Positive Thinking

The Inner Critic

Our heads are filled with background noise. We talk to ourselves, we think about other things when our attention should be focused on the task at hand, and we worry incessantly. By some estimates, the human brain talks an average of 400 to 600 words to itself every single minute. And often, what we tell ourselves is negative; we'd be insulted and hurt if someone else said such things about us. Our inner critic—the nasty little voice in our head riding us down—can get pretty brutal:

"I can't do it."
"I'm a failure."
"Why try?"
"They don't really like me."
"Just give up."

Many of us hear these thoughts over and over again, day after day. It can add up to a tremendous attack on self-esteem and confidence. Imagine having your boss talk to you like that all day. You'd feel pretty demoralized and angry by the day's end. And you can't leave your inner voice at the office . . .

Positive Reviews for Positive Thinking

Fortunately, we can train ourselves to change negative messages into positive thoughts. It may sometimes seem as if you can't control that inner voice, but remember, it's your brain! While no one can completely Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later the man who wins, is the man who thinks he can - Vince Lombardi

By eradicating negative thoughts, we can learn to substitute healthier, empowering thoughts for many of our defeatist messages. If you make positive thinking a habit, you'll find there isn't much room left for the gloomy attitude.

Our subconscious is an odd place: it can't tell the difference between what we think and what we do. It tends to believe whatever we tell it. It listens to our thoughts and takes its cues from them, so it's tremendously important that we take control of what we feed into it. It takes practice to monitor our own thoughts, but after a while, it's fairly easy to change an "I can't" into an "I can," or an "I failed," into an "I learned from that experience."

A Positive Attitude Spills Over

You'll be surprised at how contagious a positive attitude can be. If thinking positive thoughts becomes a habit with you, you'll find that the things you say spontaneously will also be positive.

And being seen as a positive person has tremendous benefits for your social life. When Jennie had been married about a year, she had coffee with a small group of women whose conversation focused on how little their husbands did. "Jim takes out the trash and thinks he's done his housework for the day," and "Bob doesn't move the furniture when he's vacuuming."

Jennie contributed, "My David is great about doing all the laundry," and "He brings me coffee in bed every morning." Since Jennie wasn't comparing and competing for the worst-husband award, the conversation shifted slowly to each woman contributing at least one good thing about her husband.

If you're having trouble developing a positive attitude, practice thinking out what you'd say to your sister or your best friend if they were telling you about their negative thoughts. How would you cheer someone else up? You deserve to spend at least as much energy doing this for yourself.

Happiness - Developing a Positive Attitude

I know this guy who irritates the heck out of me. He has everything I've ever wanted: a home business, a beautiful, intelligent wife, two bright, wonderful children, fulfilling hobbies, and enough creative talent that he makes his living doing something he loves.

And this guy—this exceptionally lucky, talented guy—sometimes dares to act as if he's got it tough. He has the gall to act as though he isn't a success, as if people don't like him, and generally mopes around acting miserable and unhappy. He annoys me to no end when he's like that, because he just doesn't see how much cause he has for being happy.

And the worst of it—the real reason that this guy annoys me so much—is that he's me.

Celebrate the Positives

And I'm not alone. I think a lot of us tend to focus on the negative when we should be celebrating the positives. My biggest failing is denigrating my own talents as worthless, mostly because I can do them. I can't play the piano. Because I can't do it and I think it's a talent really worth having. I can cook elaborate five course dinners that friends drive two hours to attend, but that's nothing so special . . .

When I get like that—and I often do—I fight it by making an effort to spend a day celebrating what I have. I mentally go over my skills, and try to be objective about them, celebrating my strengths. And I make a clear effort to see everything in a positive light, to resuscitate my positive attitude. Even the most negative event can be transformed into something positive:

  • If I fight with my wife, I remind myself that our relationship is strong enough to survive a few storms (besides, there's always making up!).
  • If the kids are running around screaming and yelling, I remind myself that they're healthy and happy. I also have my hearing to be thankful for.
  • If I encounter a problem at work it's a chance to overcome an obstacle and exercise my thinking skills.
  • If I'm cut off by some road hog in traffic, I'm glad I have the driving skills to avoid rear-ending the jerk.
  • If the cat knocks my coffee all over my CPU while hacking up a hairball on my desk, while simultaneously deleting 3,000 words of work with one paw . . . well, I guess no one can find the positive in everything!

