Is your cup half-full or half-empty? How you look at life can affect your outlook AND your health.
Last week, we talked about Self-Care. Can you pour from an empty cup? Hopefully, you have something in your cup, even if it is not full. This week, I’m asking a similar question – is your cup half-empty or half-full?
How you answer that question may affect your outlook on life, and your health. If you are a positive thinker, or more of an optimist, you may be able to handle stress a little better than a pessimist. The positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a big part of effective stress management. But if you see the cup half-empty, you can learn skills to improve your optimism!
Positive thinking does NOT mean your head is in the sand or the clouds so much that you ignore the unpleasant parts of life. Positive thinking means that you can look at the unpleasant in a more positive way. Positive thinking assumes the best is going to happen, not the worst.
We all have thoughts running through our heads – that’s called Self-Talk.
This endless stream of thoughts is automatic but it can be positive or negative. “My spouse is spending a lot of time on the laptop these days. He turns the screen away from me so he must be hiding something from me.”
Sometimes, we see the logic and reason. “He must be working really hard to get that report done for work, so then we can focus on the holidays.”
Other times, we may talk to ourselves in less-than-kind ways because of misconceptions we create. “I think he must be bored with me. Maybe he’s looking at a dating site!”
How you think about life can affect your health. Researchers continue to look at positive thinking and optimism on health.
Some of the benefits of positive thinking include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower rates of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold (this time of year, I’ll take all the help I can get!)
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
While researchers aren’t sure why positive people see these benefits, a theory is that a positive outlook helps you to cope better with stress, which reduces the chance of stress harming your body. Also, optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles – more activity, better food choices and fewer unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
So how do you become more optimistic? Well, for starters, you may need to learn to recognize your negative self-talk! Do you ever say negative self-talk to yourself like the examples below?
- Filtering – you filter out the good stuff and focus on the negative. “I had a great day at work completing my To-Do list early. I did get a complement from the boss, but he was just being nice. I need to work more tonight and get cracking on the list for tomorrow.”
- Personalizing – do you automatically blame yourself when something bad happens? “Our ladies movie night was canceled! I must be a bad friend because no one wanted to go with me.”
- Catastrophizing – do you automatically assume the worst? “The coffee shop got my order ALL wrong! This is going to be a horrible day!”
- Polarizing – you have to be perfect or you’re a total failure – no in-between. “I can’t get to the gym for an hour. I’ll never be able to exercise!”
Turn your negative thinking into positive thinking! Just a warning though – it takes time and practice because you’re cultivating a new habit! Try some of these small steps to create the healthy habit of positive thinking:
What can you change? Is there an area of your life (like work) that you think about negatively? Focus on being positive about the fact that you have a job, and then focus on other ways to approach your work more positively. “I’ve never taught a class that way – I’ll be bad at that.” OR “This is an opportunity to learn a new way of teaching!”
Check yourself. Stop and evaluate your thoughts. Are you getting into a bad mood because of negative thoughts? STOP. Find a way to be positive. “I’m not going to get any better at this.”OR “I’ll give it another try.”
Laugh. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, even during bad times. Read an old comic strip (Calvin & Hobbes works for me!). When you laugh, you feel less stress. “I don’t have the resources.” OR “Necessity is the mother of invention!”
Make healthy choices. Try to exercise for 30 minutes on most days of the week, even if it is in 5-10 minute chunks. You’ll feel better! Choose a healthy diet. Try a new stress management technique. “I’m too lazy to exercise.” OR I wasn’t able to fit exercise into my schedule today, but I can walk the dog for a little while.”
Enjoy being around positive people. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Try to limit being around negative people all the time! “We can’t change this – we’ve always done it this way!” OR “Let’s take a chance!”
Practice positive self-talk. If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself! Be kind to yourself. If you have a negative thought, turn it around and think good things about yourself. Use phrases like, “I can,” “I am able,” “It is possible.” Be positive with your thinking AND talking. “I’m not going to get any better at this.” OR “I’ll give it another try.”
Focus on thoughts of success, strength, and happiness. Use words that suggest those thoughts. Think of mental images that help you focus on those things. Visualize clearly what success looks like to you. What does happiness look like?
You won’t change your thinking overnight. It will take some practice. Keep going with small steps to more positive thinking. You’ll get better at being less critical and more accepting. You may be more optimistic, and you’ll be able to handle stress better.
Another benefit of positive thinking is…it’s contagious! People around you detect your mental moods and they can act accordingly. I’ve noticed that if I’m around someone who complains a lot, then I start complaining a lot. But if I’m around a positive person, I tend to be more positive myself!
Cultivate the healthy habit of positive thinking. Take small steps to get there and it will happen! Don’t forget to take the Small Steps to Healthy Habits survey
to figure out where you are and where you need to go. Coaching will be available in 2020 to help you take those small steps but only if you take the survey!