Positive thinking leads to positive feelings like happiness, satisfaction, pleasure and contentment. By contrast, negative thinking can lead to pervasive negative emotions like fear, anger and jealousy. Negative thinking can all too easily become a bad habit. Positive emotions not only affect your mental health, but also have been shown to boost the immune system, increasing resistance to illness and disease. Practicing positive thinking exercises can reverse the effects of negative thinking and free you from the negative-thought treadmill.
Make Peace With the Past
Have you ever made yourself cringe, even blush by simply conjuring up the mental image of a past mistake, or burn with anger at the thought of a hurt or harm inflicted by another? Remember that emotions are always generated by thoughts, and you can work to change our thought patterns. Take control of your past by focusing on gratitude. Create a gratitude journal and list all the things in your life for which you are grateful. Although you may not be ready and able to forgive every slight from the the past, your gratitude journal will help you feel more in control and cultivate positive emotions.
Cultivate Hope for the Future
Positive thinking can create a hopeful outlook for the future. You can increase your optimism and hope by being on the lookout for cognitive distortions and faulty thinking based on past experiences. Watch out for overgeneralizations, like taking the memory of a poor performance on your last job interview and expecting that performance to happen again and again. Confront these cognitive distortions by writing them down along with challenge sentences, such as: “I wasn’t prepared for that last interview, but I know more about the company I am interviewing with next week.” The goal is to stop irrational negative thoughts from overtaking future events, replacing them with feelings of hope and optimism.
Enjoy the Present Moment
Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Network, recommends we all work on our own definition of “the good life.” By having a solid understanding of the unique set of goals and values that make us happy, we are apt to have a greater number of positive experiences. Try Seligman's “beautiful day” exercise. Outline the events and qualities of your ideal day. This might include spending time with family, working on an engrossing project, running 10 miles or all three. Once you have a good idea of what your beautiful day would look like, put it into practice. Then, journal about your experience. Where your thoughts more positive on your beautiful day? Was there any activity you might add next time? Keep trying this exercise until you have fine-tuned your own set of goals and values.