If there’s one thing I have learned about myself while in college it’s that I love learning about people. How they think, how they talk and more importantly, why they talk and think that way. Through the many communications classes I’ve taken and the research I’ve had to read, I have come across much research that discusses positivity. As a consistently pretty-positive person, I’ve been fascinated by the perceived benefits of positive thinking. Today, I’m going to start by telling y’all exactly what differentiates positive thinking from different types of thinking and ways YOU can make subtle changes to the way you think (and talk) to reflect a more positive lifestyle. So get your snack and a cup of your favorite beverage and get settled – you’re in for some ol’ fashioned learning.
What is ‘positive thinking?’
The typical way folks like to differentiate positive thinking from negative thinking is the tried and true “cup test.” Imagine a glass in front of you that is filled halfway with water – is the glass half full or half empty? Researchers have classified people who say the glass is half full as optimists and positive thinkers. Those who view the glass as half empty are, traditionally speaking, pessimists and negative thinkers. Like with everything else, optimism and pessimism are not as black-or-white as they once appeared.
To quote the Mayo Clinic, “Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way.” In the second half of today’s post, I’m going to be sharing ways that I’ve been able to keep my positive mindset in check and consistent.
Alright, so that sounds great and all, but why should I care?
Well, I’m glad you asked. Positive thinking and positivity have been correlated with various health benefits. Here are just a few:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
Quite a list, eh? I know.
Researchers believe that the reason they have seen the physical health improvements in folks who are positive thinkers is because of the last reason I listed above – better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
Let me explain. You know that thing called ‘stress?’ Turns out it’s bad for us, not only psychologically, but physically. High levels of stress are linked to increases in depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease, among other terrible health problems. Positive thinkers still experience stress, however, their positive mindset allows them to approach stressful situations more calmly and equips them with more healthy coping mechanisms. Boom – health benefits.
(More on the blog: Review: Performing Under Pressure by Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry)
Now, it’s time for the good stuff – how YOU can make little changes to how you speak and think to incorporate more positivity into your every day life. I would like to preface this next section (and this whole post, really) with this: I am not a psychologist or a researcher. I am sharing things that have proved successful for me and hope that you all may benefit similarly. My word is not gospel and you know yourself better than anyone else – with trial and error, do what works for YOU.
Here are the things I’ve incorporated into my life that have helped me remain positive as shit hits the fan:
- Say goodbye to ‘but.’ Last year I took a class on interpersonal communication and it changed my life. In our unit on conflict resolution, my teacher stressed how our word choice in resolving conflict with other people does a lot to help or damage the other person’s self-esteem. He used the example of when you fight with your significant other, “Honey, I love you BUT…” Basically, whatever you say after the ‘but’ doesn’t matter because the fact that you said that you love them now, seems conditional. How does this apply to positive thinking? Rephrase what you mean to say. Once words are spoken they cannot be erased. So, in the case of fighting with a significant other, “Honey, I love you and I would like to carve out a specific time to spend together” rather than “Honey, I love you, but I need to spend more time with you.” This is very hard at first. “But” has become so engrained in our every day speech like “like” that it seems unnatural to use another word instead. However, “but” conveys the notion that we can’t do something. Rephrasing your sentence entirely without “but” makes you reconsider your word choice entirely and also adds a positive spin on what you want to say.
- Perspective. This is not a new idea – putting things into perspective. That being said, actually doing it can be difficult and can feel a little silly. To illustrate what I mean by perspective, I’d like to tell you a story. Last week in one of my classes, my teacher started called 5 minutes late and ended class 10 minutes late. I left class huffing and puffing because I was aggravated that my teacher seemed to be inconsiderate of mine and my classmates’ time. In attempts to get myself to calm down I told myself the following things: I’m fortunate to have a professor who is very passionate about what he’s teaching. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to go to college. Perspective. It can seem silly at first to tell yourself how fortunate you are about something unfortunate that may have happened to you. That’s the whole point – to put things into perspective so that you can see the good, the bright side of your current situation.
- Smile. When you’re on the phone, when you’re walking around, when you see someone else who looks like they might be having a rough day – it helps. Smiling when you’re on the phone, especially with business-y people *bonus phone interview tip*, helps you to come off as more confident. I’ve found that when I leave my class either with a smile on my face or neutral, I don’t furrow my brows as much or have to check myself that I’m scowling. My most favorite thing about smiling is how other people react when they see you smile. Seeing other people smile because they made eye contact with me and saw me smile is one of the feelings that makes me warm and tingly – seriously. Don’t believe me? Give it a shot.
(More on the blog: How to Set Goals and Why They’re Important)