When the word positive thinking comes up in today’s society, people are quick to associate it with gurus on stage and esoteric self-help jargon. But, in reality, the power of positive thoughts cannot be overlooked.
Firstly, what positive thinking is NOT
I want to discern a popular notion among people when it comes to positive thinking.
Most people believe that positive thinking is about being a Jolly Dolly all the time. And funny enough, there is no way that we can be happy about everything all the time.
Life is always a series of events that happen to us, and most of the time, the way we choose to react is what will shape the course of our lives.
The way that our thoughts manifest themselves in our lives is that when something bad happens to us, we have a choice to focus on the bad things that have happened or we can choose to focus on the things we can do to change the state of affairs.
If at the end of the day, in some rare cases, nothing can be done, a positive person will have a way to RE-APPRAISE the situation by saying things like; “this is an experience that happened because I have to learn a very important lesson here” or “on the bright side, I could have lost my life”, or “at least, he is with God now, and he is in everlasting peace”.
Being positive is not about abdicating responsibilities, or ignoring real problems you have, or shifting blame, or hiding from grief, or being unrealistic.
It is actually the opposite of that because being positive is about facing your problems. But, instead of focusing on the negatives, a positive person will find a realistic way to RE-APPRAISE the situation in a positive direction.
When you really think about it, being negative and worrying about a situation is a form of a disservice to yourself. Worrying about a situation will hinder your ability to think, and at the end of the day, you won’t be able to find a solution to the problem you are having.
What I want to say right now might shock you, but, in my experience, I have found that 90% of the things we WORRY about, never happen.
Another way that our habitual way of thinking manifest in our lives is when we are in the process of achieving a goal, we have the choice to either focus on everything that could go right or everything that could go wrong.
Before you start flipping out on me and start saying that all my claims are wrong, I want you to remember that “acknowledgment” is far different from “focus”.
Acknowledging a bad situation doesn’t necessarily mean you should focus on the bad side of the situation.
Remember that “What you focus on, expands”
The tale of the two brothers
In order to illustrate the detrimental effects of negative thought patterns, let’s use two brothers by the name of Bill and Scott as an example.
These two people are chasing the same goal of publishing a novel. Irrespective of maybe the book will become a bestseller or not, the first step for these people is to actually write the book.
Although both brothers have no agent, no publishing company knocking on their doors, Bill has the attitude and thoughts of finishing his book, getting a literary agent, a publishing company, and the book becoming a bestseller.
So, these positive thoughts fuel him with the drive to finish the book. He has chosen not to worry about getting his book published for now. His main agenda is to write a killer book.
However, his brother, Scott, has the attitude and thought of finishing his book, and at the same time, he worries about where he would get an agent, and where he will get a publishing company to sign him. These thoughts quickly spiral into more negative thoughts of not being good enough, not having the right tools, not knowing the right people, and so on.
Irrespective of their abilities as a writer, if you were to guess who among the two brothers has the highest chance of finishing his book, I think you already know who that would be.
Negative thoughts have a way of bringing out FEAR in us. Fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, and in some cases, fear of success. Fear has a way of paralyzing us and stopping us from taking the required action if care is not taken.
We see Scott’s story all around us, in our lives, in other people’s lives, every day. We all hear people tell us what they could have done, the kind of life they could have lived, the kind of dream they had and could have achieved, had they not been so scared of failing.
There is no guarantee of success for both brothers, but, at the very least, one will be ready should the opportunity come.
“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca
If you are quick to laugh at Scott’s misfortune, I would advise you not to do that yet.
Because Scott is like the most of us.
Because we are all built to think negatively, predominantly (Negativity Bias)
With more scientific probe into the human brain, scientists have found what is referred to as negativity bias.
Think back to our ancestors who were cavemen and lived in the jungle. Their neighbors were wild animals that want to make our ancestors their lunch at the slightest chance they get.
So, because of this environment, their brain has evolved to protect them to fight, or flight, at the glimpse of a dangerous encounter.
The part of the brain that is responsible for this task is the amygdala, which is located in the limbic system. This part of the brain also attaches emotional significance to events and memories.
Because this part of the brain is evolutionarily built for survival, it always gives you negative memories when something new comes up in order to trigger your fight or flight response.
Also, it retains negative events and memories for a very long time.
This is why negative events are kind of sticky in our minds. A person is more likely to quickly recall a negative event that occurred to him/her 20 years ago than he can a positive one.
Although in today’s society, a tiger is not trying to eat you as you are walking down the street; we still inherited this limbic brain from our ancestors. And when something occurs, this part of the brain is the first to respond. And unfortunately, this brain cannot tell the difference between getting eaten by a tiger and moving to a new city for a new job.
To illustrate the limbic brain at its best, I want you to notice the first thought that comes to your mind when you think about anything that’s new to you.
For instance, I want you to think about taking on a new responsibility at home, or at work. Notice how the first thought that comes to you is how much work it is going to be, and how a memory of when you were stressed out was used to support this thought.
So, are you a predominantly positive or negative person?
When something happens, do you always think the worst or hope for the best?
When you are required to move to a new city, do you say; “wow, this would be a new experience and I would get to meet new people”.
Or you say; “I checked online and they say robbery rate is highest in that city. Oh my God! I am definitely going to get robbed when I get there”.
Scientific Benefits of Positive Thinking
If you fall into the predominantly negative category, I suggest you find a way to join the positive-type-personality category.
