By Danielle Spano
How much power does positivity really have? Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you ignore life’s unpleasant situations, but rather that you approach them in a more productive way instead of indulging in negative self-talk. Research by Professors Michael F. Scheier of Carnegie Mellon and Charles S. Carver of University of Miami shows that positive people are more successful at overcoming obstacles and better at coping with adversity. So if positivity leads to productivity, how else can it help us?
The Broaden-and-Build Model created by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. theorizes that positive emotions broaden the mind and eventually reduce stress, build a person’s character and strengthen their social relationships. While it may seem that people are positive as a result of being “in a good place,” Fredrickson’s Royal Society report argues that positivity is not just a byproduct of an ideal situation — it is also a means to achieving that end-state. She explains that consistent positive emotions have long-lasting effects that support health as well as mental well-being.
Positive thinking cultivates more than a psychological response. Johns Hopkins researchers discovered that positivity can reduce the chance of a cardiovascular event by one-third in people with a family history of heart disease. They found a strong link between positivity and health and cite that a positive outlook can even improve the outcome of a traumatic illness or injury. So, smile; your health depends on it!
If thinking positive was easy, negative thoughts would not be so consuming. Worrying what others think, comparing yourself to others and judging what others should or should not be doing negatively affects our mood and anxiety level. The brain quickly stores negative stimuli and experiences into the memory while positive feelings take much longer to transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Our minds are conditioned to think negative, and a study at University of Texas showed that 60–70 percent of participant’s thoughts were negative. “Improving awareness of your thoughts and thought patterns helps to make better decisions, lower anxiety, and increase mood to be more pleasant and positive,” Gainesville clinical social worker, Diane C. Bonomo said. Bonomo is a proponent of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which teaches how to analyze a situation and change how you think about it in a more positive way.
REBT is founded on the ABC model, where adversity (A) is met with an irrational belief (B) that causes negative internal consequences (C) or feelings. Believing an external force can cause you to feel a certain way is irrational, as you, alone, control your emotions. Proceed to dispute (D) the irrational belief by questioning your dysfunctional reaction. Finally, implement effective (E) new thinking by addressing the situation in a rational and positive way. For example, it is irrational to believe that you have to be great at and accomplish everything you attempt. With this irrational belief, any instance where you are not successful at something will leave you feeling disappointed. Dispute this belief by asking yourself, “Aren’t I allowed a misstep? Will the world come crashing down if I am not perfect at everything? Is it necessary to succeed the first time or can I try again?” Now, change your thinking toward an effective solution. You may determine that this task is not your forte and that you still deserve credit for trying. Now you are not focused on disappointment and can begin to find an alternate solution to complete the task. Within moments, you self-correct from wallowing in the negative, a self-defeating activity, and transfer to a positive solution. While following ABCDE can point you in a positive direction, Bonomo said that combining the practice with affirmations can be very beneficial.
Affirmations are regularly repeated, positive statements that focus your subconscious on a positive target. Like REBT, your affirmations should be rational and attainable. Don’t put irrational expectations on your affirmations! There is no magic timeframe for affirmations to show results. Affirmations can put you in a positive mindset to make positive changes. These mantra-like repetitions keep your goals in the forefront and motivate you to accomplish them. Affirmations should build on your strengths and help you to self-correct your weaknesses. Done consistently each day over time, affirmations begin to guide your thoughts and reactions, making positivity less of a conscious effort and more instinctual. The more positively conditioned you are, the healthier you can be, both mentally and physically.