Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking, once said, “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.” Repetitive thoughts – such as “Life is hard,” “I’m a failure,” or “I’m not good enough” – form neural pathways in the brain. The more you think them, the more ingrained they become in your psyche, and your unconscious mind will continue playing these thoughts over and over until they become who you are.
Fortunately, you can “rewire” your brain by actively thinking positive thoughts and focusing your attention on the good things in your life. Positive thinking doesn’t mean you are necessarily constantly happy or that you ignore life’s unpleasantness – it simply means you approach life’s challenges in a more positive and productive way. A positive attitude not only helps reframe our thoughts about life’s circumstances, it also has major health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can:
- Increase your lifespan
- Decrease depression
- Lower your risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Provide greater resistance to the common cold
- Increase your psychological and physical well-being
According to a study at Yale University, researchers discovered that people who had positive thoughts about aging lived 7½ years longer than those who saw aging in a negative way. A separate Yale study showed that people who had negative thoughts and feelings about aging had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
But shifting one’s attitudes can be difficult. Exactly how does one start reprogramming one’s brain? Here are a few tips to help you develop and maintain a positive attitude.
See challenges as an opportunity
We don’t always have control over the things that happen to us, but we do control our response to them. So, if you lost your job, instead of reacting with fear, take a step back and allow yourself to feel the new possibilities available to you. If we learn to recognize challenges as a way to learn and to grow, we are better able to deal with them and have a more positive response to them.
Recognizing all we have to be thankful for is good medicine. One way to incorporate gratitude into your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, just jot down a few things for which you are grateful. Robert A. Emmons at the University of Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted a study that discovered that those who kept a gratitude journal – just a single sentence of five things each day for which they were grateful – were more optimistic and felt happier about life.
Watch what you say
Words are powerful and can shape the way you feel about things. Try replacing the phrase “have to” with the phrase “get to.” Instead of saying (and thinking) “I have to go to work” or “I have to mow the lawn,” reframe your thoughts by saying “I get to go to work” (many people are unemployed and hurting) and “I get to mow the lawn” (many people don’t have their own yards to mow). This simple shift in consciousness can help you realize how much you have to be thankful for.
Become conscious of your thoughts
Just as your words are powerful, so are your thoughts. If you find yourself thinking “Life is hard,” notice what you’re thinking and reframe it. You may choose to shift your thoughts to “Life is hard and I continue to experience joy every day” or “Life is a blast and the challenges I face simply make me stronger.” If you change your thoughts, you can form new pathways in the brain which may, in turn, change your experience of life.