3 ways to become a positive thinker
by Hannah Moss
Welcome to the first post in my Change Your Mindset, Change Your Life blog series. This is an area I’m very passionate about, as I’ve had many firsthand experiences over the years of major shifts in my life due to changes in my thinking. I’m really keen to share these with you and give you some practical tools to work with, so you can hopefully experience these kinds of shifts too.
What does it mean to be a positive thinker?
So, what is a positive thinker? Well, if you tend to think positively then you have a certain amount of optimism. You’re a ‘half glass full’ rather than a ‘half glass empty’ kind of person.
According to WebMD, “Positive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation. It can have a big impact on your physical and mental health. That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.”
The key here is approaching good and bad situations with the same expectation. It’s having faith that, no matter what happens, things will turn out the way they’re meant to. And that there’s always a silver lining to be found. As you’ll already know if you’ve read my post 5 ways to become emotionally resilient, practising optimism and finding the silver lining in any given situation goes a long way to building resilience.
The benefits of being a positive thinker
There are many benefits to thinking more positively. There is a bit of a chicken-and-egg process here, as it’s not always clear which comes first: the benefits or the positive thinking! But, either way, as the list below shows, you can’t go far wrong and there’s certainly no downside to having a bit of optimism.
Physical benefits of the positive thinker:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced risk of heart attack
- Better resistance to illness, e.g. colds and flu
- Improved overall physical health
- Higher tolerance for pain
- Able to handle stress more effectively
- Will potentially live longer
Mental benefits of the positive thinker:
- Generally improved moods
- Able to think more clearly
- Increased creativity
- Improved problem-solving
- Better able to handle challenging situations
- Reduced risk of depression
Is there a difference between optimism and positive thinking?
Some people consider optimism and positive thinking to be one and the same thing. But, for others, there are subtle or even significant differences.
According to Masterminds Leadership, “Optimism is a personality trait you inherit, while positive thinking is a choice you make.” I tend to agree with this, as some people appear to be more naturally optimistic than others. As the article goes on to explore, optimism is more about holding assumptions about the world and assuming that everything will turn out ok in the end.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, is a skill you can develop and a choice you can make about how you react to the world around you. And this is absolutely fundamental – yes, you do have a choice! We’ll dive into this further in just a moment.
Doesn’t optimism invite disappointment?
As an optimist, this is something I hear a lot. If you always have positive expectations and are constantly assuming things will work out ok, aren’t you just setting yourself up for disappointment when they don’t? Ah, well that’s exactly what a pessimist would think!
But it all comes back to the cycle of resilience. The more optimistic you are, the more resilience you’ll develop and the more resilient you are, the better you’ll be able to handle whatever life throws at you. So, instead of feeling disappointed that things didn’t work out the way you expected, you just smile and thank the Universe for whatever lesson she just taught you or message she just sent your way.
And, as I firmly believe and have experienced firsthand, the more optimistic you are, the more likely it is that things WILL go your way. It’s actually pessimism that’s setting you up for failure and disappointment, not optimism – as the Law of Attraction will tell you.
The power of our thoughts
According to the Law of Attraction, we attract into our lives whatever we focus our attention on. As the saying goes, ‘Where attention goes, energy flows’. And the important thing to remember is that this applies to both positive AND negative thoughts. Neither the Universe nor our brains have the capacity to differentiate between the two. And, when repetitive or obsessive thoughts get out of hand, they have the power to cause a physical reaction in us.
Eckhart Tolle explains this very clearly in his book A New Earth: “Although the body is very intelligent, it cannot tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. It reacts to every thought as if it were a reality. It doesn’t know it is just a thought. To the body, a worrisome, fearful thought means ‘I am in danger’, and it responds accordingly, even though you may be lying in a warm and comfortable bed at night.
The heart beats faster, muscles contract, breathing becomes rapid. There is a buildup of energy, but since the danger is only a mental fiction, the energy has no outlet. Part of it is fed back to the mind and generates even more anxious thought. The rest of the energy turns toxic and interferes with the harmonious functioning of the body.”
This is exactly the case with a panic attack. Nothing is physically happening to the person having the attack, but their thoughts have become so anxious and have spiralled so far out of control that the body thinks it’s in danger. You can see how panic attacks are self-perpetuating, as the energy has no outlet, so is fed back into the mind. The stronger the physical reaction becomes, the more anxious thoughts are created, which creates a stronger physical reaction. And so it continues.
I’ve also experienced this myself with morbid fantasies. Have you ever started thinking about a loved one getting ill or dying and then finding that you’re having a physical reaction? I know I have. You might start crying, your heart rate might increase, you might feel agitated or upset. This is the same process. Your body doesn’t know they’re just thoughts, so it reacts accordingly.
We are not our thoughts!
So, as I said earlier, being a positive thinker means recognising that we have a choice in the way we react to our thoughts and emotions. So many people are unaware of this. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people on the planet who have become so consumed by their own ego that they believe that’s who they really are. It’s not our fault; we’re only human. As Eckhart Tolle claims in A New Earth, the single biggest dysfunction of the human race is unconsciousness.
Most of us are not aware that our ego is only one part of us. That thoughts and emotions arise uncontrollably in us, yes, but that we CAN control what we do with those thoughts and how we react to those emotions. This is actually the basis of most spiritual teachings.
So, if we’re not our thoughts and we’re not our ego, then who are we? Michael Singer explains this beautifully in The Untethered Soul. He asks us to think about that voice in our head. You know, the one that’s constantly chattering away, giving a running commentary on what’s going on in your life, criticising you for getting things wrong or not being good enough, criticising others for not being considerate or caring enough or not doing things your way. We all have this voice in our head, and if you weren’t even aware of this, then that’s your first step on this journey. Just sit quietly for a moment, pay attention and listen. Hear it now?
