Ten years ago, if someone told me to think positive, I would break eye contact and walk away. Whenever I found myself in a tough situation, either in work, college or social life, I would be in a bad mood and push people away. My whole mindset became dark and I could only hear were my own negative thoughts. I didn’t realise the damage I was doing to myself and others around me. When I do realise, that’s when my life started to change. I wanted to change the way I think and more importantly, the way I live my life.
In those ten years, I started to read books and blogs on self-improvement and dealing with challenges. From everything that I’ve read, there is one sentence that stayed with me:
“What consumes your mind, controls your life.”
That’s when everything made sense to me. I know now that my negative attitude and thinking attracted more negativity. I was self-destructive, and I needed to break out of this loop and adapt positivity in my life. And I did. The trick was to let go and forgive myself. This small spark has changed my whole mindset from being negative to positive.
I discovered the power of positive thinking and its life-changing benefits. I think positive not because it makes life easier along the way. It’s because of all the hardship that life brings, making it all the more important that I need to stay positive.
We all need a positive mindset to overcome hardships and keep growing into the full potential that we are. Not only has positive thinking proven to work from my own experience, but research is revealing that positive thinking can create true value in life to help build skills that last much longer than a smile.
Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, published a landmark paper that provides amazing insights about positive thinking and its impacts. Her work is among the most referenced and cited in her field and it is surprisingly useful in everyday life.
Let’s dive into her work on negative and positive thinking.
What Negative Thinking Does To Your Brain
Whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation or stand face to face against a major challenge, your brain registers a negative emotion — in many cases, this can either be fear, anger, sorrow, frustration or envy.
Researchers have long known that negative thinking evokes negative emotions, which programs your brain to do a specific action that moves you away from a challenge. In other words, negative emotions narrow your mind towards escaping, avoiding, procrastinating or anything else to drive you away from confrontation. This is part of the human instinct when in survival mode. However, the problem is that your brain is still programmed to respond to negative emotions in the same way by shutting off the outside world and limiting the options you see around you.
For example, when someone insults you, your anger might consume you to the point where you can’t think of anything else. Or, you have a few deadlines today, you procrastinate everything till the last moment because you’re paralyzed by how long your to-do list has become. Or, you feel bas because of not hitting the gym today and all you can think about is how little willpower you have, and how you’re not driven.
In each case, your mind focusses on the negative emotions — it prevents you from seeing other options and choices around you.
Now, let’s compare this to positive thinking!
What Positive Thinking Does To Your Brain
When experiencing positive emotions like joy, love, contentment and gratitude, you will see more possibilities in life by opening your mind up to more options. The real impact of positive thinking is the build up skill sets that comes afterward in life. Fredrickson refers to this as the “broaden and build” theory.
Here are a few simple examples we’re familiar with.
- Children playing and running outside, swinging on branches (physical skills);
- At the same time, they play around with other children, sharing toys and communicating with each other (social skills);
- Furthermore, they explore and examine the world around them (creative skills).
The positive emotions of joy and love encourage children to build skills that will be useful and certainly valuable in everyday life. These skills last longer, perhaps a lifetime, compared to the emotions that initiated them.
A Push In The Right Direction
It’s great to fill your mind with positive emotions. However, those moments of happiness are also critical for opening your mind to explore and build the skills that become so valuable in other areas of your life.
I challenge you to find ways to build happiness and positive emotions into your life, whether it’s through hitting the gym, meditation, writing, painting or anything else. Phases of positive emotion and unconstrained exploration occurs when you see the possibilities for how your past experiences fit into your future life. From here, you start to develop skills that bud into useful talents later on.
Originally published at ye-chen.com on January 17, 2018.