The power of positive thinking has been well documented and frequently acclaimed by everyone from politicians to motivational speakers. Thinking positive thoughts, as opposed to negative ones, can lead to lower levels of stress, lower levels of depression, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, greater focus, greater productivity, and even a longer lifespan. These benefits have been covered exhaustively, so I won't elaborate on them here. What I want to do is focus on a problem that many people face in spite of this evidence.

Positive thinking is obviously beneficial, but how can you just force yourself to "think positive" when your brain, personality, and years of habits have supported negative thinking? In short, how can a bona fide pessimist learn to think positively and reap all the benefits of doing so?

It's a hard question to answer, and a hard path to walk, but to address it I want to share a few helpful strategies and overall insights:

Make a Commitment First

Before you start reading about tips and tricks, and before you start making grandiose plans about living a more positive thinking life, know that everything starts with a simple commitment. If you aren't fully committed to thinking more positive thoughts, you are going to fail. If you are fully committed, you will succeed. It's that simple. It takes practice, habit changes, and hard work to shift a negatively focused mind toward more positive processes, and those three things scare away a lot of people. The only way to overcome that hurdle is to commit yourself to the end result.

Avoid Rumination

Rumination is the source of pessimism. Pessimistic thoughts don't come about when you're enjoying a movie, or when you're trying to solve a complex puzzle, or when you're fully engaged in a hobby. They come about when you're sitting idle, left alone with your thoughts. You start thinking about something bad, and how that "bad" quality affects other things--for example, you start thinking about how you're having a bad day, and a bad week, and a bad month, and so on. The longer you have to think, the more opportunities there are for negative thoughts to seep in.

That's not to say that you should avoid thinking. Instead, actively seek out things that engage you, whether that's work, play, or hanging out with other people.

Find a Counterpoint

For the most part, negative thoughts are specific ones that lead to a general conclusion. For example, coming to the conclusion that "today is a bad day" is the result of thinking "this traffic sucks" and "the weather is bad" and "I hate going to work this early" and so on. To correct this, and think more positively, catch yourself in each of these smaller thoughts and force yourself to find a counterpoint to each of them. For example, "this traffic sucks" could be accompanied by "this traffic gives me a chance to listen to this great new album all the way through" and "the weather is bad" could be accompanied by "but the rain will help my yard grow fuller." Over time, you'll naturally start finding the positive corollary to most of your negative thoughts. Your negative thoughts won't go away--and they never will entirely--but those positive ones are the ones you need to latch onto.

Seek Alternative Explanations

When something bad happens, pessimists tend to blame themselves while optimists tend to see it as a result of unpreventable circumstances. When something good happens, pessimists tend to see it as a random fluke, while optimists tend to see themselves as the progenitor of the situation. The next time something bad or good happens, shift your perspective to include an alternate explanation. Yes, your project missed the deadline, but was that really your fault or was it just bad timing? Yes, your idea was the one that was chosen for the new marketing initiative, but it wasn't just random--you came up with a great idea that had true merit.

See the Whole Picture

Both the "counterpoint" and "alternative explanation" strategies rely on a shift in perspective. That shift of perspective can be expanded even further, allowing you to see the whole picture of any situation that arises. Negative thoughts tend to be focused on individual elements of a situation, rather than the broad scope of it. For example, you might be angry or sad that you've caught a cold because it's a particularly bad cold and you've been laid up for several days. But keep in mind that colds really aren't that bad compared to most other diseases, and remember the other 360 days of the year that you were completely healthy.

The Most Important Consideration

As a pessimist trying to think more positively, the most important thing to remember is that you'll never fully get rid of your tendency to think negative thoughts, especially in response to an unfortunate situation. Trying to banish them is an exercise in futility. Instead, add positive thoughts in with those negative ones by putting the negative thoughts in perspective, offering alternate views and counterpoints, and focusing on the broader picture.

Being a lifelong pessimist doesn't mean every thought that enters your head has to be a negative one. You have the power to change your thoughts and emotions, even if it seems hard at first. Committing yourself to think more positively is the first step you have to take, no matter which strategies you choose later, and in some cases, that's all it takes. Remember that.

Published on: Sep 23, 2015
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