Positive Thinking

You are in the bank, there is a robbery, you get shot in the arm. Do you consider yourself lucky?

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Our lives are hard enough, we don’t need our thoughts making our days even more difficult. 

Positive thinking is a valuable tool that can make your life more fulfilled and meaningful, imbued with more joy and less worry. It is a skill that can help us appreciate the small things, practice gratitude, be generally happier and open our mind towards life’s adversity. The reason words like ‘tool’ and ‘skill’ were used, is because positive thinking is something we can cultivate and develop, it does not have to be a trait that comes naturally. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of honing positive thinking, how to challenge existing unhelpful thought patterns and how to slowly develop into someone that leans towards positive thinking.

First of all, the word ‘positivity’ might be making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up due to clichéd portraying of positivity. Positivity is often described as ‘always being happy and smiley’, with no worry in the world. It’s served to us as this feeling of blind hopefulness and faith, with nothing but joy and contentment filling our days. This is not the type of positivity this article will be about. The is the type of positivity we will be covering is the one that curses and gets upset and angry, it doesn’t always stay calm and collected, it’s the type of positivity that we have to work on in order for it to work. 

Imagine the following scenario:

You are in the bank, there is a robbery, you get shot in the arm.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
Sit with that for a minute.

The examples of both perspectives might sound something like – what are the odds of a bank robbery happening while you, of all people, are at the bank? Why did this have to happen to you? And you get shot in the hand to top it all off – if you felt unlucky. Or, on the other hand, you might consider yourself lucky – you could’ve been shot in the leg or very badly wounded, or you could’ve died. Someone you loved could’ve been with you but they stayed in the car. You got out alive.

Approaches of Optimism

In order to examine positive thinking further,  it will be beneficial to know how optimism is assessed. Optimism is closely linked to positivity and in order to understand one, it is beneficial to analyse the other.
We will be focusing on two methods of optimism assessment.

The first method is dispositional optimism. This is the basic belief that good things are going to happen. It is anticipating a positive outcome in uncertain times. Glass half full kind of thinking. It can be considered a more basic practice of optimism and a more ‘rose-coloured glasses’ approach to life and life’s adversity (adversity is a fancy way of saying challenges). Nonetheless, it benefits us much more than having a more negative, or even a more neutral outlook on life.

The second method that will be examined is explanatory style, a method that looks closely into how we describe the bad things that happen in our life. It covers the belief of what is the source of our problems.

The source of our obstacles can be internal or external – do you blame yourself for your problems or do you blame other people or circumstances for the bad things that happen in your life? Is it all your responsibility or did other things affect is as well?
It can be stable or unstable – how durable are your problems? Are they here to stay or is your situation changeable? Do you see problems as something that will quickly pass and be forgotten about or will they impact your life for a long time?
And the last one is global or specific – will this bad situation affect your whole life? Will a bad day at work affect your evening with your friends or family? Or will it just stay a bad day at work and your loved ones will turn your day around? Can this issue be separated from the rest of your life or do you think it will affect you in all areas of your everyday life?

Generally, more optimistic people choose the external, unstable and specific approach to seeing bad things happen in their life. They don’t blame themselves for everything bad that happens in their lives, they accept that their surroundings or other people are partially responsible. They see their issues as unstable, they will pass and be forgotten about, they are not going to linger in their lives forever. And they are specific. A bad day at work is just a bad day at work, it will not affect the rest of their evening nor the next day. Tomorrow will be a new day.

Optimistic behaviors have proven to have certain benefits attached to them.
They range from better identifying problems because people that demonstrate optimistic behavior don’t see problems as threats, they see them as opportunities, they are better at analysing and concluding what is in their control and what is not, then focusing on what is in their control in order to make the best of the situation at hand, they tend to be more approach-oriented and are more likely to seek information, as well as ask for help. Research shows that this has to do with our attention when we’re feeling positive emotions. Positive emotions broaden our attention making us more aware and goal-oriented, we seek more creative ways of solving a problem. Negative emotions tend to narrow our attention, it is our brain’s response to stress, it aims to get us back to ‘safety’ from a perceived threat, we then tend to withdraw and isolate ourselves.

