Believe it or not, positive thinking — and its rewards — can be learned. You can change from being a “glass is half empty” person to one who sees that glass as half full. In order to do this, one of your first tasks is to identify any ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) — the tendency to put the worst spin on what happens to you. Example: you automatically blame yourself when something goes wrong: A friend cancels a plan to meet for dinner because she doesn’t feel well, but you suspect the real reason is because of something you did or said.
My husband developed a technique to kill the ANTs* that come into your mind and steal your joy. The trick is to write down your negative thoughts and talk back to them! Work to restructure them so they’re positive — or neutral — instead of negative.
Accentuate the Positive
Learning to think positively is like any other habit you’ve mastered — something you practice daily (like brushing your teeth). One of my favorite tools for changing negative thinking is Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is.” Katie uses four simple questions to help readers discover who they would be without their “story.” Here are the four questions (you can download worksheets at TheWork.com):
- Is it true? If the answer is “yes”…
- Can I absolutely know that it’s true (beyond any doubt)?
- How do I feel when I have that thought? (Is there a stress-free reason to hold on to the thought? How do I trust others, myself…?)
- Who would I be without the thought (if I could never think that thought)?
Here’s an example of how this works:
Negative thought: “I hate my body because I’m fat.”
Question 1: Is it true that I hate my body? Yes
Question 2: Can I absolutely know it’s true without question? Well, no I don’t always hate my body. I don’t want to die, so I must not completely hate it.
You can read more about this method in my book The Omni Diet*, but I hope you understand the process of questioning your negative thoughts and begin to move away from them.
The Power of Meditation
Meditation isn’t a mystery. It’s a relaxation skill that can improve feelings of well-being, dramatically increase blood flow to the brain, activate the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain associated with judgment and impulse control), and help you feel less stressed. You can do it anywhere that you can sit undisturbed. Meditation helps you release the daily thoughts that stress you out and instill a sense of calm, peace and balance that’s good for your emotional and physical health. I recommend getting a book or a CD to help* you get started.
And Don’t Forget About Exercise
Exercise does much more than burn calories and build muscle. Moderate exercise balances stress hormones, increases endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain), and helps channel energy in a positive direction. Exercise is the most powerful tool I can recommend for combating stress. The more stress or frustration I feel, the more I take it out on my weights. I also practice martial arts, which is great for focusing the mind. In fact, this is so effective that I refer to my weekly lesson as “therapy.” Focus on moderate exercise, which can help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and make you feel less tense. Just make sure you don’t overdo it with exercise. Excessive exercise can actually cause more harm than good.