Author: Robert Raap
Have you ever experienced the kind of morning when you wake up without the help of your alarm clock fully excited and ready for the day ahead of you? I know I have and chances are you have as well. It is a kind of electrified emotion that makes you brim with excitement for what the day will bring.
On the other hand, most of us have also had those “get out of bed on the wrong side” mornings when nothing seems to be going our way. It is these kinds of mornings that make you just want to ditch everything and dive back in the world of pillows and blankets. In either of the two scenarios, the events during the day play a minor role in setting or changing our attitudes in the morning. It is your own personal beliefs and self-esteem that creates the kinds of feelings and perception that will shape the events of the day ahead. The good news is that these beliefs and self-esteem can be changed by altering your attitude towards different things.
In the first half of this blog post I will present scientific research on the effects attitude has on your mental and physical health. In the second part I will bring out some tips on how to improve your attitude so that it would be easier to start the day off with enthusiasm and those electrifyingly positive emotions.
Daniel Todd Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, Gardner Lindzey explain in their textbook ”The handbook of social psychology, volume 1” that attitude is: “a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor. The idea that an attitude is a psychological tendency treats attitude as a state that is internal to the person and that lasts for a shorter or longer duration. Attitudes express passions and hates, attractions and repulsions, likes and dislikes. People have attitudes when they love or hate things or people and when they approve or disapprove of them. An attitude is expressed by evaluative responses of some degree of favorability or unfavorability. A person is biased toward favorable responses if the attitude is positive and toward unfavourable responses if the attitude is negative.”
So different attitudes toward different objects or situations will bring either positive or negative emotions. But what happens if these attitudes are constantly on the same end of the scale? How will these constant positive or negative emotions affect one’s mental and physical health? Let’s find out!
In one research paper published back in 2013 in The American Journal Of Cardiology a team of researchers screened healthy siblings of probands with documented early-onset coronary artery disease (CAD) from 1985 to 2007 with a total sample of 1483 people. They found out that positive well-being and positive attitudes were associated with a nearly 1/3 reduction in CAD in a high-risk population with positive family history, a nearly 50% reduction in incident CAD in the highest risk stratum in those with a positive family history and a 13% reduction in incident CAD in a national probability sample, independent of the traditional CAD risk factors. Furthermore, to make this finding buletproof the survey was replicated in National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and Epidemiologic Follow-up Study with a sample of 5992 people and the outcome was pretty much the same.
Most of you might think that you are in good shape and no heart problem is going to bring you down! But get this – 655 000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Yes, a staggering 25% of total deaths! And if you are thinking “Thank God I am not an American”, don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Heart disease is also the number one cause of death in the world! I think this should serve as ample evidence to take this topic seriously. So try to keep a positive attitude towards life! I am not saying you are not allowed to complain or see bad things around you. Just don’t make a habit out of it and enjoy life as it is. You are a wonderful human being! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, just laugh and have fun from time to time.
Another research paper concerning positive thinking and cardiovascular diseases shows mounting evidence that positive emotions and positive thinking have an important role to play in lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of other heart ailments (Affleck, Tennen, & Croog, 1987). Affleck and colleagues studied 287 men who suffered heart attacks; about half of them reported that the heart attack was such a life-altering experience that it led to a profound change in their life philosophies, including becoming more in touch with their values. Others reported that they had learned the values of healthy lifestyles; 25% reported that they had modified their ways of doing things so they could enjoy life more. Optimists and positive thinkers showed better signs of physical recovery immediately after coronary artery bypass surgery and up to 6 months post-surgery. Optimism, positive thinking, and self-esteem, reliably predicted sustained recoveries for those who had just undergone angioplasty. In addition, male war veterans who were optimists and thinking positively were less likely to suffer from angina and heart attacks. All this may seem like a pretty dry read, but what it all boils down to is the simple fact that positivity helps to reduce the risk of getting heart problems. Mostly because positive people are less stressed and thus don’t have blood pressure and heart problems.
There is also some evidence that a positive attitude can improve your mental health. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine studied 240 children ages 7 to 10 and found that being positive improved their ability to solve math problems, improved their memories, and enhanced their problem-solving abilities. MRI brain scans were also used to map the neurological effects of positivity. This was the first study to clarify how positive attitude influences learning and academic achievement. Specifically, the research pinpointed the ways in which a positive attitude improved the functions of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.
