According to the theory of cognitive-behavioral therapy, for every three thoughts that cross our minds, only one thought is positive. At times, our brains would form automatic negative thoughts unintentionally, as our brains probably do not know the difference between stories “created by our minds” in the form of thoughts, predictions, memories, imagery (and more) versus reality. Most of the times, it may be challenging not to pay attention to all negative thoughts, we tend to believe most of our negative thoughts and often put ourselves in swamps of sadness.
While we are not able to control every single thought that runs through our minds, but what we are able to do is viewing them in a more positive aspect. Positive thinking, or maintaining an optimistic attitude does not mean you ignore the reality or make light of all problems, it simply means you are practicing to approach the good and the bad in life with an expectation that ‘things will go well.’ As a matter of fact, many studies have found the role of optimism and positive thinking in physical and mental health. The physical benefits of positive thinking include lower risks of developing heart attack, lower blood pressure, better stress management and pain tolerance; the mental benefits would include clearer and calmer thinking, greater problem-solving skill, better mood and coping skills, and less depressive symptoms.
Two Easy Steps to Practice Positive Thinking:
Step 1: Identify whether your self-talk is negative or positive? Here are some common forms of negative self-talk:
- When a bad thing occurs, you tend to blame yourself for it. You may think that what people say or do is some kind of reaction to you or is in some way related to you. For example, when you hear that a night out with friends is canceled, you automatically assume that the change in plans is due to no one wanted your presence.
- You overestimate the chances of disaster and tend to assume the worst will happen. For example, your drive-through coffee shop got your order wrong today, and then you assume that the rest of your day will be a complete disaster.
- You concentrate on the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive ones. For example, you had a great day at work and got complimented for the quality of work you put in. When you get home that evening, you only focus on your plan to do even more tasks and eventually forget about the compliments you received.
Step 2: Reframe your negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Again, not all negative thoughts that run through your mind are absolute truths.
|Negative Thought||Positive Thought|
|“This is too challenging for me.”||This is new information and I’m in a learning process.|
|“There is no way it will work.”||I can try to make it work, I need time and patience for this.|
|“I am not good enough.”||I am good enough which is why I made it here; it’s my imposter syndrome that is making me feel weak.|
|“I can’t do this.”||I can do this, but I might need to take a step back and take a breather first.|
|“I made a big mistake, everyone saw it.”||I had a human moment; all humans are capable of mistakes. Even if someone noticed, I know they’ve made mistakes too. No one will remember tomorrow.|
|“I’m a failure.”||Making mistake is a growing process, now I know what to do differently next time.|
Step 2A: Identify the call-to-action. At times, a lot of our negative thoughts contain hidden invitations for action. Think of ways to target your problems when needed. Here are some examples:
|Negative Thought||Call-to-Action Thought|
|“This is too challenging for me.”||Who do I know that can help me better understand this?|
|“I am the worst at it.”||What resources can I find to improve my skill set for this project?|
|“I made a big mistake, everyone saw it.”||I am good enough which is why I made it here; it’s my imposter syndrome that is making me feel weak.|
Practicing and maintaining an optimistic perspective is not extremely hard, but don’t expect yourself to become an optimist overnight. The general rule is to take one step at a time; practice positive thinking every day and notice the gradual change in your self-talk, it will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. You may even become less critical of the world around you.
“Not having the best situation, but seeing the best in your situation is the key to happiness.” – Marie Forleo
By, Jessica Lau, EAP Counselor