Accentuate the positive
Change your attitude to improve your life
By Lisa M. Petsche
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There is no shortage of information in the media about how to improve your well-being through positive lifestyle changes such as eating more nutritiously, exercising and not smoking. Did you know, though, that changing your mental attitude can also go a long way toward improving your life?
Even if you don't consider yourself a naysayer, make it a point over the next few days to scrutinize everything you think and say. You might be surprised.
For instance, how much of your self-talk and communication with others contains the words "can't," "don't," "shouldn't," "couldn't" and "never?" Do you often start sentences with "If only," "I can't believe" or "I hate it when"? And do you tend to use phrases such as, "it's impossible," "I have no choice," "that's terrible" and "why me?"
Unfortunately, it's much easier to be pessimistic and critical of yourself, others and the world in general than to be optimistic and enthusiastic.
It doesn't help that the mass media thrives on disaster, failure and discord. All this publicity not only perpetuates the negativity but also creates more. And it's true that misery loves company: when we complain aloud, other people usually join in, reinforcing the gloom.
Negative thinking takes many insidious forms: doubt; worry; catastrophizing (magnifying the importance of upsetting events); focusing on our own shortcomings or those of others; seeing only the flaws in proposed plans; dwelling on what we perceive to be lacking in our lives; approaching life from the perspective of entitlement (believing that we are owed certain things); denial; inflexibility; hopelessness; and regarding the world as an uncaring, even hostile place.
By-products of such thinking include self-absorption; depression; defensiveness; self-criticism; destructive criticism of others; sarcasm; distrust; blame; jealousy; bitterness; self-pity; avoidance; indecision; chronic complaining; low self-esteem; resistance to change; helplessness and passivity.
Negativity is harmful to your physical and mental health, generating stress that can lead to illness. Also harmful to your spiritual well-being, it'sa significant drain on your life energy. Here's how to re-focus and accentuate the positive instead.
How to counteract negative tendencies
- Limit your exposure to the news.
- Use positive self-talk. Emphasize phrases such as "I can," "I will" and "I choose."
- Be generous with praise and encouragement and cautious with criticism, giving only the constructive type.
- Cultivate a healthy sense of humor. Read the comics, watch a TV sitcom now and then or rent funny movies. Don't take yourself or others too seriously.
- Accept realities you can't change and focus on those you can influence.
- Trust that there's a valuable lesson in every type of adversity. And remember that no matter what happens, you always have a choice about how to respond.
- Stay connected to people who care. Minimize contact with those who are negative or self-centered.
- Find an outlet for expressing your thoughts and feelings, such as talking with a friend or keeping a journal.
- Pick your battles; don't make a major issue out of every concern.
- Don't dwell on past mistakes, hurts or other unpleasant events.
- Look for the good in people and situations. Demonstrate empathy, give others the benefit of the doubt and practice forgiveness.
- Do something you enjoy each day: read, listen to music or take up a hobby.
- Identify sources of stress in your life, then eliminate as many as possible and learn to manage the rest. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
- Seek help from your primary physician or a counselor if you continually feel sad, angry or overwhelmed.
- Let go of the need for perfection, and be flexible about plans and expectations. Take things one day at a time.
- Be receptive to learning new ways of doing things and try new activities.
- Do nice things for others.
- Set aside some quiet time each day; it nurtures your spirituality and helps to keep you grounded.
- Finally, focus on the good things in your life, such as supportive relationships, and seek beauty and tranquility - through appreciation of art and nature, for example. Count your blessings and learn to live in the moment, enjoying life's simpler pleasures.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.