Do you believe in the power of positive thinking? It may sound a little out there, too fluffy, or just plain woo-woo, but hear me out. Our brains are powerful and our bodies have evolved over millenia to respond to different situations in different ways- by releasing certain hormones and neurotransmitters. Think about the fight or flight responses we feel during times of stress.
Your body has evolved to respond to stress by either standing and fighting or by running away. In the face of real danger these were and still are great responses and could keep you alive. In the face of a situation that is unpleasant but not life threatening these are not helpful responses. We do not need to respond to an upsetting email or discussion at work with a flood of adrenaline, but our body doesn’t always know how to see the difference.
Yes your body has a physical reaction to situations, and you cannot always control that physical reaction. But you can beging to control how your mind perceives the situation. Think about the last time you had a really bad night with little sleep and woke up exhausted. If the first thing you told yourself in the morning was “today is going to be awful, I’m so tired there’s no way I can get through the day” well, you were right and you probably had a pretty bad day. But if you told yourself “I’m tired and had a bad sleep, but I can do this it’s not going to ruin my day. I’ll feel so much better after a healthy breakfast and maybe an extra coffee” you probably had a better day.
We can’t prevent our response to stress but we can prevent our perception of stressful situations. If you expand that positive thinking in to more areas of your life you can have a profound effect on your life. According to a researcher at the University of North Carolina, Barbara Fredickson who published paper in which she outlines how participants ‘broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions asserts that people’s daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. […] In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.’. Or put another way, you can train yourself to be more positive. Why would you want to do this? Well, negative thinking is actually re-wiring your brain to be more negative, as outlined in this article. Using that principle you can rewire your brain in the opposite way with positive thinking. That way, when faced with an upsetting or stressful situation you can begin to control how your mind and by extension your body respond.
You may be asking yourself ‘how do I do this in real life?’. Being grateful is the easiest way for most people. When you start feeling really negative, think of all the things you are grateful for in your life; your kids, your spouse, a cup of tea, your garden, that you have a warm house- whatever it is that you can think of that makes you feel grateful rather than stressed and negative. Meditation helps many people and you can find tons of guided meditations by searching youtube. Also think of the language you use to talk to yourself inside your head. Are you trying to quit smoking? Instead of constantly saying to yourself ‘I have to quit, don’t smoke don’t smoke’ try saying ‘I want to breathe freely I can do this!’. It takes some getting used to, but as your brain gets more used to it and rewires itself it will become easier and faster! Try it!