‘Positive thinking’ has always been a favourite topic of discussion; however, it wasn’t until the release of best-selling author Rhonda Byrne’s self-help book The Secret in 2006 that positive thinking hit the mainstream and became a point of focus of millions – in fact, over 20 million per recent figures.
In The Secret, one of Byrne’s many observations includes, “A person who sets his or her mind on the dark side of life, who lives over and over the misfortunes and disappointments of the past, prays for similar misfortunes and disappointments in the future. If you will see nothing but ill luck in the future, you are praying for such ill luck and will surely get it.” In short, if you think negatively, negative things will happen to you, which suggests that by thinking positively, positive things will happen to you.
It all sounds incredibly promising; however, can positive thinking have a real impact on your life?
Better defined as optimism, positive thinking is a state of mind where you focus on the positive things in life and expect positive results, rather than thinking negatively or expecting the worst to happen.
Typically, positive thinking encourages the use of “I can” and “I will” rather than “I can’t” or “I won’t”.
By telling yourself that you can achieve, you are more likely to succeed. A common practice of positive thinking is to regularly reaffirm positivity in your life, which means telling yourself, “I deserve to be happy”, “I deserved to be loved” and so on. Most importantly, positive thinking isn’t an easy route to success but instead simply focuses on hoping for the best outcome and when bad things do happen, evaluating those situations and the results and taking positive points away from them. For instance, if you attend a job interview and for one reason or another do not secure the position, positive thinking encourages you to look at the experience as just that and take away positive points. Was the interviewer impressed with your experience? Did they like how you presented yourself? Get feedback on why you didn’t secure the role that you can then use next time to ensure the outcome you want.
Over the years, there has been extensive research into the power of positive thinking and how it can benefit you both mentally and physically. For instance, research by Becca Levy, a social psychologist from Yale University, found that having a positive outlook on growing older can help you to live longer while having a negative outlook, including pursuing negative lifestyle choices such as alcohol and smoking, may speed up the ageing process. Some of Levy’s other research showed that positive thinking could help to improve memory and hearing, too. But this isn’t new. For years, in society, we have understood that having a positive outlook on life and a ‘will to live’ will translate in more years.
Similarly, Robert Gamling’s research in 2011 showed that patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease that had a positive outlook about their recovery were less likely to die over the next 15 years and, typically, showed some signs of improved health just one year on. Taking studies like this into consideration, it seems that, without a doubt, positive thinking improves health and life longevity.
As well as improving your physical functioning, positive thinking does, of course, improve your mental health and happiness. For instance, those that think positively have been found to have lower rates of depression and lower levels of stress, as well as being able to cope and manage stress better than those that dwell on stress. Such benefits to your mental health can then translate to your lifestyle, too. By applying positive thinking to your natural thought process, you can increase productivity, success and even relationships both new and old by telling yourself “I can do it” and breaking out of your comfort zone, thereby propelling yourself towards success by going above and beyond and trying your best. After all, if you put everything you can into your job or relationship, you will, of course, reap the benefits. It’s similar to fitness or weight loss: with the right motivation, you will see the results.
Some people misinterpret positive thinking as a fast-track to success which, of course, it’s not. It is essential that when embracing positive thinking, you don’t make the mistake of becoming lazy in actioning the necessary steps to a positive outcome. Positive thinking is just one contributor to success.
Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, found that positive thinking alone could hinder success. She studied weight loss in obese women and asking a portion of the women to imagine themselves succeeding and the others to imagine themselves cheating their diets. The results show that the women that pictured themselves succeeding lost less weight than others.
When asked about her objections to traditional positive thinking, Oettingen said: “The problem with merely dreaming about the future and imagining that we’ve reached this desired future is that we’re already imagining being there.” She added, “that [thought process] saps our energy to understand the obstacles and hindrances that are on the way to our reaching this positive future.”
In light of her findings, Oettingen developed the concept of “mental contrasting”, which brings positive thinking together with reality and asks you to think positively while understanding the feasibility of achieving the goal and the obstacles you must overcome to increase the chances of succeeding.
Whether you’re looking to achieve in your career or love, embrace positive thinking through self-communication and always tell yourself that you “can” and “will” achieve, and treat every setback at a learning curve and opportunity to better yourself. Also, don’t make the mistake of misinterpreting positive thinking as a quick-fix. Have a realistic approach, work hard and, at all times, think positively.