January is a time to make resolutions. Commonly, these center around our physical health, eating better, exercising more, etc. But what about making a resolution that focuses on our mental wellbeing? What about making a resolution to have a more positive mindset? As we enter into a new year with the various stressors that we all continue to encounter, it is more important than ever that we learn to focus on what we can control and lean into optimism and positivity.
If you have ever found yourself fixated on what is wrong in your life or on a mistake that you made, you are not alone. People tend to pay more attention to negative events than positive ones, learn more from negative outcomes or experiences and make more decisions based on negative information. This is due to biological science – our brains more actively process negative information and therefore it can shape our attitudes and behaviors more. (Verywell Mind, April 2020)
Though the human brain naturally tends to focus on the negative, research shows that positive thinking can be cultivated. Here are a few proven strategies to help “train” your brain to focus on the positive:
What is it? Everyone engages in self-talk, it’s our inner-voice that we often” hear” even though it is not saying anything out loud. We practice positive self-talk when we focus on our strengths, and we look at things with an optimistic attitude.
How do you practice it? Listen to what your inner-voice is saying. Is there any evidence for it? What would I say to a friend in a similar situation? Instead of saying “I’ll never be able to do this.” Ask yourself, “is there anything that I can do that will help me do this?” Try making a list of things that you are good at and post it somewhere that you will see it daily.
Reframe the Situation
What is it? This is when you reflect on what has happened and put it in a more positive light. You recognize that you cannot change what has happened, but you take it in and push forward.
How do you practice it? Do a reappraisal of the situation. Consider what you will learn or what you will gain from going through a challenging situation. For example, the pandemic has been tough and stressful at times, but what have been some good things that have come from it, such as more time with family and more flexible work schedules. What are some of the strengths and knowledge that we have gained from one situation that we can carry with us into future situations?
What is it? Gratitude is being appreciative of the good things in our lives.
How do you practice it? Keep a gratitude journal and be intentional about writing about things you are thankful for each day. Focus on your senses. Through our ability to see, hear, touch, and taste we gain an appreciation of all the wonders around us. Share your gratitude with others – thank them and let them know what you appreciate about them.
Studies have shown that by making a conscious effort to focus on the positive you will find that you improve your self-esteem and that you are better able to navigate through life’s challenges. There are other genuine health benefits to positive thinking as well, including improving your immune system and decreasing stress and anxiety. So, as you set your goals for the new year, I urge you to consider these wise words from the Dalai Lama:
“It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.”
Written by: Katie Gallagher-Director of Education, Candor Health Education