We’ve all heard it, life exhibits habits and experiences based on the way you think. If you tend to be a negative thinker, negative people, things and experiences will follow you. But if you choose to think positive and be optimistic, your life will be more enjoyable and fulfilling and you will be a much happier well-balanced person, but how true is this, and do we need to stop saying ‘think positive’? Can positive thinking be negative and actually make us feel shameful and guilty??
Let me be honest with you, when I first decided to write this post, my intentions were to focus on the importance of thinking positive because when we think positive and are optimistic, we’ll live happier lives. And while that may be true on a very small scale, it turns out it isn’t as simple as that.
WHERE IS THE ROOT OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS?
It’s important to understand where negative thoughts are coming from. Negative emotions and thoughts usually come from blaming someone or something for a situation that happened in their lives and can weigh heavily on a person both physically and mentally.
Telling someone who has experienced trauma, for example, to ‘think positive’ can imply that they have control over their negative thoughts and failing to gain the ability to think positively can result in anxiety and depression which intern can lead to feelings of shame or guilt.
Think about that friend who has spent weeks mustering up the courage to share an awful event or somber feelings they’ve experienced, only to be told ‘think positive things will get better’. This is not helpful at all when saying this, it essentially undermines what a person has experienced or what they may be feeling. Their time spent finding the courage to tell their story is literally wiped out!!
OPTIMISM ALONE DOES NOT LEAD TO HAPPINESS
You may have heard about the Positive Psychology movement that took place in the 1950s steered by Abraham, Maslow and Carl Rogers. This was a movement that focused not so much on what was wrong with people (known as the disease model) but studied what was right with human beings and finding positive qualities to support themselves in self-development.
It focused on things like resiliency, creativity, spirituality, courage, and hope. With the movement being highly publicized everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon with this new innovative way to approach positive thinking and there soon became a number of poorly completed studies with a message that optimism leads to happiness when in fact it’s much more complex than that.
Positive Psychology was later re-named “positive thinking” which is what it is best known, as today.
However, it never proposed we only think positive or ignore the challenges we are faced with in order to heal ourselves but rather champion the resilience and creativity that has seen us get to where we are today, and encourage us to find more inner resources to continue in an even more effective way, this involves much more than just thinking positive.
SO DOES POSITIVE THINKING BENEFIT OUR OVERALL WELLNESS
The answer is yes, but, keeping in mind that it is much more complex than just thinking positive and being optimistic to achieve happiness.
Happiness comes from positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life. And while thinking positive is beneficial it doesn’t mean that alone will result in our happiness.
Below are some suggestions that will help you on your path to achieving happiness. By following through with some or all of these strategies you may be able to gain a better sense of how to think positive and how it does tie into the big picture of achieving overall wellness
- Say Yes to Self Care (make it a priority)
- Know that it’s ok to ask for help – we all need help at some point in our lives and asking for help is a strength, not a weakness
- Forgive those who have wronged you – you may never forget but forgive and move on, your overall wellness depends on it
- Keep a gratitude journal – document something every day you’re grateful for and highlight the positive things throughout your day
- Surround yourself with positive people – their positive energy is contagious
- Practice positive self-talk – speak confidently, choose optimistic statements about whatever it is you’re facing (ex: when preparing to write an exam, remind yourself that you’ve studied the material and are going to get through the exam, you may not feel great right now but things could be worse)
- Open yourself up to humor – laughter relieves stress and the benefits are instantaneous. There is evidence that proves laughter benefits our physical and mental well being
A LOOK AT HOW CBT TACKLES NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most evidence-based forms of therapy now available and has implemented strategies to help individuals become more aware and look at negative thoughts from a different perspective.
They do this by having a person write down their negative thought and then write down the exact opposite of that negative thought (which is the extreme positive thought in most cases). They then have to find a balanced thought that is between both negative and positive that is realistic to that specific person.
This exercise allows individuals to open up their minds to other possibilities and perspectives that they might not have seen before.
Here are some of the techniques used by Cognitive Behavourial Therapists to tackle negative thoughts:
- Mindfulness – become aware of the negative thoughts and why they are surfacing in the first place. With practice and commitment over time, a person will come to the realization that they are not their negative thoughts but something more powerful
- Gratitude – identify things or people you are grateful for and what is going great in your life
CURBING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS IS A PROCESS
This can be a process and one that requires some professional supports for many. We aren’t machines, there isn’t an off switch for negative thoughts and if there were we certainly wouldn’t be faced with epidemic levels of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Studies were also completed in 2012 that indicate that the social expectancies to think and remain positive could actually lead to a feeling of sadness. You can read more about these studies by clicking here
Try these steps below to help curb those pesky negative thoughts:
- Train your brain to stop the negative thoughts by saying STOP when the thought enters into your brain. This will need to be done several times along with other strategies to work, but it’s a great step to include in your plan
- Meditate – this is a great way to train your brain, calm your soul and relax yourself
- Make time for things that you make you happy and bring you joy, hobbies, reading, blogging because anything enjoyed by you is a great distraction from the negativity
- Picture something you’re happy and grateful for – family, pets friends – absorb the feeling of gratitude for a few moments to distract you from the negative thought(s)
- Remove toxic people or things around you – surround yourself with happy positive people and things. Positive people enjoy helping others and aren’t talking behind your back, spend your time with these people and you’ll find yourself uplifted and thinking more positive
- Smile often – as cheesy as this may sound it actually helps lift a person up and feel more positive. Happiness can be projected from your actions to your mind. Smiling consistently increases endorphins that make us feel better and happier
THINKING POSITIVE DOESN’T MAKE OUR PROBLEMS GO AWAY
While positive thinking does benefit our overall wellbeing and contributes to our happiness, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s unrealistic to think our problems or challenges will be absorbed with positive thoughts.
We can’t ignore challenges, such as finances, health concerns, relationship/family struggles or whatever we may be faced with. Those challenges won’t go away just by thinking positively. It’s up to us to draw on our strengths to ensure that we face our challenges and take appropriate action where necessary to solve the issues so that we in-fact can continue to work on reaching our goal of achieving overall wellness and happiness.
While being optimistic and thinking positively is an important part of achieving our overall wellness, it alone will not create happiness, nor will it fix the challenges we are faced with.
We are responsible for actioning our, challenges and celebrating our resilience and creatively that has gotten us where we are today. We need to continue to seek out inner resources that will allow us to be more effective and this is where our positive thoughts and optimism comes into play.
Make self-care a priority, self-connection can curb those negative thoughts. Never be afraid to reach out for help to work toward getting to the root of negative thoughts, cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based form of therapy that can assist with strategies to view thoughts from a different perspective.
CLICK HERE to learn more about online cognitive behavioral therapy.
Leave me a comment below and let me know what your experiences have been when someone tells you to think positive. Were you able to change your thinking and did it have a profound impact on you life?