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Does Positive Thinking Really Work?

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” – Buddha

These days, positivity is EVERYWHERE. On social media, coffee mugs, wall hangings, bathroom mats… “Love yourself” “You’re beautiful” “Live, laugh, love.” There are dozens of bloggers and therapists and life coaches who tout the power of positive thinking. It makes you wonder… is there actually something to it?

There have been some research studies indicating that positive thinking is linked to positive outcomes, including reduction in dementia risk, increase in math achievement, and even better heart health. Other studies indicate that only certain types of positive thinking work, or that increasing positive experiences or taking action towards the result you want is far more effective than increasing positive thoughts. There are also studies that conclude that positive thinking does not work, but negative thinking does have a negative impact.

The research out there is mixed, but I can tell you from my own personal experience that positive thinking has helped me, as well as some of my clients. I believe that opening yourself up to the possibility of good things happening to you, really does make them more likely to happen. The opposite is true as well – if you close off your mind to possibilities, you may be missing out on opportunities. After all, if you don’t believe something can happen, why seek it out? Why put effort towards it? You may even consciously or sub-consciously self-sabotage your dreams as a way of protecting yourself from potential disappointment. This is truly a double-edge sword… sure, you’re protected from disappointment, but you’re also keeping yourself from living the life you want deep down.

Positive affirmations, such as “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better,” are having a resurgence. Again, they are EVERYWHERE. Some people love them. But if you feel like they’re hokey, there are other ways to think positive. Here are five.

  1. Practice gratitude. Right when you wake up in the morning or right before bed, think of one thing you are grateful for. It might be a person, an event, a treasured possession, a basic need (like housing or food), an element in nature you appreciate, or an ability or strength you have. The sky is the limit. Recognized that there are many people on earth who would love to have this thing for which you are grateful, but for whatever reason, you have it.
  2. Be in the moment. As you go about your daily life and experience joy, calm, or awe, soak up that moment and appreciate the feelings you are having as you’re having them! This will enhance the quality of your life as you’re living it, as well as the memories you’ll think back to later. If your thoughts wander off or you get distracted, just notice and bring your attention back to the present moment. You may need to do this many times, over and over… that’s completely normal.
  3. Anticipate good results. Thinking positive or even neutral thoughts about your future, rather than negative, makes a huge difference. If you don’t believe you can accomplish something, you’re likely to put in less effort, since the end result feels futile anyway. So just by thinking that you can do something, you are already increasing your odds! There may be a lot of work yet to be done, but it helps to start out on the right foot.
  4. Accept that negative thoughts are just thoughts. There’s no need to judge yourself for having negative thoughts. Everyone does. Yes, everyone, including Buddhist monks and Yogis. So when you notice a negative thought appear, watch it disappear, and move your attention on to the next thing. You will never stop having negative thoughts altogether, but you can change how much power you give those thoughts.
  5. Seek out the good. Try to find something good about even bad or difficult situations. One way to do this is to think of challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Many people who have gone through difficulties in life come out the other side stronger, more resilient, and more empathic. Another way to come at this is to remember that every bad moment is temporary, and the next moment could always be better.

How have you increased your positive thinking? Let me know in the comments.

Have a Mindful Monday.

-Rebecca

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