Thinking Positive

Reviewed Jan 14, 2016

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Summary

In an effort to strengthen our resilience and adaptability, we must learn to keep negative emotions in check and amplify positive emotions. Identifying and using your strengths is an important step in this process.


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Our thoughts strongly affect our physical well-being and our effectiveness in general. While we might not have control over some events in our lives, we can control how we choose to live our lives and how we choose to interpret events.

You can choose to be positive. Behavioral health experts say, while it may seem to operate automatically, it is actually a “filter” you have chosen to adopt as a way of looking at things. A deeply negative attitude may be a product of depression and will not readily go away without outside help. But those who are psychologically in good health can do a lot to change their outlook by consciously switching to a different filter.

You can change your attitude filter.Attitude has 3 processes: thinking, feeling and action. The first of these is critical, because it determines the course for the other 2. We typically react not so much to events themselves as to our interpretation of them. For instance, say your boss critiques your work on a project and you react in anger. When you come home you might tell your family, “My boss really made me mad today” and you may fully believe that you had no choice in the matter. But the anger actually would have been caused by your particular spin on the criticism. You might have seen the criticism as a personal attack rather than simply a statement about how you can make some improvements and how you can apply this new information to future projects. Catching yourself when you take things personally is one way to make a choice toward a positive outlook. This self-awareness can have the immediate benefit of lowering stressful emotions such as anger. But it can also help change the external factors—like the behavior of bosses and co-workers—for the better. If you learn to react with less anger, you actually provoke less anger and friction from others. One rather simple way to start taking is more positively outlook is to observe other positive people.

If you want to change your attitude from negative to positive, you need to do a little research. See who around you has a more positive attitude and observe them … then, basically, imitate them.

These positive models can include family as well as co-workers. Family models can have a particularly strong influence, for better or worse. We have a tendency to act in ways that are familiar for us, that is, they come from family. And each of us tends to fixate on one family member that we tend to be like. If the relative you emulate tends to be a negative person, look around elsewhere to find someone more positive. If your mom was the one who was always worried and anxious and if there was an Aunt Susie who was called ‘Susie Sunshine’, you would do well to imitate your Aunt Susie.

Modeling positive behavior is a great way to start learning how to be more positive. Once you have practiced being more positive, it will begin to feel more automatic and integrated into your natural perspective.

It’s also a good idea to avoid people who strike you as negative. Some people can have a negative outlook even if they were to win the lottery. Recognize this so that you do not emulate this behavior. Someday, maybe they can learn from watching and modeling you on how to be more positive in their approach to managing life events.

Be happy

Although people are born with certain levels of happiness or certain levels of neurotransmitters, it is possible to enhance your level of happiness. You can take steps to increase your level of happiness and satisfaction

1. Express gratitude. For example, you might make a “gratitude visit or letter.” That means writing a testimonial, a list or a letter thanking a teacher, pastor or grandparent—anyone to whom you owe a debt of gratitude—and then visiting that person to read him or her the letter of appreciation.

2. Keep a journal. Most experts recommend keeping a daily or weekly journal of the things you are thankful for. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the rewards can be tremendous. Think of the positive change that could occur in a family when stressed-out working parents shift their focus from what they don’t have and begin saying how grateful they are for what they do have, such as their marriage, kids, job, etc.

3. Perform daily acts of kindness. For example, visiting a nursing home, helping a friend’s child with homework, mowing a neighbor’s lawn, writing a letter to a grandparent or, just giving those close to you an extra hug, a few special words of encouragement or compliments. Doing 5 kind acts a week, even all in a single day, can give a boost to people’s mood.

4. Find your strengths and ways you can use them. Make a list of things you do well and renew your commitment to find creative ways of using your strengths. The way to happiness lies in building up the strengths of character that make the exercise of the virtues possible, according to the “father” of the positive psychology movement, Martin Seligman. The way to wisdom, for instance, can lie through the strengths of curiosity, love of learning, critical thinking or social intelligence. People don’t have all the strengths in equal measure, but Seligman writes that each person possesses “signature strengths.” These are “strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting.” (To “own” a strength means to feel it as truly central to your being, the “real me.”) For example, maybe you are exceptionally good at organization and you enjoy planning events. Maybe you can volunteer to help plan a holiday family reunion or vacation with extended family members.

Develop resilience

When you are having a “particularly ‘down’ day” what do you do when it’s not enough just to say, “This, too, shall pass”?