So, as Michael Singer points out, if you can hear or are aware of this voice in your head, then who is it that’s doing the hearing? Who is it that’s aware of the voice? Well, that my friends is the true you. Your divine essence. It’s the part of you that’s connected to the Source. To pure consciousness. In fact, it is pure consciousness.
How coaching can help you become a positive thinker
Ok, apologies if I just blew your mind there! Bringing this back to a more practical example, I’d like to share a recent experience I had that perfectly demonstrates how changing your mindset really can change your life. And, appropriately enough, this experience involves coaching.
Delving under the surface
I’ve been having some coaching myself recently and have been reminded just how powerful it can be. I went to my coach feeling pretty lost, stuck and overwhelmed. Starting a new business is really tough and, even if you believe you have something valuable to offer, it can be hard to find the people you know would benefit from it. On top of that I also had some big issues I was dealing with in my personal life and you could definitely say I was struggling.
My coach and I had similar expectations as to what we might be discussing. He’s both a life and business coach, and an experienced marketer, so we both assumed we’d be talking about marketing and other practical business considerations. However, the very first question he asked me in the very first session blew all those expectations out of the water. I realised I was holding a lot of different emotions and that they needed to come out!
I spent most of that first session in tears as we explored what was really going on under the surface and the thoughts and emotions I needed to work through before we could even start on any of the practical stuff.
Holding up the mirror
Towards the end of our sessions together, I had a bit of an epiphany whilst working with my coach. He helped me see that I was putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself that didn’t really need to be there. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for me, but often we need someone else to hold up the mirror for us, so we can see ourselves reflected back more clearly.
Asking the right questions
By asking the right questions, my coach was able to help me change my mindset, shift my perspective and reframe the issues I was facing in a different light. So, although nothing external had changed, my inner landscape had. My thoughts about the situation changed dramatically, and that had a very positive effect on how I lived my life in the coming weeks and months. I started holding the issues more lightly, I felt less stressed and I had more faith that things would work out ok.
A shift in perspective
I’ve also seen this many times in my own coaching practice. Whilst working with one client who was feeling dissatisfied with her life, and after exploring this more deeply with her, she came to the realisation that things actually weren’t as bad as they seemed. She just needed to see them from a different perspective. With another client, I took her through an exercise to visualise her ideal life, after which she realised that what she has now isn’t actually all that different. She already has almost everything she wants, so she was able to find renewed appreciation for her life.
How to stop anxious thoughts
Now that we understand we’re not our thoughts, let’s dig deeper into how we can start to gain some control over them.
I’ll be exploring each of these topics in depth over the course of this blog series, but for now, here’s an overview of the 3 ways to become a positive thinker.
Are you a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person? Do you find your thoughts tend to have a negative bias? Do you usually see the worst in every situation? Or assume that things won’t go your way? Practising gratitude is a really simple, but really powerful, way to start redressing the balance.
All you need to do is focus on what you’re grateful for. What do you have in your life that you appreciate? What’s gone well for you? Who are the people in your life you’re thankful for?
If you find this challenging, try starting small. Did you have a nice cup of tea or coffee this morning? Have you seen the sunshine today? Or heard the birds singing?
You can also try starting big and zoom in from there. What do you have that others in the world don’t? Do you have a roof over your head and clean, running water? Do you feel grateful you’re not living in a war zone? Can you appreciate your freedom and the rights that you have?
As Oprah Winfrey once said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
I’ll be exploring more about gratitude, including practical tools and exercises and how to practise it in your daily life, in the next post of this series. Make sure you’ve signed up to my mailing list to receive it directly into your inbox.
Positive affirmations are a really powerful way to manifest what you truly desire. By stating what it is that you want, or how you want to feel, in a positive way, as if it’s already happened, you’re putting the Law of Attraction immediately to work.
The best way to use affirmations is to keep them simple, in the present tense, and to repeat them – out loud if possible – several times over at regular points in your day. I’ll be exploring more about affirmations and how to incorporate them into your daily life later in this series.
Visualising what you want, or the changes you need to make, is another powerful way of helping your dreams become reality. This can be done ad hoc, whenever you have a few minutes to spare, or as a more formal visual meditation.
The final post in this series will dig deeper into the power of visualisation and I’ll share some real life stories of how people have changed their life using this tool. Don’t forget, if you sign up to my mailing list, you’ll get a free guided ‘happy place’ meditation, which is yours to download and keep. This is a beautiful guided visualisation to find a safe place in your mind where you can quickly return to whenever you need to. I did a similar meditation a few years ago and my happy place has stayed with me ever since.
Isn’t this all a bit self indulgent?
This is something I hear quite a bit. Should we really be focusing all this attention on ourselves when there are so many huge issues and atrocities going on around the world? The thing is, it’s easy to feel helpless and unsure what you can do to make a difference. And it’s easy for those thoughts to spiral out of control, into anxiety, fear or guilt. And then you become almost paralysed and don’t take any action anyway because it’s all too overwhelming.
But, if you start by working to change your mindset, then wonderful things can start to happen. It’s called the ripple effect. Because when you start thinking more positively, you set an example to others. And if they start thinking more positively, they set an example to the people around them, and so it goes on. Imagine if every person on this planet became a positive thinker. Imagine if everyone knew that we’re not our ego or our thoughts, and that we have the power to control the way we react to our thoughts and emotions. If the world woke up to this simple fact, we’d be living in a very different place.
Stay tuned to the rest of this blog series to find out more about these invaluable tools for becoming a positive thinker.
If you can’t wait til then, and you want to start changing your mindset to change your life NOW, then book a free discovery call to find out more about working with me. And don’t forget to leave a comment below with any thoughts, reactions or experiences you’d like to share – I’d love to hear from you.
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