Positive and negative thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies: What we expect can often come true.
If you start off thinking you will mess up a task, the chances are that you will: You may not try hard enough to succeed, you won't attract support from other people, and you may not perceive any results as good enough. Positive thinking, on the other hand, is often associated with positive actions and outcomes. You're drawn to, and you focus on, the positive aspects of a situation. You have hope and faith in yourself and others, and you work and invest hard to prove that your optimism is warranted. You'll enthuse others, and they may well "pitch in" to help you. This makes constructive outcomes all the more likely. When it comes down to it, positive, optimistic people are happier and healthier, and enjoy more success than those who think negatively. The key difference between them is how they think about and interpret the events in their life.
So, how do you think about your successes and failures? Do you think you have a predictable thinking pattern?
The first step in changing negative thinking is to become aware of it. For many of us, negative thinking is a bad habit – and we may not even know we're doing it!
Consider these examples of negative thought patterns: The guy on the subway who just made a face is surely directing his behavior at you. When the receptionist doesn't greet you in the morning, you must have done something to anger her. again! You go straight to the coffee machine, because it's Monday morning and you just know you'll be solving problems until lunchtime. When you finally get to your desk, your assistant is waiting for you. "Oh no," you think. "What has he done now? The first problem of the day.”
Imagine how it makes you feel to constantly surround yourself with negativity. Then ask yourself if this is the way you tend to think in your own life? Dr Martin Seligman, who has been described as America's most influential psychologist, has done extensive research on thought patterns. In particular, he looks at the impact of an optimistic versus pessimistic outlook on life and success. He uses three basic dimensions of Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization, with optimistic people on one end of the scale and pessimistic people on the other.
Believing that something we are experiencing is either permanent or temporary. The pessimist statement implies that you think bad times will carry on forever.
Pessimist: I lost my job and I'll never find one as good again. No point even looking!
Optimist: I lost my job. Thank goodness there are other opportunities I can explore!
Believing that situational factors cause an effect or that the effect is evidence of more universal factors at work. The pessimist statement shows that you tend to think that if you've experienced a problem in one place, you'll experience that problem wherever you go.
Pessimist: I lost my job. Companies are all the same; all they care about is money. I don't know why I bother putting in any effort at all.
Optimist: I lost my job. It's too bad our company has to reinvent itself to stay competitive. Thankfully I learned some great transferable skills!
Believing that something about you influenced the outcome or that something external to you caused it. The pessimist tends to blame himself for bad things, rather than attributing the cause to more general factors.
Pessimist: I lost my job. If I had been a decent employee they would have found a new job for me.
Optimist: I lost my job. I gave it my all, however they just can't use my skill set right now.
Re-shape Your Thinking
The way you view what happens around you can show whether you have a positive or negative pattern of thinking when you become more aware of your thoughts - and the effect they have on your life.
When you're more aware of the way you think, you can take action to use positive situations to your advantage, and re-shape the negative ones. The goal is to think positively, regardless of the situation, and make a conscious effort to see opportunities instead of obstacles.
So if we look at one of the examples listed above, if you immediately think the receptionist is mad at you because she didn't say hello, how rational is that? Now change that thought to more rational outcomes like, she have been busy or distracted when you walked by or did you say hello to her? Maybe she wasn't feeling well, or she was in a negative mood herself. These are all more rational reasons for her behavior than simply assuming that you did something wrong. Persistent negative thinking can cause mental health problems, including depression. While these positive thinking techniques have been shown to have a positive effect, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they are experiencing persistent unhappiness.
Becoming more positive is always a good thing. The more aware you are of your thoughts, the better you'll be able to change them to emphasize the positive. Positive thinking usually attracts positive people, events, and outcomes. If you want to create an environment where you're successful and satisfied, you'll need the power of positive thinking on your side. You may not be aware of all of your negative thoughts and the effect they have on your life, however, by taking some time to understand your own thought patterns, you can challenge those irrational, negative thoughts – and replace them with more positive, optimistic and empowering messages.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." - Buddha
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