It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the topic of positive mindset has become popular in the health and wellness space, especially in 2020. Positivity doesn’t always refer to smiling, looking happy, cracking jokes, etc. For the purposes of this discussion, positivity is more about one’s overall outlook on life and worldview and their tendency to focus on all the good in life. But before we continue, let’s quickly cover what is positive mindset and attitude? Although you most likely already have a good sense on what positive mindset or attitude, let’s provide a solid definition to set a good foundation and make sure we are on the same page.
The Mayo Clinic provides a very good and straight forward definition of positive thinking:
“Positive thinking means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.”
So, now that we have a good understanding of what positive mindset and thinking is, how do we move forward with understanding what negative self-talk or thinking looks like in order to create a new habit of positive thinking? Some of the common forms of negative self-talk include:
- Filtering is where you magnify or exaggerate all the negative aspects of a situation while at the same time filtering out all the positive ones. For example, you completed an important task at work and your boss provided great and positive feedback on your work, but requested a minor edit be made. Rather than focusing on all the positive feedback you just received for doing a fantastic job, you focus solely on that one minor edit you were asked to make completely ignoring the rest.
- Something bad occurs or something just isn’t right, you are quick to blame yourself without knowing the facts of the situation. For example, a co-worker you typically socialize with first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee comes in one morning and doesn’t speak to you. When this happens you immediately jump to the conclusion that you did something wrong and this co-worker no longer wants to be around you.
- You automatically anticipate or expect the worst. One little thing can go wrong and you automatically expect and assume the rest of your day is going to be a disaster.
- You see things as only good or bad with no in between. You feel you have to be perfect or you are a total failure and quite possibly that no one will like or respect you.
You can learn to turn negative self-talk into positive thinking and thus create a new habit of positive mindset. The process is quite simple; however, it does require a lot of time, effort and practice to master the skills and make this a new habit. Here are a few ways to turn your negative self-talk around:
- Challenge Your Thoughts. This is a cognitive behavior therapy technique where you essentially put your thoughts on trial to essentially prove your thought to be valid or invalid. To do this, you first write down your thought. It is important here to ensure you are writing down only your though and not your emotion or how you are feeling. Once you have your thought down on paper, you then go through the process of defending your thought as a Defense Attorney to prove it is valid and take a minute to reflect on your findings. Next, you prove your thought to be invalid as the Prosecutor. Once all sides have rested you then become the Judge and you make the ultimate decision on whether your thought was valid or invalid. Going through this process will over time help you see things and the world around you in a more positive way or through a more positive lens.
- Create a “Wins” Checklist. What this means is rather than at the end of the day going through a laundry list of all the things that went wrong throughout your day, make a note of all the wins or things that went right and were positive. The point of this exercise is to keep your focus on the best parts of your day.
- Identify Areas to Change. If you want to become more optimistic and think more positively, it is important to really take the time to identify areas you tend to think negatively about, whether it’s work, relationships, your daily commute, working out, etc. Once you identify those areas, start by focusing on one area at a time to approach in a more positive way. Once that particular area has now become a habit for positive thinking, move on to the next.
- Surround Yourself with Positive People. Surround yourself with positive and like-minded individuals who will build you up. Find people and groups who have the values you want to adopt. Negative people may of course increase your stress level and cause you to doubt yourself and your ability to make a positive change.
- Check Yourself. Periodically throughout the day, stop and check-in with yourself to evaluate your thoughts throughout the day. This is a good way to really cut your negative self-talk off at the head and immediately allows you to find a way to put a more positive spin on those thoughts before that negativity takes over your day.
- Create a Morning Routine. A great way to start the day is to create a mental checklist of each thing you are looking forward to for the day ahead. This will create a feeling of anticipation and momentum right at the start of the day.
- Follow a Healthy Lifestyle. Try to add exercise into your weekly routine on most days of the week. Exercise can positively affect your mood and reduce stress. Your endorphins will be high and will completely alter your mood in a positive way. Of course, with this you also want to follow a well-balanced and healthy diet. You want to properly fuel your mind and body. Following a healthy diet consisting of whole, minimally processed foods will provide your body the nutrients it needs to function optimally and will leave your gut happy and healthy.
Creating a more positive mindset and positive self-talk will provide some health benefits such as, increased lifespan, lower levels of depression, better psychological and physical well-being, better cardiovascular health, and better coping skills. One possible theory on why creating a more positive mindset has such great health benefits is that having a positive outlook on things enables you to have better stress management, which will in turn reduce the harmful effects of stress on your body. The thinking here is that people who have an overall more positive outlook on life tend to live healthier lifestyles – follow a healthier diet and incorporate physical activity into their routines.
In conclusion, if you struggle with negative self-talk and want to adopt the habit of creating a more positive mindset, know that this change isn’t going to happen over night and you aren’t going to suddenly wake up an optimist. Creating this new habit is going to take practice and a lot of focused effort. If you put in the effort and practice, eventually your self-talk will become less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. Your entire worldview will change in a more positive way. With a fresh and renewed mind and self-talk the way you view your life and the things around you will be forever changed in a good way and will in turn create positive changes to your overall health – physical and mental.