Whether you consider your glass half-empty or half-full may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude towards yourself and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic — and it may even affect your health.
Understanding positive thinking and self-talk
Positive thinking means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way, not that you ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Taking the glass half-full approach, you think the best is going to happen, not the worst.
Positive thinking often starts with self-talk – the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some self-talk comes from logic and reason, but other self-talk may arise from misconceptions, due to a lack of information or preconceived ideas of what may happen.
If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you're likely an optimist — someone who practices positive thinking.
Identifying negative thinking
Not sure if your self-talk is positive or negative? Some common forms of negative self-talk include:
When you filter your thoughts, you magnify the negative aspects of a situation instead of focusing on the positive ones. For example, after a day at work in which you completed all your tasks and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job, you only focus on what other tasks you need to do and don’t acknowledge the compliments you received.
When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is cancelled and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
- Saying you "should" do something
You blame yourself for not doing things you think you ‘should’ be doing. These things often aren’t necessary or won’t fulfil your needs, but you still blame yourself for not doing them.
You often make a big deal out of minor problems.
You pursue flawlessness and set extremely high standards for yourself, which is often accompanied by a fear of failure or making mistakes.
In addition to negative self-talk, toxic positivity, the act of dismissing or invalidating someone's negative emotions or experiences by insisting on a positive outlook, can also be harmful. While positivity can be a helpful coping mechanism, toxic positivity can be dismissive. It can make people feel like their emotions are invalid and that they need to suppress them to fit into a certain mould of positivity. It can also create an environment where people feel like they can't speak up about their struggles or hardships, leading to feelings of isolation and shame. It's important to acknowledge and validate all emotions, both positive and negative, to create a supportive and understanding community.
Focusing on positive thinking
If you tend to have a negative outlook, don't expect to become an optimist overnight. But with practice, eventually your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance, and you may also become less critical of the world around you.
The process is simple, but it does take time and practice — you're creating a new habit, after all.
Here are some ways to help you think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:
- Engage in Positive Self-Talk
You can develop a habit of positive self-talk by adhering to a simple rule: Don't say things to yourself that you would never say to a friend or loved one. Be as accepting, understanding, gentle and encouraging with yourself as you would be with someone you hold dear.
- Practice Gratitude and Mindfulness
It's easy to dwell on the negative things in life, and at times we all have problems that can seem too great to overcome, but if we take a step back and think about the things we're thankful for, it can help us to maintain a positive attitude.
In addition, mindfulness can help us pay attention to the present moment without judgment. It can help us become more aware of our thoughts, feelings and surroundings, which can reduce stress, anxiety and negative emotions. It can also improve our focus, memory and sleep quality.
- Spend Time with Positive People
It's no secret that the people we surround ourselves with profoundly influence our lives. Our relationships can impact everything from our physical health to our mental wellbeing. When you are around optimistic people, their good attitude can rub off on you.
- Take Care of Your Physical Health
Your physical health and your attitude are closely connected. When you feel good physically, you're more likely to feel good mentally and emotionally, plus have more energy and are able to make better decisions.
- Treat Your Self
When you take care of yourself, you're sending the message that you're worth taking care of, which helps to boost your self-esteem and confidence, plus it can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Putting positive thinking into practice
Here are some examples of how you can turn negative self-talk into positive thinking by having a more optimistic outlook:
- I’ve never done it before / It's an opportunity to learn something new.
- Its too complicated / I’ll tackle it from a different angle
- Theres no way that’ll work / I’ll try and make it work
- No one reaches out to me / I’ll see if I can open my channels of communication
- I’m not going to get any better at this / I’ll give it another try
Cultivating a positive mindset takes practice and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. By practicing gratitude, challenging negative self-talk, surrounding yourself with positivity and focusing on solutions, you can start to harness a more positive mindset which will improve your mental health. So take some time to reflect on your mindset and make positive changes and remember, even small steps can make a big difference.