There is also plenty of evidence online which shows how a positive attitude can make you more energetic, reduce the likelihood of getting a cold, flu, or other diseases, and help you recover more quickly from illness or injury. Optimistic people think faster and their ideas are clearer. They have greater life satisfaction, lower levels of stress, and a better immune response. They may even live longer than pessimistic people. Besides, people with positive and optimistic attitudes are usually more enjoyable to be with. This does not mean that a positive attitude makes all your problems and worries go away, but you may not feel like they are such a heavy burden.
In this last section of the blog post I would like to present some good ways to change your attitude and keep a positive outlook most of the time. For starters, you can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice to master — you are creating a new habit, after all. We have covered the philosophy of making and sticking to new habits thoroughly in one of our previous blog posts about New Year’s Resolutions. I strongly recommend you read into that topic as well. There are tons of websites that will go out of their way to teach you different ways of keeping a positive attitude. Most common approaches are affirmations, smiling, keeping a gratitude journal, surrounding yourself with positive people, laughing a lot, breathing deeply, meditating, doing yoga, not taking yourself too seriously, making fun of yourself, controlling your language, and so on. All of these do work and are quite common methods to help you think positively and keep your mood sky high.
However, it is important to remember that we are not all cut from the same cloth. Some things may help certain people more than others. The good thing is that everyone can find something to suit their needs. Using a couple of the aforementioned methods will help you keep the positive attitude constantly.
One key component that connects all of the attitude boosting methods is self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These automatic thoughts can be either positive or negative. If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, chances are your outlook on life will be pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you’re likely an optimist. Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create because of lack of information. But how to control your self-talk and have positive self-talk consciously and permanently? It is not as easy as it may seem and it definitely takes some practice. To start off, you have to identify negative thinking. Every time a negative thought pops into your head, identify it and turn it around into a positive counterthought. Then laugh about it! Do this and you may even wonder why did you have that negative thought in the first place? Laughing negativity away makes it easier to actually believe the new positive thought and take in the positive emotions. Put some effort into changing the way you think and you’ll start feeling positivity ripple through your whole body!
Looking back from that point, those old negative thoughts start looking more and more ridiculous. Quite often these negative thoughts can be associated with human connections and relationships. Somebody said something to you that you didn’t like. Well, that happens to everyone. Don’t take it too seriously. Make a joke about it and move on. Just have fun. All the people around you can’t like you anyway. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t even think about what other people think of you. The only thing that matters is that you like yourself. So work on that!
You can also do the thing Anthony Robbins does before he gets on the stage to boost his performance and get that feeling of invincibility. He just walks energetically around the room and loudly communicates positive confidence boosting thoughts to himself. Try it out for yourself! Walk around your room and say loudly and confidently different phrases to yourself. For example try: “I am unstoppable! I am the best expert in the field! Nobody can stop me! I can do it! I am the best! I love myself! I love myself! I love myself! Yeeeees! That is the way to do it! I am unstoppable! I am the winner! The best there can be!” And so on. Use your own words, your own thoughts but just inject confidence and positivity into yourself. It gets your mood up, your confidence up, your body starts to believe all these words, and it is easier to deal with whatever is coming your way. Do this daily and your overall thought patterns and attitudes change towards positivity quite quickly. You will notice the difference in a matter of weeks.
In this blog post I will only cover the self-talk side of changing your attitude because this is the most important part of it and connects all the other aforementioned aspects such as smiling, surrounding yourself with positive people, keeping a gratitude journal, meditating etc. To get the best results we recommend to use positive self-talk together with the previously mentioned techniques that suit you best. As I said, you can find plenty of information online on any one of these approaches.
But to get really good at positive self-talk I recommend a book called “What to say when you talk to yourself” written by Shad Helmstetter. If you are able to learn this skill and keep a positive attitude towards life constantly, it will not only improve your physical and mental wellbeing, but you’ll see a change in the way you see life. It helps you to be happier, enjoy small life moments, have less stressful life, and be a more enjoyable and fun person to be with.