This blog, written by HWBI Ninja Lou, explores how positive thinking, being aware of our emotions so that we can think differently can boost our resilience and wellbeing.
The benefits of positive thinking
Have you ever noticed that despite facing some really big challenges, some people always seem to see the positives? My Mum has always said to me and my sister “try to see the positives in everything”, I have always admired her glass half full outlook. If I am being honest, I don’t think I have always shared this approach and over the last 12-14 weeks, my glass has been a bit depleted. So I thought as a way to help me understand why and to see if there is anything I can do about it, I would revisit the benefits of being glass half full and if there is a way I can top up my depleted glass!
Looking at situations in a positive light when they are not ideal is a good trait. Positive thinking is a mental attitude in which you expect good and favourable results, it doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and ignore problems but approach unpleasant situations productively.
Thinking positive and being glass half full leads to experiencing positive emotions like joy and contentment which broaden your mind to possibilities and can lead to:
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved life satisfaction
- Increased wellbeing
- Increased problem-solving ability
- Help you be better able to cope with difficult life events
Glass half empty – “It’s not the things in themselves which trouble us, but the opinions we hold about these things” Epictetus.
Our thoughts are vital to our wellbeing, they help us make sense of the world and influence how we feel and behave. One of the most useful things that I learnt about during cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was the impact of thought distortions. I now help others become aware of thought distortions in themselves and others through delivering Mental Health First Aid Training.
We all have familiar thought patterns – thinking habits and beliefs systems which have been shaped by our life experiences. Thinking distortions are unhelpful thinking patterns, they can lead to distressing feelings and prompt behaviours which can maintain the distressing feeling. We can be more prone to these types of thoughts when we are feeling upset, anxious or low (for example over the last 14 weeks since lockdown). Learning to recognise and challenge thinking distortions can help reduce the difficult emotions that they cause or maintain. Some common thinking distortions include:
- Overgeneralising – making general negative conclusions based on one example or incident i.e. burning dinner once and deciding you’re terrible at cooking based on one example.
- All or nothing thinking – Thinking in extremes or extreme possibilities and neglecting the more likely middle ground i.e. stumbling over a few words in a presentation and then thinking the whole thing was a mess.
- Jumping to a conclusion – making a judgement and assuming its right with little or no evidence or facts to back it up i.e. waving to a friend you see across the street who doesn’t wave back at you and assuming they are upset with you when they may not have seen you.
- Labelling – rating yourself or others with labels based on a situation or incident i.e. labelling yourself a failure when you burn the dinner.
- Negative filter – seeing only the bad in something or dwelling on negative events instead of positive ones and or explaining away positives for no reason or down to luck i.e. not being successful in an interview focussing on not getting the job instead of giving yourself credit for coming so far in the recruitment process.
CBT helped me to recognise, challenge and address my own thinking distortions. It is important to recognise the ones you struggle with before you can effectively change them. Positive Psychology has a great resource that describes cognitive distortions to help you decide ones that you may be dealing with and ways to challenge them.
Glass half full
Martin Seligman suggests that we can learn how to become more optimistic and train ourselves to see the world in a more useful way. He adapted Albert Ellis’s ABC model of adversity, belief and consequence and added disruption and energisation creating the ABCDE model.
- A = antecedent (i.e. the situation that triggers the response)
- B = beliefs (out thoughts/interpretation of the situation/event)
- C = consequences (the way we feel or behave)
- D = disruption (effort to argue and dispute beliefs)
- E = energisation (outcome or effects from redirecting your thoughts)
We tend to blame A (the antecedent) for C (the consequence) whilst it is B (our beliefs) that make us feel the way we do. Once we can see this, we can then dispute the way we are looking at a situation. Disputing our beliefs can help us see the situation in a new light and change the way we feel.
So how can we put this into practice?
During the next few adverse events, you face in daily life, listen to your beliefs, observe the consequences and dispute your beliefs. Try recording this. Once you have done you can go through the process in your head. Below is an example which may resonate with a few people:
You arranged a meeting online and couldn’t quite get the technology working at the start of the meeting
I am rubbish at using online meeting technology, I won’t use it again
You turn down invites to other online meetings for fear of the technology getting the better of you and you miss out on important social time with family and friends
I haven’t had much experience of using online meeting technology
The technology is new
Others also had some technical difficulties too
After the first 5 minutes, the meeting went well
There are 4 ways to make your disruptions convincing:
- Evidence – show the negative beliefs are factually incorrect – most are overreactions. What is the evidence for this belief?
- Alternatives – are there different ways to look at the problem which are less damaging to yourself, focus on changeable causes i.e. I was tired and specific or its only one time this has happened?
- Implications – de-catastrophize, even if you struggled with the technology it’s not impacting on the rest of your life
- Usefulness – question the usefulness of your belief
Consider how you feel now you have challenged your beliefs.
This is an ongoing process that you may need to repeat and remind yourself of as I have through writing this blog, however, if you use these steps when facing a challenge eventually it becomes easier to challenge negative thoughts and approach challenges with greater optimism.
HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.