The Power of Positive Thinking
By Martin Browney
Several years ago, I gave a series of classes on Wellness and Wellness-related topics, in which a rather challenging individual repeatedly came up with excuses for why healthy strategies, including positive thinking, would not work for her. I finally took her aside and addressed her need to be less resistant and more open to exploring new ideas and resources. Although I attempted to be as diplomatic as possible, it seemed that everything I said was misunderstood or interpreted in a negative light.
Finally, after listening to more of her responses to questions I asked, I realized that she really did not understand what positive thinking was all about. It was no wonder that she could not practice it or experience the benefits.
Since then, I have increased my appreciation of the vital relationship between positive thinking and development of healthy habits and healthy lifestyles. I have also learned that my student’s assumptions about positive thinking are not uncommon.
Additionally, I have learned from personal experience just how easy it is to practice positive thinking on days when things are going smoothly and how much more difficult it is to practice at times when everything seems to be going wrong. After all, it’s easy to be positive when everything is going the way one wants; the real test comes at the most challenging of times or during one’s darkest hours. This is when practice and perseverance are needed most.
The following mini-guide offers 3 important tips on positive thinking, with examples and practical suggestions for application:
1. Begin with yourself.
Applying positive attitudes toward yourself, whereby you “lift” yourself up and nurture or support yourself, is the beginning point for positive thinking. It involves, for example, not berating yourself or being too hard on yourself when you don’t measure up to the achievements or standards of others, or you don’t quite live up to your own expectations. It also involves not abusing yourself or living with guilt or shame.
Positive thinking allows individuals to enhance their self-confidence and learn from their experiences. It also allows them to use respectful, loving, and constructive language towards themselves as well as to treat their bodies well. Positive thinking encourages the development of healthy habits and healthy lifestyles that include taking time for actions such as getting enough rest and relaxation and engaging in regular physical activities. Additionally, daily application of positive attitudes allows individuals to let go of self-limitations and self-restrictions, as well as guilt and shame, resulting in enhanced quality of life and well-being.
Your ability to perceive the world around you with positive attitudes begins with your perception and treatment of yourself. If you truly value and accept yourself, you will have greater capacity to value and accept others, and your ability to bring out more of the best in people and experience meaningful and loving relationships will also be enhanced.
2. Avoid extremes.
Thinking in extremes include perceiving situations in terms of all-or-nothing and black or white. Examples also show up in the use of words such as “always”, “never”, “must”, “should” and “ought to”. All must be perfect; anything less is perceived as failure or not good enough. One must act a certain way, never do something, or always get the same result.
We can see this, for example, in the case of a dieter who “cheats” by eating an ice cream cone and ends up overeating for days. The individual thinks, not necessarily on a conscious level, that the diet plan should have been followed perfectly and that he or she failed. Consequently, since the dieting efforts will no longer matter anyway, the individual might as well stop sacrificing pleasure and start enjoying his or her favorite foods without restriction.
Another example is the ex-smoker who accepts a cigarette at a party one night and ends up going back to his or her former unhealthy habit, perhaps even smoking more cigarettes than before. Other examples include the individual in a position of authority who interprets rules and regulations so narrowly that there is no room for flexibility or extenuating human circumstances, or the individual who attempts to be perfect in each of several roles, including wife or husband, parent, full-time employee, and college student.
Extreme thinking results in negative feelings and self-limitations. Positive thinking, on the other hand, provides challenges to do one’s best, improve, and learn from experiences with a much more balanced approach to daily living. Imperfections are tolerated and even seemingly small successes are valued as individuals feel good about themselves and exhibit high degrees of motivation so critical to changing behavior and adopting healthier habits.
An individual who has been living a sedentary lifestyle, for example, may not possess the motivation to undertake a prescribed walking goal of one hour a few days per week. However, if he or she can start walking for a short time, even a few minutes or one small block, that individual can work up to the desired goal by building on the smaller successes achieved along the way.
3. Keep in mind that positive thinking is reality-based.
True positive thinking goes beyond wishes and desires, effectively utilizing the amazing power of motivation to initiate action. Mentally wishing something will happen will not make it a reality. Desiring something, while critical to obtaining or achieving it, is still only an initial step in acquiring it. Simply put, expectations based on thinking alone are unrealistic.
Additionally, concepts of reality and related expectations can differ from one person to another and often require evaluation. This can be challenging at times since one person’s view of what constitutes reality and what can be expected in a given situation may be completely different from another person’s view of the same situation.
For example, several friends share a goal of completing a special advanced exercise program at their gym. One of them has significant difficulty during the first sessions, and the instructor recommends that he withdraw from the program and enroll in one of the other less demanding exercise programs offered. His friends and even another coach support the instructor’s view. However, the individual believes he can successfully complete the program and starts putting in extra time and effort in order to make it happen.
To some, it may appear that this individual should listen to the instructor, consider his lack of support, and find a more “realistic” goal to strive for. But history is filled with the success stories of those who defied all odds, seemingly moved mountains by doing the impossible, or did what they were told could never be done.
Several exercise sessions pass, allowing the man to evaluate the reality of his situation for himself. He could experience progress, perhaps even witness the instructor change his view, and go on to successfully complete the training and achieve his goal.
Or, he could experience little progress or actually make progress but decide that he no longer has the desire to achieve the goal, given the investment of so much extra effort and time that he needs to continue to put in. In either case, he could give himself a well-deserved “pat on the back” for having at least tried a new challenge. Then, he could create a new goal based on his experience, maintain his “can do” attitude and positive expectations, and continue to be successful.
This mini-guide highlights some of the benefits of positive thinking. The more you appreciate the role of positive attitudes in promoting healthy habits and healthy lifestyles, and the more you practice positive thinking in your daily life, the more rewarding your life will become.