Has anyone ever told you to ‘look on the bright side’, or to ‘not be so negative’? When you have trying situations going on in your life and you are perhaps not in the most positive frame of mind, hearing these phrases may not seem that helpful. Sometimes, putting pressure on yourself to compete with friends, family, and colleagues who seemingly have everything together can only bubble up feelings of ‘why don’t I have that?’, ‘what’s the point?’, or ‘who cares?’.
We all need time to be reflective and realistic, but changing our way of thinking so that we ‘look on the bright side’ really can have a significant impact on the quality – and longevity – of our life.
A new study has found that being optimistic can lead to a longer life. Those who have a more positive outlook are, on average, more likely to live to the age of 85, adding between 11% and 15% to their lifespan. You can read more about the research from the Boston University School of Medicine, including the lifestyles and factors taken into account right here, but the findings show that optimists can, in fact, find it easier to recover from stress and have greater control of their emotions, enabling a more hopeful mindset; positive thinking can empower positive, healthy aging.
So, how do we change a pessimistic thought into something more encouraging? Here are five proven techniques that, when practised regularly, can help you to pause, consider the positives, and visualise your way to becoming more optimistic.
Where do these negative thoughts and feelings come from? They could be an ‘all or nothing’ response to situations, magnifying the negatives to the point where any positives are discarded, or even ‘mind reading’, where you assume what others are thinking or feeling. Take the time to learn about yourself so you can create your strategies and begin to make positive changes.
Writing down your thoughts and how you’re feeling is a constructive way of reflecting. It allows you to keep track your emotions and behaviours, helping you to see exactly how you react and to identify any triggers. Think of it as a journal or diary – be honest, this is just for your eyes only.
Breathing and Mindfulness
There is a deep connection between how we feel and how we breathe, and being more mindful of our breathing pattern can give us the space and time we need to consider how we react. Breathe deeply and slowly as you practice mindfulness techniques. Visualise the air entering and leaving your lungs, think about the sensations you feel, and repeat until you feel calm and more aware.
The study by the Boston University School of Medicine suggests that pessimists could benefit from doing things like imagining a future where everything turns out well. To begin, as you close your eyes and relax your breathing, think about a happy place and all the things you can see, hear, and smell, whether real or imaginary. As you do this more and more, you can learn to visualise your ideal future self.
Think about the positives in your life – what you have achieved, the qualities you like about yourself, what you have yet to achieve. Write them down and say them out loud. These don’t necessarily have to be long term goals, just something you want to accomplish that day. Pick a time that suits you and make this a part of your daily routine. These may seem like little changes but when done regularly, these changes can become healthy, life-changing habits.