Positive thinking gets a bad rap sometimes. Some people associate it with being naive, with denying reality and with Stuart Smally. I may be dating myself here, but... who remembers that SNL sketch?
Stuart was a self-help junkie whose daily affirmations reeked of hilarious self-delusion. Well... that was 1991 (!) and the science of positive thinking has come a long way since then.
Consider this: your brain contains a collection of synapses separated by empty space, called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, basically building a bridge over which an electrical signal can cross.
Amazingly, every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow a little bit closer together, in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to to travel. So your thoughts LITERALLY, PHYSICALLY change your brain.
The synapses you've brought closest together (with your most frequent thoughts) basically become your default personality. And when a situation arises for you to choose a thought, guess which thought is most likely to win? Yup-- the one that has the least distance to travel.
In every moment, we have the opportunity to chose thoughts based on either love and acceptance or fear and rejection. Those based on love and acceptance are termed positive thoughts, while those based on fear and rejection are considered negative. Positive thoughts release beneficial chemicals into the body and lead to empowered action, while negative thoughts release harmful chemicals and can lead to inaction or wrongful action. If you fall into the habit of choosing fearful and rejecting thoughts, it's going to become harder and harder to choose loving and accepting ones, unless you take the time to strengthen the bridges between those positive synapses. If you do that, then over time, loving and accepting thoughts can become the new default.
Loving and accepting thoughts don't have to be delusional-- in fact, it's much better if they're not. You don't want to go around repeating to yourself, "I love getting parking tickets!" when that couldn't be father from the truth. No one loves parking tickets, and positive thinking isn't about trying to brainwash yourself out of having normal human reactions to life. Let's say you get a parking ticket. It's fine to think, "This sucks." That's perfectly normal and not detrimental at all. However, if "this sucks" spirals into a tornado of spite or self abuse... "Why does this always happen to me? My life is such a mess. Nothing ever works out for me. I fail at everything I do. I'll never be happy or successful..." Then, you need to check yourself. A more loving and accepting chain of thoughts might go something like, "I forgot to check the meter. I made a mistake. I am not the first person to ever make a mistake. What lessons can I learn from this experience? Maybe next time I should put a reminder on my phone..."
If you notice that you have certain recurring negative thoughts, take a moment and ask yourself-- is this really true? Often times you will find that your negative thoughts are actually much more inaccurate than your positive thoughts.
An example: I was working with a woman who wanted to find a romantic partner to share her life with. After several bad experiences with online dating, she'd sworn it off, stating definitively, "The guys online are all assholes." When I mentioned that I knew several couples who had met online and were now happily married, she confessed that she knew some, too. I asked her if maybe this idea, which passed though her mind several times a day, caused her to feel lonely and powerless and prevented her from taking action toward finding a satisfying relationship, might perhaps be untrue. Had she actually met ALL the guys who were available online? Just because she had certain experiences in the past, did that mean she was bound to have the SAME experience in the future? Or was it possible that she could have a different experience in the future?
Of course, when I put it that way, it was pretty clear to her. Sometimes we allow negative thoughts to run our lives, even when evidence of their falsehood is staring us right in the face! Our fear of the future and resistance of the present distorts our reality. If you find this happening to you, take a moment to sit and relax, slow down and try to look for something that IS true. When you find a truth that makes you feel peaceful or empowered, repeat it mentally or out loud throughout the day. For this woman, the true, positive thought was,"People find love in many different and often surprising ways," and "I choose to let go of the past and believe in a happy, fulfilling future." Word it in a way that works for you.
The health benefits of positive thinking are so well documented, it is at least worth a try. Of course, change takes time, and we have to be patient and committed if we want to see results. But if you make a habit of paying attention to your mental chatter, questioning the validity of negative sentiments and choosing to focus on true, positive thoughts, then over time, the synapses associated with sadness, fear, regret, blame, depression, anxiety, etc., will have a smaller and smaller chance of triggering. When you do find those negative synapses firing and a positive truth seems as elusive as a great white whale, ask yourself "What lesson can I learn from this bad experience?" This is a good way to begin to mentally shift into a more constructive direction.
Of course, hypnotherapy is a great way of strengthening those positive synapses as well-- in the state of hypnosis, it is much easier to identify and accept the empowering truths hiding behind our doubts and fears. But ultimately, the intention to choose love is one of the most powerful steps you can take.
You should try it... because you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you!