Why be positive in the first place? – Consider these 3 key benefits
What are the real benefits of being more positive?
The first thing is how negative emotions affect us: they have proven many times to narrow our focus and scope of work. It’s one of the most powerful ways shut our minds off to opportunities or new ideas. —it encourages listening with a positive emotion (agreeability) in mind, so that our minds will more naturally open up to what the speaker is saying.
We know that the effects of negative emotions are biological instincts programmed into our brains to help us survive. For example, if we were to come across a dangerous animal in the wild, the negative emotions of fear and anxiety would narrow our focus so that all we could think about was not becoming that animal’s dinner. This helped us to more efficiently direct our energy and mental functions towards that objective, without wasting our resources on unnecessary actions like working out which direction we’re going or thinking about what to have for dinner when we get home.
Of course, modern life doesn’t often put us in life-and-death situations like this, so allowing negative emotions to narrow our thinking can be harmful. It can make us less open, more hard-headed and more difficult to communicate with.
1. Negativity doesn’t work – Literally – Our subconcious brain can’t handle it
The other thing about negativity is that our brains can’t process negative words according to the latest studies. So when we hear phrase like “don’t smoke” or “don’t touch that,” our subconscious skips over these negative words and simply hears “smoke” or “touch that.” Our conscious mind can obviously process these words, but it’s the subconscious that makes a lot of our decisions without us realizing.
For young children, this can often be an issue because they haven’t learned to use their conscious minds to process those negative words and take control of the subconscious to make sure they follow instructions correctly. It’s no surprise why children decide that way if you look at the split between conscious and subconscious mind according to psychology.
What this means for us is that we struggle to change our habits or thought patterns when we tell ourselves negative phrases, since only our conscious minds can take those in. We can make this much easier and let the subconscious do its job by using positively-framed phrases like “refrain from smoking” or “walk away from that.”
2. You’ll improve your outlook of the future
Positive thinking can actually improve our overall happiness. I’ve written about this before in terms of noting down things we’re grateful for on a regular basis and how that can improve our happiness.
Studies show that positive emotions are more likely to encourage people to plan ahead and think of actions they would like to take or activities they’d like to participate in the future. Negative emotions, on the other hand, led to participants being less inclined to think positively about their future.
3. You’ll be more healthy
Yep, positivity has shown to directly affect your physical health, studies used the ancient practice of loving-kindness meditation to test how cultivating positive feelings like love, compassion and goodwill towards others could affect the emotional and physical health of the participants.
Compared to the control group who did not participate in the meditation, the meditators showed increases in positive emotions like amusement, awe and gratitude during the research period. They also reported feeling more socially connected and closer to the people around them.
Cultivating the positivity habit – 4 things to start with
Now that we know how beneficial positivity can be to our health and happiness, let’s look at some ways of building a habit of being positive.
1. Prepare your environment
Leo Babauta always has great advice on building habits. The environment we try to build new habits in (or break old ones, even) has a huge effect on how successful we are. Environment in this case includes the people we spend time with and the messages we hear or tell ourselves, as well as our physical environment.
The trick here is to ensure your environment is as conducive to you continuing your new habit as possible. Here are some of Leo’s suggestions for how to achieve this:
- Hang out with people who are doing the habit you want to do.
- If there are people around you who don’t do the habit you want to do, talk to them about what you’re trying to do, and ask for their help. Ask them to support you, and not rag on you all the time for changing.
- Join a supportive community online who are doing the things you want to do.
- Read blogs and books that inspire you to do the habit.
- Have reminders all around you.
- Create a public challenge for yourself, to create accountability.
- Have a habit partner you report to each day, and make a vow never to miss.
In terms of being positive, you could find a friend or family member to do this with to keep you accountable, or set a daily reminder so you don’t forget. Filling your work space with positive sayings or images could help, and reading books that encourage positive thinking will reinforce this.
2. Take note of 1 positive moment every day
Noticing the positive things that happen in your everyday life has been proven to be a successful method of increasing your positive thinking. This doesn’t just happen when you’re doing the exercise: the effects can actually last much longer.
A study had one half of a group write about positive experiences for three consecutive days. The second half wrote about control topics that didn’t affect their emotions. After three months, the study found that the students who had written about positive experiences still had better mood levels and fewer illnesses.
3. Try to Meditate– 2 minutes is enough
Meditating is beneficial for the body and mind. It not only improves mindfulness and positive thinking while you’re doing it, but it has been shown to decrease illness and improve mindfulness and feelings of purpose in life up to three months after being practiced daily for a short period.
Starting small works for meditating, as well. Its is easy to do and helpful in developing a strong habit. After establishing the habit for several weeks, you can slowly increase the length of your meditation sessions to an amount that gives you the most benefit.