There is plenty of research on positive thinking and its influence on your health and other areas of your life. With the proliferation of life coaches, the message of positive thinking has reached a wider audience.
At times though, the understanding seems superficial, especially when taken out of context or without regard to daily life realities. This article seeks to provide better insight on what positive thinking is, how it works, and the scientific studies on positive thinking. It will also look at the pros and cons of positive thinking.
What is Positive Thinking?
Positive thinking is having an optimistic perspective or view of life. It is not to be confused with ignoring the less pleasant instances or living oblivious to challenges and conflict in life. Positive thinking is seeing the good even in hard times and maintaining hope that things will change.
As VeryWellMind.com quotes psychologist Martin Seligman, your explanatory style can tell your outlook. An optimist will view bad events as temporary and atypical. The optimist will also give himself more credit for the good things that happen. On the other hand, a pessimist will view negative events as expected and even permanent or expected.
Positive thinking individuals seek to make the most of any situation. It means in the face of obstacles; you will be focusing on solutions and how to make progress.
You can also define positive thinking in terms of what it entails. Oxforddictionaries.com defines it as a practice of choosing to focus on the constructive aspects of a person, an event, or an issue. In so doing, you eliminate the negative emotions and attitudes which could be destructive.
In the same vein, positive thinking is the adopting of a mental attitude that’s receptive to thoughts, emotions, and words that promote growth.
How Positive Thinking Works
Positive thinking comes from self-talk. That is the endless random thoughts you do not verbalize but inform or affect your decisions and actions and overall outlook. These thoughts are automatic and could be from reason or logic and sometimes from misconceptions you create.
Understanding how positive thinking works helps to know what negative thinking entails and how it affects you. Negative thinking manifests itself in these four main ways;
- Polarizing. This kind of thinking sees things at the extremes and opposites without the possibility of any middle ground. For example, you are either perfect or a failure. If something is not working out, there is no other explanation other than your incompetence or failings.
- Personalizing. This kind of thinking leaves you automatically blaming yourself for anything negative or unpleasant. For example, if friends call off a planned meeting, you take it as a sign that no one likes your company.
- Catastrophizing. This thinking always expects the worst to happen, and even one mishap affects your outlook for the rest of the day. Such thinking often ends up being self-fulling.
- Filtering. Filtering affects how you take in events and things that happen to you. With this thinking, you magnify the negative aspects such that they filter out all or any positive things. A small error sours your achievements or an otherwise successful event.
Related reading: 8 Easy Tips to Grow a Positive Mindset – Opens in new tab.
The work of psychology of positive thinking experts like Barbara Fredrickson illustrates the impact of positive thinking against negative thinking. Negative thinking limits your options and paralyzes action, while positive thinking opens your possibilities.
In one of her studies, Fredrickson found that participants who saw emotionally evocative film clips, of positive emotions, had more actions they could do in similar circumstances. Participants who saw negative film clips, of fear and anger, had fewer responses on actions they would take in such instances.
Further, Fredrickson advances the broaden and build theory. According to her, positive emotions not only broaden your options but also help you build your skills. The mental environment positive thinking promotes allows you to find new resources and learn new skills.
This impact contrasts with what negative thinking does to your mind. It fosters a mind of fear and other negative emotions, and as a result, your brain focus narrows only to the obstacles. All your mental resources are consumed in defining and overplaying the risks and not on options you have especially future plans.
Scientifically Proven Benefits of Positive Thinking
There are many benefits associated with positive thinking. Previously, these were largely anecdotal, but recent studies are changing that. Scientific studies on positive thinking are showing advantages of positive thinking are significant.
These scientifically proven benefits include;
1. It reduces the risk of having a heart attack.
Positive thinking is good for your heart’s health, especially if you come from a family with a history of heart disease. According to one study, people who come from such a family but had a positive outlook of life have one-third less risk than those with a negative outlook. This reduced risk covers a period from 5 to 25 years.
The findings of the result held even among people who had a family history of heart disease and had the most risk factors for a heart attack. In the general population, individuals with a positive outlook had a 13 % less risk of heart attack than pessimistic people.
2. It counters the effect of aging and increases life expectancy.
Two research studies show that positive thinking and mentality are crucial even in old age. A Canadian Medical Journal research shows that older people with a negative mindset are 80 % more likely to suffer functional problems. These problems include limited mobility, falling, and incontinence.
Another study found that being optimistic among older patients reduced the risk of early deaths by 55 %.
3. It improves your immune system.
Negative thinking affects the function of your immune system, according to studies. The study reviewed over 300 studies covering 30 years of research into the relationship between stress and the immune system. Chronic stress results in the release of corticosteroids, which in turn triggered immunosuppression.
Immunosuppression results in a decrease of all immune functions, making you vulnerable to diseases. Even with chronic stress, those who viewed their situation as stressful or had negative thoughts recorded a significant reduction of antibodies compared to those who maintained a positive outlook.
4. Positive thinking reduces anxiety.
Positive thinking can help you counter anxiety and cope better with stress. In one study generating any positive ideation to worry-related issues and topics replaced the negative thoughts.
The study found that any positive thinking counters the effects of negative thoughts and lengthens feelings of joy. Positive thinking improves general wellbeing and reduces the risk of engaging in harmful behavior.
