Ever wondered what it means to be a positive thinker, and how you can train yourself to look on the brighter side of life? Or, are we simply born with positivity in our bones (or brains)? Keep reading to find out more about how to banish negative thoughts and adopt a more positive attitude.
Is Positive Thinking Just An Attitude?
If you know a positive thinker, you'll probably automatically think: "they are naturally so positive". However, are people really born in this way, with the ability to turn things into good in their genes, or do they simply take on a different approach? Have all positive thinkers had a bad experience in the past that has forced their brain to turn to positivity as a coping mechanism? Maybe they are just people who have realised that being positive is really the only way to be truly happy?
Being a positive person, which you most probably know already, is to be someone who is ambitious, optimistic and has a positive outlook on life and expectations of good from all of those around them.
Remez Sasson, founder and owner of Success Consciousness, describes positive thinking as:
“[...] a mental and emotional attitude that focuses on the bright side of life and expects positive results.”
Having a positive outlook means that you consciously or subconsciously make your brain behave in a way where positive thoughts are a habit, keeping a healthily optimistic mindset and making the best out of every situation.
Characteristics Of A Positive Mindset
Understanding positive thinking is quite straightforward, it would seem, but what specific traits and characteristics can we expect of a person who lives by this approach? If we could draw it, touch it, or write it down, what would positivity in humans look like?
Imagine a spider diagram, if you will, with these criteria emerging from it.
Of course, positive people have a desire, a willingness to make an effort and do things instead of being wary or unsure of themselves. A positive person will take a chance and bargain on being successful rather than the other way round.
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Don't be fooled into thinking that nothing bad happens to positive people, nor that thinking positively will protect you from the facts of life. Yet, having positivity can be a bit like faith and enable you to acknowledge when things don’t turn out how you want them to, and help you to learn from situations or mistakes.
Following on from the above, being resilient when faced with adversity, sadness, loss, disappointment or failure is a trait you will find in a positive thinker. Rather than simply giving up, they will bounce right back.
One of the key characteristics of a positive person is the gratitude they feel and show for the good in their lives. Positive thinkers will always be appreciative of something, even if it looks to others like they have nothing.
It's impossible to practice positivity without having a level of awareness of how your mind is functioning. Even when times are tough, positive thinkers won't let their minds turn on them and will remain conscious and mindful, shifting their focus onto the silver lining.
Integrity is very important if you want to be a positive person. Along with seeing the good in others, you should too practice being honourable and veer away from any deceit or self-serving behaviour.
If you don't associate any or all of the above to your own mindset, then that doesn't mean you can't become a positive thinker. See below how scientists have observed that we can re-program our brains to a different way of thinking.
The Science Behind Positive Thinking
According to scientists working within the neurology field, your thoughts can shape and mould your brain, even into adulthood.
AffirmationsForPostivieThinking.Com reports that: "They’ve also discovered that the brain continues to grow and can work in different ways over time. This breakthrough finding is positive for those who suffer strokes, or have a mental illness that was once looked as incurable. Today, they have hope and may be able to work with positive thinking to reshape their brains and activate portions of their brains that were once considered non-functional."
It is believed that repeated, regular positive thinking and acting in a positive manner can both re-wire your brain and make it stronger. This, in time, could alter the way you naturally think and change your life for the better. But, you have to put it in the work and really commit to this behaviour!
The scientist Dr. Norman Doidge has focused much of his studies on the workings of the brain in relation to positive thinking, calling it brain plasticity or neuroplasticity.
Brain Plasticity Explained
So how does brain plasticity work?
Unfortunately, exercising your brain isn't like exercising your legs, bum and tum - you won't see the results happening before you. However, as long as you stay conscious of your mindset, you may begin to notice the benefits on your mental health.
VeryWellMind.Com explains that: "The human brain is composed of approximately 86 billion neurons. Early researchers believed that neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons, stopped shortly after birth. Today, it's understood that the brain possesses the remarkable capacity to reorganize pathways, create new connections, and, in some cases, even create new neurons."
Ron Frostig, writing for BrainFacts.Org, also suggests that: "Adult brain plasticity has been clearly implicated as a means for recovery from sensory-motor deprivation, peripheral injury, and brain injury. It has also been implicated in alleviating chronic pain and the development of the ability to use prosthetic devices such as robotic arms for paraplegics, or artificial hearing and seeing devices for the deaf and blind. [...]
In recent years, brain plasticity has been implicated in the relief of various psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders both in humans and in animal models. These disorders include obsession, depression, compulsion, psychosocial stress, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, recent research suggests that the pathology of some of these devastating disorders is associated with the loss of plasticity. Collectively, there is a growing recognition that brain plasticity plays a fundamental role in either the deterioration to, or the alleviation of, psychiatric and degenerative brain disorders."
This clearly shows evidence-based research has proven that our brains are far more flexible than we thought and accepting of drastic changes in the mindset.
Now, how do we get moulding?!
How To Train Your Mind To Think More Positively
1. Be mindful of your negativity
Before you attempt to change the way you think, you should first engage with what it is that is bothering you. What characteristics do you not like in yourself? Do you hate how you lack in confidence at work or do you dislike your distrust in relationships? Why is it important to you and your wellbeing to get in touch with positive emotions?
2. Look to the positive, forget the negative
If you have had a somewhat challenging day, then try not to focus on the negatives as you hop into bed. Think back over your day and pick out the really good moments. No matter how unlucky your day was and even if it didn't turn out how you expected, there will 100% have been moments that made you feel happy and blessed. Take them with you when you fall asleep and cast aside any negative emotions! This will help you prepare mentally for the day ahead with a more positive outlook on what's to come.
3. Be thankful for what and who you've got
Similar to the last point, always find things to be grateful for. By this, I mean look at the bigger picture and assess what you have: a loving family, a great job, good health, a roof over your head?
It can be hard in our busy lives to sit back and acknowledge these things, so why not download a gratitude app that prompts you to be appreciative or simply write a gratitude journal. It doesn't even have to be every day.
Sharing a fondness of others is quite a nice way to feel good yourself too, so don't be afraid to give someone a shoutout. You never know, it may make their day too and inspire them to look on the brighter side.
4. Help others out in their time of need
There's no doubt about it - helping people makes you feel good. It could be a peer who is having trouble with their studies, a colleague who is up against a deadline, a relative who needs some help with chores or it could be doing something good for a total stranger, like giving them that 5p that they were short of when buying their coffee, donating money to a charity, or holding the door open for a woman and her buggy.
Their positive response will make you feel good about your actions.
5. Hang out with positive people
They say that happiness is contagious, and so is positivity. If you want to be truly positive most of the time, then you will need to ditch people who bring you down (or encourage them to follow in your footsteps or get the help they need) and make it your mission to surround yourself with positive people. Look up to people who inspire you daily and who motivate you to be a better person.
6. Look after yourself - body and mind
Our mental and physical health go hand in hand. Looking after your body is one step towards looking after your state of mind.
Eating healthily and exercising regularly are said to be influential factors in our overall happiness, helping the brain to take on a more positive outlook. Boosting your spirits with a healthy lifestyle, such as incorporating mindfulness through yoga and meditation, for example, are great ways to bring balance and positivity into your life.
7. Do the things that you love
Life can get busy. It can get dull, especially if you are always working. This is why it is so important to make the time to do the things you love. If you have lost all inspiration and motivation and have no hobbies, then think about things that you used to love doing as a child. It might be doing a puzzle, reading a book, going to see a film, going camping, doing arts and crafts... regardless of the activity, try to set aside some time for the things that make you feel happy in your own bubble.
You can also find many online resources on positive psychology.