If you want to think positively but always seem to find the negative in situations, science could have an solution for you.
New research, highlighted in a recent BBC documentary suggests you can be turned into a glass half full person - just by the power of your own mind.
We asked Rob Kelly, counsellor and creator of the Thrive programme and author of several books about transforming our thought processes, how we can think ourselves to happiness.
Here are his six steps to positive thinking:
1. Process the positive experiences in your life
Make some effort to really notice the positive things that happen to you everyday. Many of us don’t process these or dismiss them too quickly, meaning that effectively they receive little or no psychological benefit from the experience at all; it might as well have never happened!
Putting effort into thinking about your positive experiences over the last few days or weeks (no matter how small!) for just five or ten minutes every day can really help psychological wellbeing. If your positive experience was something that you achieved, such as cooking a delicious dinner or going for a run, you can also remind yourself that you brought about the experience, helping yourself to feel empowered and capable.
2. Build up the belief that you are in control of your life
Research has demonstrated that feeling powerful and in control of your life is one of the most important factors in psychological wellbeing.
People who feel powerless believe that their difficulties in life (such as phobias, fears, anxieties, depression, or lack of success) just happen to them! They think that other people, bad luck, or external forces cause these problems, or they don’t believe that they have the personal power to deal with any challenges.
Because they see these challenges as external to themselves, they don’t put much effort into overcoming their difficulties or making positive changes – in fat, don’t believe they can. It’s a vicious cycle.
Of course, there are some events in life that are not controllable but taking responsibility for your life helps you believe you can still overcome these experiences.
I you feel yourself thinking in a powerless way, challenge yourself. For example, if you think something like ‘I could never run a marathon’ change it to ‘I could run a marathon if I put in the effort to train hard.’
3. Mind your language!
Our language is a window, through which we can easily recognise our thoughts and beliefs. The language that we speak (both out loud and in our heads) is an expression of what we think and believe. Not only this, but the words we use also then impact upon our thoughts, beliefs and emotions.
If you speak and think negative, passive words, you will lower your mood, anticipate negative outcomes, make yourself stressed and feel powerless. If you use positive, powerful language, you will feel happier, anticipate positive outcomes, create less stress and feel empowered.
Pay attention to the words you use – either in your head or out loud – and change any unhelpful words for more helpful ones. For example, ‘‘it’s terrifying at the dentist, I’ll be a wreck’ could become ‘it’s a bit unpleasant at the dentist, but I can cope with it’.
4. Visualise what you want to happen in your life, rather than what you fear
Many of us unconsciously start to project our worries into our visualisations and ‘fantasies’ about how something will go. We can even play feared scenarios in our minds, which builds anxiety and makes the situation far worse when it does arise.For example, if you have been visualising that an upcoming plane journey is going to be terrifying and that you are going to feel awful, you probably will.
If you have been imagining the plane crashing you will be in a heightened state of awareness and when the plane jolts slightly on take-off you’ll immediately think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die!’
You will have built up a huge amount of anticipation that something will go wrong, and so normal flying experiences are instinctively interpreted as being frightening and threatening and you will have an unpleasant flight.
Instead, train your imagination so that you are in control – imagining and rehearsing what you want to happen, not what you fear.
This works really well for social events and performance-related situations such as going for an interview, giving a speech, overcoming a sexual inhibition or asking someone on a date. And also to overcome fears and anxiety-causing situations such as flying, darkness, being alone, spiders, knives, snakes, lifts, tunnels, hospitals and needles.
Choose a couple of events or scenarios that you have been worrying and thinking negatively about. Find a quiet place and spend five or ten minutes on each scenario really visualising what you want to happen. The more you practise visualising, the easier it becomes.
5. Challenge yourself!
One of the best ways to feel more powerful, build self-esteem and gain a sense of wellbeing is to overcome challenges. So you need to have some to overcome.You want this challenge to be something that will be a little bit difficult for you to achieve but is something that know you can do – if you put in some effort.
The key to success is to think about the steps you need to take to achieve your goal – make a plan of action rather than a vague idea.
As you work towards your goal, keep encouraging and praising yourself for the effort you are putting. This helps you realise that all this effort will enable you to succeed. And when you do, you’ll begin to see how you can do the same for other goals and challenges in your life.Remember to recognise your achievement and say ‘well done’ to yourself for your hard work.
6. Keep Perspective
Perspective is about having a clear view or understanding of a situation: seeing the full picture. When you don’t have perspective, you are unable to have any objectivity over your situation – you can’t see the full picture, so your opinions and decisions are biased by the part you can see. This may mean you turn difficulties into catastrophes in your mind.When you feel this happening, the first thing to do is calm down and get a realistic idea of what’s really happening.
Did anyone die? Is your family in danger? Is it the end of the world? If the answer to these three questions is ‘no’, then there is no need to make a drama out of a minor setback.
We all experience unpleasant events and we all make mistakes but the key to being happy is to see them in context and move on, rather than making them worse by focusing in on the most negative aspect.
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