Hopefully, this insight will provide you with more awareness of your own thoughts and patterns of thinking. Now that we’ve examined how optimism is assessed, we can dive into why it’s important and how to build a practice of positive thinking.

The Importance of Positive Thinking

Positive thinking has an important role when coping with anxiety. Anxiety, to a particular lever, is a driver, it helps us overcome obstacles and motivates us to resolve issues.
However, cognitive distortions or errors in logic may come into place when our anxiety levels increase. These are unhelpful ways of thinking that distort the objectiveness of the situation we’re in. Some of the common cognitive distortions are mind-reading, catastrophising and the feeling of helplessness. These make us unable to make decisions, which can lead to procrastinating, withdrawal, isolation, and disconnect. We are not purposefully acting in order to solve the situation we are in. 

These situations are common in life and most of us have experienced them. However, they can affect our wellbeing and overall physical, emotional, and spiritual health to a great extent.

Building a Practice of Positive Thinking


You have the ability to find the approach that serves you. You are in control of your life, adjust what does not serve you.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is a toolbox, you might not need nor use all the tools all the time but it is advantageous to be aware of them.

#1 Seek for evidence when thinking distortions occur and reframe your thoughts
Ask yourself what the proof behind your thinking is.
If you’re starting to lose control of your thoughts and you can feel it starting to spiral, you can reframe those thoughts into something more neutral.
First of all, provide evidence of your assumption being false and then attack it with an alternative, more realistic and objective version of the situation.

Your colleague might not be mad at you even though they haven’t spoken to you all day. Is there any evidence to support your theory they are mad at you? Could they be just having a difficult time or a bad day? Do you really think you’re useless at your job? What are your achievements in the workplace?

If you’re starting to lose control of your thoughts and you can feel it starting to spiral, you can reframe those thoughts into something more neutral.
First of all, provide evidence of your assumption being false and then attack it with an alternative, more realistic, and objective version of the situation.

#2 Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of being present. It is completely shifting your focus on the situation at hand. This will allow you to slow down your thought process and elaborate more deeply on what is happening in the situation.

You can practice while making a cup of tea or coffee. Feel the cup, listen to the sound it makes when you place it on the counter, smell the coffee, how did the sensation of the cup in your hand change after you pour your beverage. You can then apply this to more challenging situations like dealing with a difficult client, going on stage, getting interviewed.
It allows you to create more distance between an action that occurs and your reaction to it.

#3 Meditation
Sitting in stillness makes our mind slow down, we become aware of how quickly our thoughts flow in our minds. The practice of meditation and stillness will allow you to clear your mind and find things you’re grateful for with more ease.

#4 Gratitude
When we focus on what we have and what we’re receiving rather than what we don’t have and what we want, we create an abundance mindset.

So instead of thinking you didn’t get enough sleep last night, be thankful for the day that you’re about to start. Be thankful for the amount of sleep you did get.

You can start a gratitude journal or have displays of things you’re grateful for around you, it’s completely personal. You can challenge yourself by asking yourself what you’re grateful for from a difficult situation you encountered. Or try to create a mindset of searching for a positive outcome or a positive aspect of a ‘bad’ experience. You can start by expressing your gratitude and the reason behind your gratefulness before embarking on more advanced gratitude practices.

#5 Self-awareness and real-time resilience
Focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses, this will help you overcome challenges with confidence and belief in yourself. Look for ways you can implement what you already know into different scenarios. Also, learn to listen to yourself – listen to the words you’re saying, listen to the pitch of your voice, and listen to how your body is behaving. This will give you valuable information on how you react to adversity and what your triggers might be. And if you feel like you are losing control, catch yourself and be a master of your thoughts. This is achieved by practicing all of the mentioned techniques.

With time these techniques will become more natural and easier to use. Make sure not to give up easily, continuity and perseverance are necessary when reframing your thinking. And you don’t have to succeed 100% of the time – if it was easy, everyone would do it.

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