timeless wisdom of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We’re not transformed by attending conferences on positive thinking or by being nicer people. We’re transformed by renovating our thought life.
Each of our inner thoughts and desires emerges in one way or another––no matter how hard we may try to mask them. When Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” He certainly knew what He was talking about.
Conquering negativity is about more than putting on a happy face and learning to say and do the “right” thing. The real issue is a matter of the heart and mind. Without a doubt, nurturing inward transformation will lead to a positive, healthier view of yourself, the people around you, and the life you are leading.?