“Just think positive!” We’ve heard it said in one way or another so many times. But what does thinking positive or having a positive attitude actually do for us? That’s a great question that I think needs a real answer. It’s sort of like; everyone says eat more greens, so you know you should. You may even know how those nutrients keep you healthy, affect your weight, blood pressure and digestion and yet still don’t do it. It’s not until you really start to feel the difference for yourself and realize how much better it is that you REALLY start to order more salads and less fries. Which also means, of course, that you have to start doing it, practicing it and being aware of the difference it makes before it becomes a real habit. Positive thinking works the same way.
It’s actually a ripple effect — like a little tiny leaf that lands on a pond. You don’t think much of it, but if you watch how far the ripples go it’s pretty impressive. When we’re in a negative place, or even if we’re just having a bad day, we’re not going to be as aware of the opportunities surrounding us. We’re not going to be quite as aware of how we’re coming across to others. And when a problem arises we’re going to feel more stressed out and it will be more difficult to find a solution. But if we plug in a positive thought (our leaf on the pond), we can start shifting into a more positive space. We start realizing there’s more opportunity here than we thought. Our conversations with people are different. When you’re in a positive space people will be more willing to talk to you longer, so you end up having a better quality conversation. Those types of conversations can lead to a better relationship with that person or even to some great ideas. If a challenge does come up, you’re better at problem solving and creative thinking. It’s subtle at first so it can be a little difficult to pick up on, but you can become more aware of it.
Don’t believe me? Fair enough. Let’s look at a typical ‘bad day’. We’ve all had them, those days where everything seems to go wrong. You get up late, drop your coffee on the way to your car, hit every red light on the way to work, need to buy just ONE little item on the way home but there’s a line of ten people in front of you at the cashier… by the time you get home – you’re done. You just want to go to bed. With everything that happened, you got grumpier as the day wore on. Who wouldn’t, right? I know I’ve done the same thing.
You see, there is a way that our brain chemistry changes with our mood. When we get stressed out (or upset or angry) we go into a very basic sort of survival mode. The creative part of our brain just shuts down, adrenaline rises and the fight or flight mode kicks in to various degrees — which doesn’t leave room for higher, more complex thought. That’s right, being stressed or negative actually shuts down a part of our brain. And here’s the kicker…it’s the part of our brain that is critical to resolving the very things that are stressing us out!
Now, let’s take that same day from a new perspective — with a ‘leaf’ of positive thought or action. You still get up late, spill coffee and hit way too many red lights. But now you get to the point where you giggle. Yes, you just start laughing at yourself. Of course it starts out forced, but it’s just enough of a shift to make a difference. That laughter (even a forced or fake laugh) releases the endorphins in your brain. And guess what? You will start feeling better. It becomes a positive feedback loop that allows the creative centers of your brain to kick back in.
Why? Because where we focus our mood follows. I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna or insisting anyone look through the world with rose colored glasses. In fact, if you happen to own a pair of those things, please…throw them out! While rose is a beautiful flower and lovely color, when it comes to attitude…it’s more likely denial. I don’t want you to imagine you’ll never have a bad day. What I’m talking about is just giving yourself the gift of awareness so you can notice what you’re focusing on and, if appropriate, shift it.
It’s similar to what’s called the reticular activator. Say you decide to buy a new car. You go down to the lot and happily cruise home in your new vehicle. On the way to the lot, the roads were filled with all kinds of cars, to the point that you may not have even noticed any particular make or model. Just another day on the road. But on the drive home you notice that EVERYONE seems to be driving the same model car as you…why didn’t you notice that before? Did all these people suddenly purchase the same car within the last hour? No, those cars were already on the road. You just weren’t noticing them until it became YOUR car and you had a reason to focus on that exact model. In other words, what you focus on you see more of — positive or negative. Sometimes it’s a situation that focuses us — like buying a car — but you can choose what you focus on too.
Shifting your mindset can make a huge difference. Maybe you can’t laugh at the fact that you dropped your cup of coffee, but you can be grateful it didn’t splash all over your blouse. And you don’t have to let it drag you spiraling down into a grumpy mood. In other words, you may not be able to change the surrounding circumstances, but at the very least you can decide how you want to walk through the situation and still be proud of yourself at the end of it. We may not be able to change anything else, but we can always walk away with integrity.
And the great thing is that the creative part of our brain (that shut down in our funky mood) will kick back in so when an opportunity comes up we can see how to make the most out of it. Or when a problem comes up we can look at it and say, “Okay, what’s possible? Here’s who I can work with, how I can work with it, and how I can resolve it or turn it into an opportunity rather than a problem.”
Positive thinking, when it really kicks in, will put us in that place. Think about the passage of time. When we’re stressed out, we’re looking at the clock about every 30 seconds. We think this day cannot go fast enough. “I just want to get home. I just want to be done. I hate this…hate this…hate this!” But, in that positive space, time flies by. It’s just more fun! That’s the ripple effect positive thinking has that grows the more often you can get there.
By Lori Chance