Five steps to get you on the way to positive thinking

Posted on May 8, 2015

Feeling anxious is something that many of us deal with from time to time, whether it's due to a looming job interview, or perhaps a worrying health concern. None of us are immune to these feelings of nervousness, dread, and worry.  Many of us have also likely experienced a general low mood - when things just don't seem to feel right. Maybe because we're lacking self-esteem, or simply because we have nothing positive to look forward to on the horizon. These feelings are perfectly natural and are usually not indicative of anything serious, but that's not to say that we can't do our bit to try to tackle them and keep them under control.

Positive thinking can increase our feelings of inner strength and reduce the likelihood of feeling negative, overwhelmed or unmotivated. In fact, a paper published by positive psychology researcher, Barbara Frederickson, reveals that experiencing positive emotions genuinely broadens a person's sense of possibility which, in turn, helps them build a greater life skillset1. However, it can be hard to know where to start - clearing the mind of worry and thinking 'happy thoughts' is surely easier said than done, isn't it? Maybe not! By focusing the mind and practicing the simple methods below, you may just find it easier than you think.

Set achievable goals1. Set achievable goals

According to the NHS, "Doing something you're good at, such as cooking or dancing, is a good way to enjoy yourself and have a sense of achievement."2 Setting out to do things that we both enjoy and know we can do is a good way of feeling positive about ourselves and our abilities. Alternatively, setting unachievable goals can lead to a sense of failure, leaving us feeling disheartened and negative. For example, if you're feeling bad about a lack of exercise, setting the extreme goal to run every morning before work and then failing to do so could leave you feeling worse than you did to begin with. With this in mind, always strive to set goals that you can achieve, and then enjoy the accomplished feeling you get when you succeed.

See the funny side

2. See the funny side of things

In an article called How to feel happier, the NHS advises us that, "Jokes have a way of making worries seem less important."3 Making light of a situation is an age old coping mechanism because it genuinely works. By reducing a stressful situation to its comic elements, we instantly experience a wave of relief. In fact, what happens to us physically when we laugh is quite remarkable. We take in more oxygen-rich air, and our muscles and lungs are stimulated. This leads to a release of endorphins in our brain - the hormones that make us feel good4.

Communicate Your Worries
3. Communicate your worries

'A problem shared is a problem halved' has to be one of the truest expressions in the English language. Vocalising a worry, however big or small, instantly relieves the sense of loneliness we get when we're faced with coping with something alone. It's not necessarily about gaining proactive advice; simply receiving sympathetic words or knowing that somebody else is aware of your situation can bring immense comfort.

Think positive thoughts4. Think positive thoughts

It can be all too easy to be hard on ourselves when things aren't going to plan. A good way to tackle this is to think about ourselves as a friend. If someone you cared about was struggling and being tough on themselves, you'd encourage them with positive comments and advice. Rather than focusing on the negative things about something that didn't go to plan, learn from these experiences. By being positive and encouraging, life's little let downs become much more manageable and you'll be much more prepared for your next encounter.

Practice mediation
5. Practice meditation and mindful thinking

Once thought of as a bit of a hippy-fad, meditation has now become part of the daily routines of even the most sceptical of people. By narrowing the focus of our minds, closing off the outside world and becoming more aware of our bodies, we experience lowered levels of stress and improvements in our mood5. This can be achieved through simple meditation, where we sit silently paying attention to the sensation of our breathing and body, bringing the mind back to focus on this whenever it wanders. Alternatively, podcasts like Dr David Peters' episode on positive thinking to reduce anxiety allow us to escape the world around us and go to a place of happiness and wellbeing.

Whilst leading such busy lives, many of us don't take the time to look after ourselves properly, often shunning things in the present to deal with at a later date. Although investing in things such as health insurance is one way of achieving peace of mind for the future, caring for ourselves in the here and now is just as important, if not more so.
So if you're feeling stressed, down or even just a bit out of sorts, take the time to incorporate the above steps into your life and see if they make a difference. It may just offer the lift you need.