Self Help Skills

Positive Thinking, A Simple Guide

Positive thinking, or positivity, is the habit of looking at things from a positive point of view, rather than a negative (complaints, finding faults, annoyed by change, being frustrated and annoyed easily, specializing in saying 'no', 'I can't' etc) or a neutral (playing safe, staying uninvolved in the world, tired and detached from life) point of view.


Positive people just embrace the world, taking opportunities with an open mind.


1. Positive thinking is a habit: We all can learn to think positive, because positive thinking is a habit, and habits are formed after repeated action. Start by focusing on the positive side of things - or, as many call it, the 'glass is full' approach.


We start to make a habit of changing the patterns of our thoughts, repeatedly and consciously taking a positive side of things, and the good habit of positivity will be formed eventually.


To sum up: To get into the habit of positive thinking, change your thoughts.


2. How to change our thoughts: By simply reminding ourselves that we may not have control over situations (and our reactions), we can 'control' our thoughts. Controlling of thoughts starts with us observing the thoughts that come to our mind. Once we recognize the thought, we can see for how good or bad that thought that is, and how easy then it becomes to thinking in some other way. 99% of the time, we let ourselves be controlled by our uncontrolled thought patterns. Time to set things right.


Remember this: No one can make you feel anything without your permission. The owner of your attitude is only you. Don't let your thoughts own you.


3. Change your negative self-talk: Once you start to observe your mind, the reactions of your minds to situations, the way the mind wanders from one thing to another (especially in the mornings and before going to sleep), the obsessions/grumblings with the little things (being able to hear your mind muttering about this and that is a beautiful exercise, you will see it for yourself), we can say 'Stop', 'this is not important' . The more we say 'Stop', 'this is not important' , the better we will be able to control and change our thoughts.


Challenge each thought rationally (facts). How reasonable or probable is it? Is there any evidence? What benefit is this kind of world view is to you?


And when you recognize and control your talking mind, you can tell it to think something else, or to 'restate' the negative statement to rational positive thinking.


Turning the negatives into positives

We explain events using three dimensions of Permanence (something you are experiencing is permanent or temporary), Pervasiveness (you choose between situational or universal factors - and at extreme ends you believe this will happen wherever you go), and Personalization (you believe there is something about that affects the outcome - e.g. blaming yourself for bad things).

- Martin Seligman


4. Embrace positive self-talk: Positive self talk/attitude is present tense though ('I can do this'). It is us calming ourselves in a compassionate tone ('Yes, this is a hard world. But many have done it, and so can you.). Positive self talk doesn't deal in unreasonable expectations and fearful thoughts, but are based on more reasonable footing. Positive self talk is never in the form of 'should's', but is based on real action.


5. A positive environment: You also need a positive environment to be able to motivate yourself using a positive attitude - you need to be around positive people.


6. Types of negative thinking you must avoid


- All-or-Nothing Thinking: You think in absolutes, as either black or white, good or bad, with no middle ground. You tend to judge people or events using general labels, for example,' he is an idiot', 'I am hopeless. I will never learn to drive'. You may condemn yourself completely as a person on the basis of a single event.


- Catastrophizing: You tend to magnify and exaggerate the importance of events and how awful or unpleasant they will be, overestimating the chances of disaster; whatever can go wrong will go wrong. 'Nothing is ever going to work for me.'


- Personalizing: You take responsibility and blame for anything unpleasant even if it has little or nothing to do with you. 'It’s my fault.'


- Negative Focus: You focus on the negative, ignoring or misinterpreting positive aspects of a situation. You focus on your weaknesses and forget your strengths, looking on the dark side.


- Jumping to Conclusions: You make negative interpretations even though there are no negative facts. You start predicting the future, and take on the mantle of ‘mind reader’.


- Living by Fixed Rules: You tend to have fixed rules and unrealistic expectations, regularly using the words ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’ and can’t’. This leads to unnecessary guilt and disappointment.


(Source: Dr. Sanjay Chugh, Psychiatrist)


Some more negative patterns of thoughts:


Black and white thinking: 'I’ve completely failed.' 'Everyone else can do it, except me'.

Mind reading other people:'They think I’m boring.' 'People must think I’m stupid.'

Crystal-ball gazing: 'There’s no point in trying. It won’t work.'

Over-generalisation: 'This relationship ended, so I won’t ever meet anybody.'

Disqualifying the positive: 'I may be a good mother, but anybody can do that.'

Drama queen: 'I can’t find my purse. I’m going senile.'

Unrealistic expectations: 'I should keep going, even when I’m tired.'

Name calling, to self and others: 'Silly fool.'

Self-blame: 'She looks cross. It must be my fault.'


(Source: 'How To Change The World' by John-Paul Flintoff )


7. How to start thinking positively: Some useful positive thinking exercises


- Forgive yourself: No use beating yourself for the wrong things in past. Past is past. Learn and move on.


- Let go of past, embrace future: We can replace thoughts about the past with plans for the future (it helps, this writer has tried it successfully).


- Give yourself credit: It couldn't have been all that bad. You survived. Life brings much shit to all of us, but we all get by, don't we?


- Have perspective: Things could have been worse. But you are still here, ready to fight another day.


- Take the situation as an opportunity: Lost your job after giving 20 years to your career? Start your own thing.


- Criticize yourself, but constructively: Don't start going all generalizing yourself ('you will never...'). Think where you were wrong, why and how to fix that asap. Don't let your inner critic boss you around into the negative corners.


- Try visualizing successful outcomes to challenges/projects and they will bring you into a better mood.


- Take other people's points of view on things: You will get a better understanding of the situation. Also look at things with fresh eyes (e.g. how would a 20-year old you look at the problem?)


- Develop a positive personal mantra: Word/phrase that gets you in a 'I -am-ready, let's-see-what-you-got' state of mind.


- Do something nice for others: You just someone's day better, and you also get to feel nice.


- Be grateful: For the blessings in your life (health, family...plenty of food on table...). And say 'thank you' and mean it. Make a list of 25 things you are grateful for in your life.


- Take time outs: Play. Relax. Breathe. Deep. Change the scenery for a while. Do something that relaxes you, even some other kind of work for a while.


- Fake it till you make it: Just force your mind into a happy mind (it is tough) if you can and you will get through a tough situation. Remember, 99% of humna kind is just winging it. No one knows fully how to go through life/do things 100% positive all the way.


- If it is a big challenge, chunk it: Life itself is a big challenge. So, small steps at a time.


- Write Out a 'No Whining Manifesto': Cut out the complainings. Try it for a week. Get your friends to intervene, and tell you how bugged they are from your constant complaints. (Source: Wall Street Journal)


- Stop caring about what people think: No one really cares. Everyone is thinking the same thing - how are others feeling about us? A National Science Foundation (U.S.) study claims that people have, on average, 50,000 plus thoughts a day. even if someone thought about you 20 times in one day, it's only 0.04% of their overall daily thoughts. (Source: Lifehacker)


8. Avoid being extremely positive.

Extremes of anything is bad.


'Extreme pessimism becomes fatalistic, and extreme optimism (e.g. fantasies) becomes toxic.'


Thank you for reading.
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