Do you think positive thinking is a real concept that could change your life? Or do you think positive thinking sounds good, but is really just another soft, feel-good idea without anything solid to back it up? You might be surprised.
Do You Have a Positive Attitude?
Most people consider themselves to be positive rather than negative. Is that how you feel about yourself? There’s a famous psychological test that’s been used in many scientific studies over the years, the Snyder Hopefulness Test. It won’t take very long to take this test if you’re curious. There’s no right or wrong score.
Studies Find Positive Thinking Pays Big Dividends
Scientifically testing the results of changes in someone’s thinking and outlook proved difficult for many years. There were a lot of ideas and theories about the mind-body connection and the impact of one’s attitude, but there didn’t seem to be a scientific way to test any of these ideas. The Snyder Hopefulness Test was first published in 1991. Since then, this test has been included in numerous studies. Snyder’s work has been cited more than 3,000 times.
The impact of positive thinking or optimism on healing, pain relief, happiness at work and home, student’s grades and other aspects of daily life has been examined repeatedly with generally consistent results. Below are examples of a few of the countless studies:
- A study testing the relationship between optimism and pain management, and whether ethnicity matters – it doesn’t
- A study of how thinking positive thoughts aloud can help multiple sclerosis patients remain active
- A Taiwanese study of how positive intervention and support helped college students become more positive, motivated and disciplined – qualities essential for success
- A study that demonstrated how a positive thinking training program improved the quality of nurses’ work and home life
Can You Manage Pain With Your Mind? Ask a Navy SEAL
The link between pain and attitude has been of particular interest since pain has both physical and mental components. However, for real-world proof of mental pain management, talk to athletes or the military.
Athletes talk about getting into the ‘zone”, thinking about something else while continuing to run or perform another repetitive activity. Zoning out can be very useful whether you’re exercising or working on an important project.
- Choose your most important task.
- Make it easier to focus by preventing distractions.
- Focus completely on your task.
- Remain focused for at least 30 minutes – longer is better.
- Don’t stop until you’re done.
Spec Ops training goes much further. A soldier needs to retain the ability to think logically and tactically while being able to dissociate from pain or discomfort. Learning to dissociate or separate yourself mentally from pain can be invaluable if you’re dealing with chronic pain.
SEALs have been known to continue training with a broken bone by shifting their focus from the pain to helping their team. The nerves still send pain signals to the brain, but the mind separates from the pain. The mind controls the pain; the pain doesn’t control the mind.
Control Pain and Other Negative Emotions With Your Mind
Harvard Medical School recommends six different methods for controlling pain by shifting your focus and overriding the pain signals. This tips are just as useful for managing negative emotions such as anger or depression and include:
- Deep breathing
- The relaxation response
- Meditation and guided imagery
- Immersing yourself completely in an activity
- Yoga and tai chi
- Positive thinking – try keeping a daily journal of things you’re thankful for
How Do Positive Thoughts Influence Health, Wealth and Happiness?
Barbara Fredrickson is a leading positive psychology researcher who published a landmark and influential paper that has sparked significant research in how positive thoughts change lives. Positive thinking isn’t just a Pollyanna, fluffy feel-good attitude that’s only on the surface. Mental toughness takes work and resonates in the core of your being. You want to be a SEAL, not a Barbie doll with a meaningless smile.
One difficulty in maintaining a positive attitude is that positive thoughts (joy, contentment etc.) are typically less intense and of much shorter duration than negative thoughts (anger, rage, depression). Anger or depression easily grab all of your attention, leaving room for little else.
Negative Thoughts Affect Your Brain
Imagine you’re taking a walk and confronted by sudden danger. Fear takes hold instantly, telling you to run or fight and overpowering all other thoughts. Your focus narrows to only the danger. Ancient and powerful instincts can rule our actions in the modern world.
These instincts can certainly be necessary in a life-or-death situation, but they can be destructive at work or home. How many jobs have been lost or relationships destroyed because someone’s immediate reaction to stress or confrontation is anger? Anger can come from many sources, such as a fear of loss or childhood trauma, but that doesn’t make it less harmful. Negative emotions close off your brain from the ability to see other options or better ways to handle a situation. Negativity is powerful.
Positive Thoughts Expand Your Options and Help You Solve Problems
Fredrickson did an experiment that illustrated the power of positive thinking in presenting more and better ways to handle a situation. Positive thinkers are problem solvers who come up with new ideas and strategies until they make it work.
- It took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he invented a light bulb that worked. He didn’t say he failed 1,000 times. Instead Edison said, “The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
- It took Bill Gates 11 years of hard work before Microsoft went public, making him incredibly wealthy.
- Steve Jobs worked 20 years to become an overnight dot.com billionaire.
Positive thinking may or may not be a trait you’re born with, but it can be learned or strengthened. It’s not easy and requires dedication and consistency. However, positive thinking can change your life.