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Why positive thinking isn’t a cliche: it can change your life

By Kathryn Roberts Sales Manager A Million Ads

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices.

It has been scientifically proven that thinking positively leads to success and enhanced mental and physical health. So why is it so easy to get bogged down in negative thoughts, especially at work? How can we use the power of our minds to succeed in our goals?

CEO and Forbes contributor, Rob Dube, notes that we are all born with the tendency to think the worst: “Humans have a tendency to quickly get wrapped up in the stresses happening in our lives”. It is part of our primal instincts to be pessimistic. This stems from our ancestors, who were constantly on the lookout for threats to survive in the wild.

It is certainly not a bad thing to be cautious and protective; however, in the modern-day, the cynical mindset that used to protect us is now holding us back. Our tendency to think negatively can lead us into a spiral of low self-esteem and even depression. The so-called ‘Father of Positive Thinking’, Martin Seligman, stresses this, as he found that pessimists undermine everything they do and that bad events are their faults. Whereas optimists were more likely to be resilient and more confident.

Studies have also proven that positive thinking affects our physical health. There is an indisputable link between having a positive outlook and health benefits like lower blood pressure, less heart disease and healthier blood sugar levels. Another study, appearing in Psychosomatic Medicine, reports that those with a positive attitude are less likely to catch colds. It even said that uptight or sad people are more likely to complain of cold symptoms even when they don’t have a cold.

Athletes infamously apply positive thinking techniques to drive success by boosting confidence levels, turning anxious thoughts and nervousness into a useful tool, and maintaining motivation and resilience. Self-affirmations have also been proven to positively affect performance in sports after an experiment was conducted in 2001. When two groups were given a basketball shooting task, the group that was told to use positive cue words such as “I can” and “I will” improved their performance significantly compared to the group using no words.

Despite this, the power of the mind continues to be underestimated. Why are positive thinking tools taught in professional sports but have no presence in the workplace? Positive psychology training should be fundamental in the workplace and even at school. When I was growing up, I suffered from a lack of confidence and was always surprised when I did well. However, I soon realised that the subjects I excelled in were those taught by the teachers who were the most encouraging. This meant that the only thing holding me back was my self-doubt. After realising this, my confidence grew, and I started to achieve much more. Today, I understand the power of having a positive mindset and use cue words like “I can” and “I will” to encourage myself and achieve my goals.

So how can positive thinking drive success in the workplace? Barbara Fredrickson’s theory “Broaden-and Build” argues that engaging in a positive outlook makes us better problem solvers. Seligman found that optimistic humans were likely to be more resilient and persevering and less likely to give up when encountering problems. In addition, Joel Garfinkle notes: “building positive relationships is vital for career success”. He found that being positive allows you to feel less intimidated by others, develop a closer bond with the people around you and grow your influence in an organisation. I agree that the ability to be resilient, less anxious, have good relationships and be more confident are essential traits to have in the workplace, so we need to apply these skills to ensure we are achieving our utmost capability.

  1. When presented with daunting tasks, use positive cue words like “I can” and “I will” when presented with daunting tasks.
  2. Recollect images of previous successes to remind yourself that you can achieve, for example, when you smashed a presentation or succeeded in a difficult task.
  3. Like professional athletes, turn nervousness into positive emotions by remembering times you were previously nervous and overcame these feelings.
  4. Find positives in negatives; for example, if you feel underprepared for a meeting, remember how this will help you think on the spot. 
  5. Self-belief is the key to succeeding, so visualise your success.

I know that telling someone to “think positive” is very much a cliche, and I definitely cannot say that I am the most positive person there is! However, I try and use these tips to turn around negativity when I can because if I can make these straightforward but effective changes in my life, why not try? We should all realise how powerful our minds can be and learn how to balance and train our thought patterns to help us succeed rather than hold us back. Life won’t stop throwing challenges our way, but what we do is learn how to better conquer them. After all, Henry Ford said, “whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re always right”.