The New Year Provides an Opportunity to Look at Life in a New Way
Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking once said, “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.” But is it really that simple?
According to a study at Yale University, researchers discovered that people who had positive thoughts about aging lived 7-1/2 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.
Studies have shown that 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 constantly happy or that you ignore life’s unpleasantness – it simply means you approach life’s challenges in a more positive and productive way. For instance, if you receive a diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening disease, instead of reacting with fear, take a step back and allow yourself to be grateful for everything you still have and seek out support from people who can help you deal with your current state of being, both physically and emotionally.
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
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, be we do control our response to them. So, if you lost your job, instead of feeling hopeless, allow yourself to recognize the new possibilities available to you. If we 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.
Become aware of your thoughts
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. This is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your thoughts about yourself – even if they aren’t true – can lead you to subconsciously work to ensure these beliefs become manifest in your daily life.
Be conscious of 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 simply shift in consciousness can help you realize how much you have to be thankful for.
Create the right environment for positive thought to flourish
People can take on other people’s energy without even being aware of it. If you find yourself feeling negative, find some positive people to hang out with. Read a book with a positive message or listen to music that inspires you.
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.