We have all heard family, friends and coworkers say to people, “Just be positive.” It’s a well-intended gesture, but being positive is not that easy, and often those words can feel dismissive of the emotions someone is expepriencing. So why doesn’t positive thinking necessarily work or come easily?
Humans are primed for survival, and with this comes the “reptilian” part of our brain that is designed to protect us. It’s located near the brain stem and associated with the rigid and compulsive side of us. The limbic system portion of the brain is connected to our emotional states, instincts and fear. And finally, there is our “thinking brain,” which is the rational, logical, practical part of ourselves.
If we inhabit too much of any one part of the brain, we become reactive, emotionally unstable or too analytical.
What does this have to do with positive thinking?
Since much of the brain is associated with survival, our thought processes sometimes tend to focus on worst-case instead of best-case scenarios. Fortunateliy, we can recondition our brains by infusing our minds with how we prefer to think, act and feel.
When you create and savor positive experiences, your emotions will follow, improving your mood, and positive thinking can become a natural state.
Here are some suggestions on how to achieve this state of mind:
Create more positive emotional experiences. The brain stores good memories and saves them for later recall. Activities, social gatherings and being around people with a positive mindset is healthy and motivating.
Keep a journal. Chronicling your day or week or just keeping a list of the three best things that happened to you can increase your positive emotional state as well as your energy.
Connect with family and friends. When you are in a mental rut, phone a friend or visit someone you enjoy being around.
Think about your best possible self. Write a list or make a sketch what you would like your future life to look like. Think, imagine, visualize and feel it. All thoughts take shape and form on some level, so be mindful of where you focus your attention.
5. Establish a goal. Goals give us purpose and something to look forward to. They also can fuel us with passion. Goal setting does not have to be stressful—keep your goals simple and realistic.
This article is made possible through the generosity of the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.
Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families that are affordable, accessible and discreet, all within a welcoming, supportive environment. www.outreachteen.org, 412-561-5405