According to science, having a positive mindset can keep us happy and healthy, whilst also helping us live longer.1 Powerful stuff. But what does positive thinking really mean and what techniques can we use to encourage a more optimistic attitude?
Here we explore the science behind the positivity philosophy, together with simple ways to replace negativity with positive thoughts. Even when times get tough.
What is a positive mindset?
You’ve probably heard these phrases. Every cloud has a silver lining. Look on the bright side. And, for children of the 90’s, PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) – the mantra espoused by British sprinter and Olympic Champion Linford Christie.
For Linford, PMA was all about positive visualisation – rehearsing in his mind, over and over again, how winning would look and feel. By not allowing himself to visualise defeat, he squashed any negative thoughts. This is a way of training the mind to expect success.
More generally, positive thinking is a way of approaching life with optimism and gratitude. This can be as simple as finding something to be thankful for in any given outcome. Dinner date let you down? That’s great – more time for the gym / finish a book / indulge in a boxset marathon. Internet down? Good news – more time to chat to family. Those with a positive mindset find the best in situations, learning to focus on what they can control rather than what they can’t.
In challenging or difficult times, the positives can be harder to find. But embracing positive thinking will help you respond with a degree of optimism and clarity of thought. This can help difficult situations feel more manageable and less stressful.
Does having a positive mindset work?
Positive thinking has been the subject of countless scientific studies, with the evidence showing that people who adopt a positive attitude enjoy less stress, less worry, better immunity, more success and longer, happier lives. The case for having a positive mindset is strong.2,3,4
Simple strategies to develop a positive mindset
Optimism isn’t something that can simply be switched on and off. It needs nurturing with long term strategies to help you face the full force of life’s challenges head on.
- Start the day as you mean to go on
Starting the day in a positive frame of mind sets you up for the day ahead. From your cosy bed, to your breakfast, or your home or your family – there’s always something to acknowledge and be grateful for.
Hold off the news. Don’t make the news the first thing you read each morning. Let’s face it, news is rarely full of unicorns and rainbows. Save it until you’ve at least enjoyed a hot shower.
- Cherish the little things
Enjoy the sunrise and the sunset, watch the birds, thank the postman, smile at a stranger. Finding joy in simple pleasures teaches us not to depend on material objects for feel good positivity.
- Surround yourself with positive people
Appreciate those who help you see the silver lining when the going gets tough. These are the people who build you up and are there for you no matter what. These are your people.
- Wave goodbye to negative people
Be aware of the people who drag you down either with their own negative vibes or unkind words and actions. Be strong and put yourself first.
- Write away negativity
Writing helps to slow down thought processes so when negative thoughts creep in, write them down. Take a step back and consider the validity of what you’ve written – are your thoughts real or constructed from something someone else has said or done? Replace negative thoughts with optimistic alternatives.
- Live in the moment
Don’t let negative thoughts from bad past experiences cloud your current feelings. Learn to let them go, don’t overthink the what-ifs of the future and be grateful for the present.
- Talk (positive) to yourself
We talk to ourselves more than anyone else on the planet. Our silent internal dialogues help shape our actions, so make sure your conversations with yourself are constructive. Coach yourself as you would a friend – don’t put yourself down, talk yourself into positive outcomes. For example, by telling yourself how you’ll overcome a hurdle, not that the hurdle can’t be crossed.
- Keep a gratitude, or positivity jar
Every time you think of something you’re grateful for, jot it down on a piece of paper, fold it up, and pop it in a jar. Then watch as the jar gets crammed full of positive thoughts. Not only does the physical act of putting feelings onto paper reinforce the sense of gratitude and thankfulness, it gives you a treasure trove for when times get tough. When that happens reach for the jar to remind yourself of all the wonderful things in your life.
- Know when to lean on others
Sometimes positive thoughts alone won’t be enough. There will be times when asking for (and accepting) the help of others will be vital. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a colleague or a health professional. You don’t have to manage alone, no matter how upbeat you usually are.
Positive mindset: The power of positive thinking
Adopting a positive mindset can bring many mental and physical health benefits. It’s not a quick fix answer to difficult times but nurturing positive thinking can help us lead a more rewarding and less stressful life. This can be particularly powerful when helping us respond to challenging and difficult times.
Last updated: 26 November 2020