The first step toward positive thinking is the realization that we are in control of our thoughts—if we choose to be. While unconscious messages might be coursing through our brains, we can insist on a halt . . . and then change over to positive thoughts.

Here's a handy exercise. Catch yourself in the act of thinking in terms of defeat, bad luck, and that old familiar friend, "Why me?" Keep the subject in mind, and then reverse its direction. For example, let's say you notice that some of your coworkers are goofing off and chatting while you're working feverishly to meet deadlines. You catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about them, like "I wish the boss could see what's really going on here," or "What's the use of trying when no one even notices who gets all the work done?"

You can change the direction of those thoughts: "Since I'm getting more work done than my coworkers, eventually the boss will notice and reward my efforts," or "At the end of the day, I'll feel really great about finishing this difficult project. I can even enjoy the challenge as I work."

The most important tool in the development of positive thinking is your own mind. Positive Thinking Tools that Might Work for You:

  • Read books about inspiring, positive, and successful people.
  • Positive Quotes can be an inspirational tool for developing positive thoughts.
  • Buy a selection of motivational tapes or CDs and listen to them in the car (handy for long traffic jams!).
  • Make yourself a "victory wall," either at work or at home. Cover it with symbols of your triumphs: diplomas, letters of commendation, inspiring quotes, whatever makes you feel better about yourself.
  • Practice positive thinking; write or e-mail positive letters to a friend.
  • Keep a "Joy Journal," a diary filled with your daily triumphs. They don't need to be earth-shattering accomplishments. Not swearing in front of the kids when you're cut off in traffic is an accomplishment: be proud of your self-control!
  • Visualize success. We so often visualize failure without even thinking about it. Combat this by spending some time every day thinking of yourself as a successful, competent person who can accomplish all the goals you've set for yourself. Make it a daily ritual, perhaps as you take a long bath to reward yourself for the day's work, or early in the morning as you drink a quiet coffee.
  • Find a mentor. Look for members of your family, friends or coworkers who are successful, and who are consistently positive thinkers. Talk to them. See if you can find out what techniques they apply to stay positive.
  • Select upbeat messages. Go for music selections that help you reach for the sky and remind you to think positive thoughts. Look at Songs of Success for some great choices. 
  • Group Activities - Positive Communications and Positive Affirmations for a Healthier You
  • Surround yourself with negative people, and you'll probably be negative yourself. On the other hand, nothing energizes a person more than being in the company of positive-minded people. If you can arrange to meet with a group of like-minded friends or coworkers, you can organize your very own positive thinking work group. Try some of these positive thought-building activities.

Scavenger Hunt:

Have the group hunt through the local newspaper for good news. Have each person make a list of positive news stories and compare results. What's good news for one person may not be for another. Discuss which sections of the paper contained the most positive and the most negative stories, and how each area affects the reader's worldview. Must good news always be in the Lifestyles section? How does our worldview suffer if the international news pages only carry negative stories?

Book Discussion:

Almost any book can be a starting point for a discussion about both negative and positive thinking, so have fun with this. Some of the most remarkable positive thinkers of history can be found wandering their way through children's books, so why not let the child in you resurface and reread the Winnie the Pooh books? Pooh is the ultimate positive thinker, while Rabbit and Piglet provide prime examples of needless worry. Eeyore's about as negative as they come, although he does have a strong sense of self. And then of course, there's Tigger, who's may be just a wee bit too positive . . . Have fun! If nothing else, it's a good opportunity to get together with like-minded people and relive a few childhood memories!

Positive Affirmations:

Review the positive quotes on our Positive Tools page and have a look at the song lyrics at Songs of Success. Challenge yourself and the members of your group to make up positive affirmations. They can be poems, single sentences, song lyrics, or stories. Share them with the members of your group.

Positive Charades:

Lighten up! Get a group of friends together to play a game of positive charades. Everybody writes out 3- to 8-word phrases that the other team has to act out and guess, just like regular charades. If you do a good job, the actors should be doing a lot of smiling. Here are a few to get you started:

"Every cloud has a silver lining."
"Dream the impossible dream."
"We are the champions."
"Laugh and the world laughs with you."
"Seize the day."

Sing Positive:

Select a positive theme song—or a whole repertoire of upbeat songs. Learn the words. Sing in a group. Sing a capella. Practice in the shower. Then take turns leading the group in song—all you have to do is wave your arms and make them smile. Study facial expressions, breathing, and body movement to derive the most positive stance you can. You might even perform for friends and family!


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