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Look on the Bright Side

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Look on the Bright Side

Recall a day when you woke up in the morning feeling positive? I bet you had a great day. Want more of that?

Recall a day when you woke up in the morning feeling positive? I bet you had a great day. Want more of that?

David Lykken, who was a behavioural geneticist at the University of Minnesota, concluded from extensive research that while we can’t control 50 percent of our thinking (it’s hardwired into our genes), most of the other 50 percent is entirely up to us. We can simply decide to think positively–and succeed.

Thinking Positively Has Deep Roots

We can find historical models for thinking more positively in existing systems of belief. Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other beliefs have withstood the challenges of time, and all have something significant to say about positive thinking. For some people, formal belief systems are a place to start.

The Grandfather of Positive Thinking

In the self-help age, many people have looked to Norman Vincent Peale. Seven million copies of The Power of Positive Thinking (reissued by Running Press, 2002) have been sold in 15 languages. Peale tells readers to implant positive suggestions into their unconscious minds. “Say them until your mind accepts them, until you believe them,” he advises. According to Peale, “It is important to eliminate from conversations all negative ideas.”

Today’s Positive Thinking Guru

Fifty-five years after Peale’s work first appeared, positive thinking has a new face–Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, the director of the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a former president of the American Psychological Association.

To get started, Seligman recommends that you first calculate your strengths, and then find new ways to use your strengths in all aspects of your life. Here are some of Seligman’s suggestions to keep you on the positive path:

  • Connect to other people through volunteer activities.
  • Keep a success journal of your life’s accomplishments.
  • Take time each day to write down three things that went well and why.

For Seligman, positive thinking is inseparable from positive doing.

Negative Patterns

Given the quest for positive thinking, why do negative thoughts often run our lives? My clients tell me that some of the negative thoughts that keep cropping for them up are:

  • Life is not fair.
  • I don’t trust myself.
  • I’ll never have enough money.

When we hold thoughts like these, and all of us do, we fear failure, we avoid trying new solutions to our challenges, and we can’t achieve as much in our lives as we might otherwise.

Observing Our Emotions

When you look for the origins of your negative thoughts, chances are you’ll find that you had them when you were very young. You might discover that a five-year-old is running your life.

We can learn to diminish the control these old negative internal voices have in our lives. It helps to view them as interesting phenomenon. Simply observe them. Regard negative thoughts as the work of a devilish trickster that will always win if you engage in his or her crazy games. You are a powerful and positive person who can simply observe the trickster at work and say, “No, not this time. I know your tricks.”

Another approach is to fully experience how you feel about the negative thoughts holding you back. You can do this through a collage. Arrange pictures that show the sadness, fear, and other feelings you experience as a result of the negative voices. Post your collage in a prominent place to remind you what you are losing by thinking negatively.

Two Tips

First, you can learn more about positive thinking from many books and articles. The alive.com website search engine finds scores of articles about topics such as nutrition, exercise, values, laughter, and mindfulness–all of which support positive thinking by enhancing general health and well-being.

Second, don’t be too hard on yourself when you are not at the top of your positive-thinking game. Positive thinking demands patience and vigilance. Consider re-committing to positive thinking every morning when you brush your teeth. Which reminds me–don’t forget to smile. Research proves that other people will smile back and help keep you on the path of positive thinking.

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