By guest author Molly Larkin
Is your life hard? Perhaps a change in your language can help turn things around. It did for me.
I used to be very negative all the time. I mean like darkly, depressively, existentially negative. Until I learned that changing my language could change my life.
My wake-up call started decades ago with a conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. She asked me how I was doing, and I replied, “Well, I’ve been having a hard time lately.”
Her response shocked me: “You’re always having a hard time. It’s just the way you are.”
I had no idea that’s how people saw me. But when I thought about it, I realized that I said, “I’ve been having a hard time” on a regular basis!
And that meant I was defining my life as hard. That and many, many other negative phrases had become part of my persona.
So I trained myself to stop.
Learning the language of positivity
My teacher Bear Heart said: “People often ask for my advice and counseling, but overall, the best advice I can give to anyone at any time is: Never complete a negative statement.”
Learning to stop using negative phrases is a lot like learning a new language. It takes some work.
Pay attention to what you say, both internally and out loud. When you catch yourself being negative, correct it on the spot.
After a while, using positive language will became a habit and easier and easier to do.
Today, there is rarely a negative thought or statement coming out of me. I have become fluent in the new language of positivity.
If something’s not working in your life, rather than complain, figure out why and change things. And, in the meantime, keep focusing on what is working.
The old adage that “It’s not what happens, but rather how you react to circumstances, that determines the quality of your life” is absolutely true.
Is your glass half empty or half full?
It turns out that how you answer this question may be a predictor of your health.
Positive thinking is a key aspect of effective stress management. And scientists are in agreement that at least 70% of illness is caused by stress.
If you tend to be pessimistic [that is, you tend to see your glass as half empty], help is on the way.
The National Science Foundation estimates that the average person has 12,000 – 50,000 thoughts per day, depending on how deep a thinker they are. And 80% are the same as yesterday!
So with that many thoughts going on, whether they’re positive or negative will have a very big impact on your life.
Self-talk is the stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head each day.
“Oh, Molly, why are you eating another cupcake? You’re already too fat.”
“Oh, Molly, you’re so stupid. You know this route always has more traffic.”
And on and on.
If your statements to yourself are mostly negative, your outlook on life is pessimistic and due for a change. Start giving yourself compliments for the things you do that work!
Health benefits of positive thinking
Researchers have found the following health benefits go along with positive thinking:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Psychologists aren’t sure why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits, only that they do. One theory is that it helps us cope better with stress.
It’s also believed that positive and optimistic people tend to take better care of themselves and live healthier lifestyles – for example, they:
- get more exercise
- eat a healthier diet and
- don’t smoke or drink alcohol to excess.
Learning how to speak and think positively
First, identify if there’s a tendency to be negative. Here are some clues from the Mayo Clinic to identifying negative thinking:
- Filtering: you tend to magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive. An example is the tendency to focus on the one piece of constructive feedback received even though there were a dozen compliments, too.
- Personalizing: blaming yourself when something bad occurs. If someone cancels a dinner date, you assume it’s because they didn’t want to be with you. And yet they could have had a perfectly valid reason that had nothing to do with you.
- Catastrophizing: you always expect the worst. One thing goes wrong [you spilled your coffee in the car] and you assume the rest of the day will be just as bad. And that often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – we get what we expect!
- Polarizing: you see things only as black and white, good or bad. So you feel you have to be perfect or else you’re a total failure. It’s one or the other, never anything in between.
How to turn negative thinking into positive
- Identify the areas of your life you typically think negative about. Start by focusing on one area of your life to approach in a more positive way, be it work, your daily commute, or a relationship. For me, a good start was, when asked how I’ve been, to talk about the good things that were happening in my life, instead of automatically saying, “I’ve been having a hard time.” Take a deep breath before automatically giving your typical negative response.
- Check in with yourself: throughout the day, periodically stop and note how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. If you’re being negative, change the channel in your mind to something positive. I love to listen to the radio in the car. When a song comes on that I don’t care for, I don’t suffer through it, I change the channel to something I like. Do the same with your random 50,000 thoughts. When a negative thought pops up, change the channel to a good thought.
- Laughter is the best medicine: Seek humor in everyday events. Read some of the anecdotes in Reader’s Digest, or get a joke book, or watch comedies on TV or film. That always lifts my spirits. If you can smile, you can’t feel bad.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle: Exercise is King and diet is Queen. Exercise at least three times a week and follow a healthy diet. Find some form of exercise you can enjoy; there’s got to be something out there for you. If your diet is in need of a major overhaul, start with one thing, such as cutting down on the sodas you drink every day. Baby steps makes for an easier transition.
- Surround yourself with positive people. My mother’s saying that annoyed me so in childhood, “birds of a feather flock together” happens to be a powerful agent for change. Hang out with positive, inspiring people, or watch inspiring talks on YouTube and their attitude will start to rub off on you. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Jim Rohn
- Practice positive self-talk. Start with this rule: don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to someone else. Be polite with yourself. If a negative thought enters, change the channel.
Is it work? You bet. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
It will change your life for the better in a hundred different ways.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller, “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of A Native American Shaman.” Download her free ebook of inspirational quotes. And read her inspirational posts at Ancient Wisdom for A Life in Balance.