If you are a predominantly positive person, here are the benefits that have been proven to be true scientifically, that you stand to gain;
Positive thinking broadens your mind and ignites your brain for creativity by making it see more possibilities
This study divided participants into three groups. The first group was shown images that gave them a feeling of joy and contentment.
The second group was shown neutral images that sparked no emotions in them. This group served as the experiment’s control.
The third group was shown images that invoked negative emotions of fear and anger.
After these, the researchers asked the groups to imagine themselves in a circumstance that gave them their current state of emotions. They were then told to write down what they would do in these situations.
The group that was shown images of fear and anger had the lowest number of ideas. The group that was shown images of joy and contentment came up with the highest number of responses and ideas on the action they would take, in contrast to the other two groups.
What we learned from this research was that when we are having positive emotions, which are caused by positive thoughts, we have the ability to see more possibilities in life.
When we are having negative thoughts and emotions, our brain shuts off other possibilities aside from surviving, due to our flight or fight response system.
Positive thinking helps people to sustain effort by increasing resilience and ability to tolerate pain
Casting your mind back to the example of the two brothers I used earlier, what is the answer to the question I’m about to pose;
Who do you think is likely to sustain effort and be more resilient, a positive person, or a negative person?
A positive person has a lot of weapons in his/her arsenal when it comes to coping mechanisms.
These weapons can range from laughter, humor, re-appraisals, reframing, and so on.
A resilient individual has the ability to bounce back from stressful experiences quickly and efficiently. According to this study, being positive of outcomes has been found to be an integral function in the ability of resilient people to quickly “bounce back” from stressful and negative encounters.
Also, in this research, where researchers examined patients with pain disorders, it was found that participants who were optimists showed a higher pain tolerance time.
So, if you are a positive person, you have the ability to stick with whatever you are doing because you are more resilient, and you have a higher tolerance for pain.
And this leads to the next benefit on the list, which is;
Positive thinking helps to build useful skills in life due to sustained efforts associated with it
In life, no worthwhile skill can be acquired easily. That’s why only those that persevere and are resilient are able to do this.
Also, the leading name in positive psychology research, Barbara Fredrickson, published in her renowned work, how positive people are more able to broaden their mind for more possibilities, and are able to develop more life skills in the process.
This phenomenon is now commonly referred to as the broaden-and-build theory.
What these indicate is that positivity has the ability to broaden your mind, and because it also builds up your perseverance muscles, you are easily able to build lasting and valuable life skills.
Positive thinking keeps your heart healthy and helps to prevent hypertension
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that when you think negatively, you start to worry a lot. And when you worry a lot, your blood pressure levels start to respond in kind.
According to this study at John Hopkins by Lisa Yanek (M.P.H), it was found that people with more positive outlook were one-third less likely to suffer a heart attack or any other cardiovascular disease compared to people with a more negative outlook on life.
Also, a lot of studies have shown that positive people are more likely to make better life choices — healthwise — by choosing to do activities that tend to positively influence the heart.
These activities might include exercising regularly and eating healthy food options as opposed to junks.
Positive thinking strengthens your immune system, wards off viruses and bacteria, makes you healthier, and extend your lifespan in the process
Having a more positive outlook on life isn’t just capable of boosting your mood, it has been found by researchers that it also boost and strengthen the immune system of the individual.
This leads to the positive thinkers being more protected from diseases like the common flu. This was found by Segerstrom, who is a psychology Professor at the University of Kentucky when he investigated the relationship between optimism and the immune system of 124 incoming Law students over the course of a year.
When you have a strong immune system, you are better equipped to fight diseases, you are healthier, you age well, and as a result, your lifespan is increased.
If you didn’t know before, now you know. Your longevity factor is greatly influenced by the kind of thoughts you allow in your mind.
Positive thinking is the leading method of fighting stress
Negative thinking, worrying too much, and anxieties will raise the cortisol levels in the body, which as a result, increases stress.
Stress has various negative effects on us. Health problems like; migraines, muscle pain, insomnia, body and mental fatigue, depression, mood swings, and so on, have been associated with recurring stress.
It stands to reason that being positive is an anecdote to stress. This had been pointed out by Barbara Fredrickson in her popular broaden and build theory papers.
The ability to broaden one’s mind when positive, leads to an increase in the ability to manage stress in a healthier way.
Positive thinking improves cognitive functioning
Several types of research have linked negativity to cognitive functioning impairment.
Worrying has been found to affect decision-making negatively. This is clearly understood because whenever we switch to the worry, fear, and anxiety circuits of our brain, — the amygdala — we shut out any other creative and logical section of our brain.
At that moment, we are only utilizing our flight or fight response system.
This study divided participants into worriers and non-worriers and found that the non-worriers performed way better than worriers when they were both given the same sets of cognitive tasks to complete.
To unleash your brainpower, what you can start doing right now is to start being more positive.
Positive thinking helps to combat depression
According to a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, it was found that higher levels of Positive automatic thoughts (PATs) predicted less depression in the future.
What this means is that positive people tend to be happier in contrast with those people that are predominantly negative.
Final words on the power of positive thoughts
Are you a glass half full, or a glass half empty kind of person?
Irrespective of the type of person you are, what I want you to know is that positive thinking is no more an esoteric concept that self-help book writers are using to peddle their craft.
It is now a concrete, evidence-backed, and crucial concept that you need to imbibe in order to improve your quality of life.
In order to live a wealthy and good life, it is imperative to start thinking that events will turn out for the best, for you.
Finally, it is time to find ways of becoming a more positive person.
If you can do this, your body, your mind, and your well-being will thank you for it.