Many of life’s painful challenges are short-term. Others, like grief at the loss of a loved one, take time to play out but normally reach a conclusion—such as acceptance in the case of grief.

But sometimes no end is in sight. Such is the case with progressively debilitating illnesses that have no known cure. Other life events, like unemployment for a middle-age worker, can have a similar dispiriting sense of permanence. These situations produce stress, not in short bursts, but over the long run. Coping with them requires emotional endurance, the ability to keep an ordeal of indefinite length from depleting your emotional health.

This stamina is related to a trait called “resilience”—the ability to take life’s ups and downs emotionally in stride. Resilient people tend to:

  • take the optimistic view of a situation
  • demonstrate resourcefulness and use their imagination and creativity to resolve issues
  • place things in life into a healthy, rational perspective and recognizing that there is a need to back away from the uncontrollable and unchangeable realities of life
  • exercise emotional self-protection and prevention so as not to experience greater emotional devastation from having hung on beyond a reasonable and rational point.
  • focus on what goes right rather than what goes wrong
  • have the ability to identify and celebrate the strength and stamina it took for them to cope and thrive through challenging circumstances rather than seeing themselves as a victim
  • accurately identify and own their contribution to the problem
  • have multiple sources of satisfaction so that if one element of their life takes a side turn, their other resources are still able to flourish
  • have a supportive community of friends or family they have built through developing trusting, caring, and respectful relationships with others

Seek contentment

A relatively new movement in the mental health profession is actually based upon focusing on resilience factors such as these , as well as positive strengths. This growing movement in the mental health field known as “positive psychology.” It asks the question: You’re OK. But can you be even better? Unlike most traditional psychological practice, which seeks to understand and heal problems of the mind and emotions, positive psychology delves into what makes us emotionally healthy—that is, happy—and tries to build on those sources of strength to increase our happiness.

The stresses, strain, worry and pain of daily living conspire to steal the joy and contentment that we intuitively crave. Which begs the question: Is it possible to be truly content in such a stress-filled and tumultuous world? The answer is yes.

Contentment is the consequence of having a positive attitude.

Research has suggested the ingredients of contented living are not found in some deep psychological theory or even in our biochemistry; rather, they include:

  • gratitude
  • the ability to forgive
  • having a purpose
  • positive thinking or faith

Whether you believe optimists are born or made, you might want to know more about these silver lining people. First, understand that optimism isn’t a clueless or unrealistic perspective, just one that hopes. Optimism is defined as “a disposition to look on the bright side of things.” In practical terms, an optimist can:

  • set and strive toward high goals
  • bounce back quickly from failure
  • consider negative circumstances as the exception, not the norm
  • look for the best in others

According to research, optimists enjoy these benefits as well:

  • longer lives
  • more effective immune systems
  • reduced likelihood of depression and anxiety

Perhaps the idea of a rosier outlook appeals to you, but you feel trapped by your gloomy attitude. Don’t despair and don’t believe the negative tape that plays quietly, yet destructively, in your mind. You can think optimistically. You can head out to your car most mornings and have faith that it will start or turn on the shower and expect the hot water to work, right? The work in store for you is to apply this day-to-day simple faith to the deeper and more personal aspects of your life such as self-image, relationships, your life’s purpose and tough times. The key is your willingness to examine your current thoughts (just the gloomy ones) and practice some new ones. If you catch yourself thinking something like, “What if I fail?” talk right back to that thought with “What if I don’t?” or “I’ll learn from it and press on.” It might help to write down such pessimistic thoughts as they occur, then write the alternative thoughts that challenge them. You can also:

  • Post encouraging notes in places where you usually tend to brood or complain.
  • Keep a journal of what went right each day.
  • Seek the company of optimists and study them, even try to mimic them.
  • Read books and watch movies with happy endings and believe them.
  • Compile a list of your blessings, including the ability to see, hear, walk, etc.

If your habitual mindset has you thinking that you can’t change or that your circumstances are truly beyond a brighter perspective, consider working with a counselor or other mental health professional. A cognitive-behavioral psychologist might be just the person who can teach you how to retrain the thoughts that bring you misery. Bear in mind that, as automatic as your thoughts seem to be, you have the choice whether to accept or reject them.

Please remember that you and your family have access to trained counselors and professionals who will provide confidential assistance. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please contact a representative at the toll-free number on this Web site for additional assistance.

 

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