The Art of Positive Thinking when you’re feeling negative

Rhonda Rabow, M.A.

Experts say that being a positive-minded person can help make your life easier, healthier, and longer. People who are optimistic are generally believed to be stronger than pessimists, both in psychological and physical terms. They are also known to be better equipped to cope during periods of stress. The Mayo Clinic says people with a negative outlook are more inclined to suffer from depression, more susceptible to catching colds and more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

Psychologists estimate that we think between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts per day and approximately 80% of those thoughts are generally negative. They also say that most of these negative thoughts are the same negative thoughts we had yesterday, last year, and 10 years ago. These negative thoughts have been developing in our subconscious for years, often stemming from childhood issues. As we age, we tend to repeat the negative thoughts we heard in our childhood and eventually replace our parents’ voices with our own. Becoming more aware of your thoughts gives you the freedom needed to alter negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Don’t blame yourself for having negative thoughts. We live in an anxiety-provoking world filled with stories of natural disasters, wars and illness. As a result, we are constantly being bombarded with negative and fear-inducing information. It is no wonder we tend to think negatively and are worrying so much of the time.

That being said, thinking these thoughts will not make us feel better, maybe more in the majority, but no happier. By being more conscious and vigilant of our thoughts, we can learn to catch ourselves earlier on and prevent going off on a rampage of indignation. This can be achieved by stopping and asking ourselves, ‘how are these thoughts going to help me lead a happier life?’

Everyone has their dark moments and many more feel this way as the holiday approaches. This period of the year may culminate in feelings of loneliness, disappointment, sadness or being let down that the holidays won’t be giving you whatever it is you feel your truly want, need , or deserve. While that may be very true, how about focusing about some of the positives in your life right now, so that you can start feeling better right now.

Here are some things you can do to bring yourself closer to positive thinking:

Change your negative self-talk
One way to do this is once you have identified a negative thought try to replace it with more realistic thinking rather than pessimistic thoughts. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “why does this always happen to me?” try to remember a time in your past when you had other challenges and then remember how you managed to overcome those challenges. You will feel much different if instead of saying, “Why does this always happen to me?” you replace the thought with, “Okay, it seems I have hit another bump in the road, but I know I have had worse and I am still here, so I know I can find a way to succeed with this as well.” This method of focusing on the solution rather than the problem will lead you to feel empowered, rather than overwhelmed or victimized. This works for all situations, whether it is a health, financial or relationship issue.

Feeling more positive means you have a healthier self-esteem. This is not just about slapping on a “happy face” sticker whenever you are really feeing angry or hurt.
It is about having a more positive attitude about life, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and looking for reasons to celebrate rather than reasons to complain. It is a mental shift of attitudes and choosing a different perception with which to interpret people’s actions and behaviours.

Most negative thoughts aren’t about the truth. They are just thoughts that you have acquired over time which are habitual. Often these negative thoughts aren’t necessarily true. They are just habits you probably picked up in your childhood, maybe heard you parents say and you replaced their dialogue with yours over the years. The good news is that habits can be changed and you can change these negative thoughts and attitudes.

Affirmations
Are another way to use positive statements. You need to repeat them many times, either out loud or in your mind. An affirmation should be constructed in the present tense, and should be said often. Write your affirmations on index cards or post-it notes and stick them on your keyboard, computer monitor, refrigerator, mirrors, and/or car—anywhere and everywhere you can. The more you see them, the more you’ll say them to yourself and the more they will become ingrained in your mind. You also may choose to think a positive thought about yourself and repeat it when negative thoughts enter you mind. You will find a list of affirmations in the handouts.

Certain examples include:

“I will have a good day today”
“Circumstances are what they are, but I can choose my attitude toward them.”
“I love and accept myself just the way I am”
“It’s never too late to change. I am improving one step at a time.”
“It’s ok to make mistakes. I am willing to learn from them.”

Read a positive poem: An example could be the happiness poem

Sing a song: Humming or singing a happy song goes a long way to improving your mood

Meditate or pray

Exercise
Has a positive effect on your mood and has been known to lessen depression. The exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are the hormones that regulate your mood. These endorphins create a feeling of euphoria in the given person, increasing positive affect. This process can be achieved by walking or doing low impact exercises. Exercise can also raise your self-confidence and give you a general feeling of well-being.

Laughter
Humor makes life richer and healthier. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain, and speeds healing. Keep a kit containing funny videotapes, jokes, CDs, cartoons and photographs to improve your levels of laughter.

Positive Friends
Are vital to good health and a positive attitude. Close social ties help you recover quicker from illness and reduces your risk of developing diseases ranging from arthritis to depression. They also help improve your mood and remind you that you’re not alone and that there is someone there for you when you need them.

Pets Can be very therapeutic. They give unconditional love, make you feel needed, and loved you not matter how you look, or what mood you’re in. They‘re great company, don’t complain and don’t leave their dirty underwear on the floor

Nature
Going for walks in nature or driving in the car and noticing the beautiful scenery is very relaxing and helps you feel more in tune as well as raises you mood.

Uplifting quotes
Reading uplifting and inspirations material will help as well.
Absorbing positive words and reciting encouraging affirmation can be highly supportive emotional ammunition during challenging situations.

Reconnect
With people you have lost contact with. A shared history can bring back positive memories and instill an overall sense of well-being and fullness.

Forgiveness
When we forgive someone for something hurtful they have said or done.
We are really doing it for ourselves. Carrying around anger and resentment only hurts our happiness and ability to stay positive. Someone once said, resentment is like swallowing poison expecting the other person to die.

Lists
Make a list of the things you appreciate in your life right now.

- I am happy I have a nice, comfortable home
- I love my bed
- I am happy that my bills are all paid
- I am happy that my son/daughter called me this week
- I am happy that I have good doctors who take good care of me

In conclusion, using these tools consistently will improve your overall mood. Just like anything else, altering your mood takes practice, commitment and determination. This is your life; making it a happy one is up to you. While you can’t control what other people say and do, you can control how you choose to react, what you tell yourself and how long you choose to hold onto those negative thoughts. Start the New Year with a new attitude.

Happy New Year,

Rhonda Rabow, M.A.

Author's Bio: 

Rhonda has been involved in couple and individual therapy in the Montreal area for over twenty years. She also reaches clients outside of Montreal through her Toll Free Telecounselling service. One of her specialties is offering short-term counselling with long-term results. Rhonda has a solution-focused approach. Her Montreal therapy sessions do more than offer compassion, empathy and active listening. Rhonda is a strong advocate for empowering her clients. To help them achieve this goal, she offers concrete tools and strategies that enable her clients to better manage their lives and cope with any further challenges they may experience in their lives.