Positive thinking also makes people happier, which in turn leads to better outcomes in other life areas. A study of over 275,000 people’s findings supported the build hypothesis that over time, positive thinking enables people to achieve personal, intellectual, social, and physical capital.
Positive thinking results in positive emotions, which help you build resilience and contentment and help you acquire better life circumstances, including wealth and health.
The study found that happier people are also less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, including smoking, drinking, and unhealthy eating. They also have better resilience, which allows them to cope better with everyday stressors.
Related reading: 6 Helpful Tips on How to Relax Your Mind and Body from Anxiety – Opens in new tab
5. Improves fertility for men and women
Positive thinking also has the potential to help improve fertility in men and women. A study in the International Journal of Fertility found that infertile couples are generally stressed than fertile ones. The study showed that relieving stress can increase the chances of getting pregnant among couples.
Positive thinking is one way of achieving this, as earlier studies have shown. An Oxford Journals study supports this by noting that women felt less stressed during the conception month.
Disadvantages of Positive Thinking
Even with all these scientific studies, there is a growing body of work that points out that too much of it could have certain downsides. Here are a few disadvantages of positive thinking;
1. Setting unrealistic expectations that backfire
Having a positive attitude can have you setting up unrealistic expectations and still believing you will realize them. Being positive may create a bias in how you set targets and what you can achieve. As such, the decisions and targets may keep backfiring, which can cause plenty of mental strain. It also affects how you allocate your time and resources.
2. Maybe be unprepared for hard times.
A little negativity can be helpful when it comes to building your preparedness for setbacks. That is because it is an outlook that allows you to entertain the possibility of a negative outcome and the potential effects.
However, with positive thinking, you only see the excellent potential of your plans, so when hard times happen, you have no fall-back plan.
3. You may lose valuable support.
When facing hard times or going through a problem, it helps when your support system knows about the issues. When they do, they can intervene much earlier and help you before the problem gets out of hand.
However, with positive thinking, your actions and words convey a different idea. Even when you talk about your challenges, it appears you are in control of them and thus requiring no external help. In doing this, you deny yourself any support, and your challenges overwhelm you.
4. It May have negative health effects.
Positive thinking is a motivating factor in most areas except for health. You start out with the idea that you are healthy and any issue you may be having is only temporary. While this may work out in many other areas of your health, it prevents you from early healthcare intervention.
Worrying about your health and fearing any symptoms prompts you to seek regular check-ups and screening. It also motivates you to stop any unhealthy habit you are having.
5. It could be a mental issue.
Being overly positive about everything could be a sign of a mental condition, specifically manic behavior. Extreme positivity makes some less creative and drives you to take unnecessary risks.
Manic behavior also demonstrates itself in being overly happy and self-confident to the point you are not considering the consequences of your actions. Being overly obsessed with happiness is also likely to lead to miserableness as you set yourself up for failure with extreme expectations.
6. It could be insensitive when offering support.
While helping a loved it is tempting to want them to see the positive side of a situation or to have hope. However, when you are always with a positive outlook, you may fail to properly appreciate their situation.
Instead, you will be pushing them to take forward steps without acknowledging their pain, making you come off as insensitive.
7. You may fail to address negative realities.
A huge challenge when developing a positive outlook is factoring in and addressing the shortcomings in your present reality. When you do it properly, then it is supposed to be an aid to overcome the obstacles.
However, it may end up forming a bias on how you are assessing your present reality when you overdo it. As a result, you do not address the negative aspects, and these catch up with you later, causing considerable disappointment.
Related reading: How to Get Rid of Negative Influences in Your Life? – Opens in new tab.
Positive Thinking Techniques
1. Stop negative self-talk.
The first step is to stop filling yourself with negative self-talk. You can achieve this by challenging the negative thoughts and consciously fill your mind with positive realizations. Instead of being your critic, be your motivational coach.
2. Have time for leisure and exercise
Create time in your schedule to relax, play and exercise. All these activities help you release stress and engage in activities that will take your mind off the negative issues. Exercise and play, in particular, release endorphins and help increase the oxygen levels in the blood. For your play, you can engage in team sports as they promote a happier environment.
3. Practice meditation
Meditation is helpful in training you to focus on the present. It will also help you identify your negative thought patterns for change. More importantly, daily meditation helps in breaking the negative self-talk cycles.
4. Keep positive company
Positivity feeds off other positivity. If you change your company to find people who radiate positive vibes, it will help change your views and focus you on positive vibes.
5. Have a plan
Create a plan for your day with enough challenges you should accomplish that are simple enough to achieve in a day. They should, however, be challenging enough to keep you motivated. Having small victories build-up moments of positivity and help you change your mindset.
6. Practice gratitude
The practice of gratitude trains your mind to see the positive in every situation. Learn to be grateful at the end of every day for anything or person that brought you joy and happiness that day. Expressing gratitude also improves self-esteem and fosters your self-resilience.
There is no doubt about the benefits of positive thinking. It is critical to your general wellbeing, good health, and achieving your goals. Scientific studies prove the wisdom of positivity over the centuries.
Even while embracing it, it is crucial to know the undersides to it so that you can practice positivity while appreciating reality. The process of engaging in positive thinking is gradual, and the techniques above will be useful in that regard.
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