Positive thinking can do wonders for your life, and for your recovery, too. Although the concept of creating changes in your life just by changing your thinking may seem so simple that it must be impossible, it really does work! Positive thinking is about much more than being upbeat or displaying an upbeat attitude. Keeping positive thoughts at the forefront of your mind can actually create real value in your life, and help you build life skills that can have long lasting effects.
How and Why Positive Thinking Works
Think about people you know that are optimistic, and think about people you know who are pessimistic. Which of these groups seems to have the better, happier life? While you may think that it’s easy for the optimistic folks to be positive, since their lives are already great, did you ever stop to think that perhaps they are not optimistic because their lives are better, but rather, their lives are better because they are optimistic? It may be difficult to identify true cause and effect in all cases, but think about it logically. If someone is always complaining, then they are always thinking negatively – what often occurs, then, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you truly believe everything in your life is horrible, then horrible it will be. But, on the other hand, if you take the time and effort to instead focus on all the positive aspects in your life (even if, at first, you feel that those things are few and far between), then your outlook will improve immensely, and more good will soon come your way.
Researcher Barbara Frederickson from the University of North Carolina published a landmark paper on this topic that has been cited hundreds of times by other researchers, educators, counselors, and journalists. Her work included a simple experiment. In it, she tested the impact of positive emotions on the brain by dividing her research subjects into five groups. She showed each of these groups different short films. The first two groups watched film clips that inspired positive emotions; one group’s clips were intended to inspire joy, and the other group’s was focused on contentment. Two more groups were exposed to film clips that inspired negative emotions; in their cases, they watched films to make them feel anger and fear. The final group was a control group. That group’s film suggested neutral feelings.
After watching the films, each group was asked to write down statements beginning with the phrase, “I would like to…” Frederickson learned that the groups that watched the positive film clips wrote the most actionable sentences on their papers. The negative group wrote the fewest. The results she saw implied that people with positive feelings are much more likely to take frequent and decisive positive actions in their lives than people who feel negative feelings. Although this study only recorded the actions of the subjects immediately after their exposure to positive or negative stimuli, Frederickson and others strongly believe that this behavior is indicative and representative of how people will behave in these types of situations consistently.
Further, these people were reacting to an outside stimulus that had nothing to do with them directly and which was, in the grand scheme of things, quite brief. Imagine the results if the negativity was frequent, consistent, and personal? If we tear ourselves down day after day, and look at the world around us in a pessimistic way all the time, it is no wonder that we will feel unmotivated, hopeless, and unhappy overall. Alternately, if an individual regularly exposes themselves to positive and upbeat thoughts and feelings, then it makes sense that good things will happen to them.
Frederickson refers to this as the “broaden and build” theory, because positive emotions will help an individual to see the wide range of possibilities available to them, which will help him or her to open the mind. With an open mind, that individual can build new skills and cultivate resources that can expand into all areas of his or her life.
Benefits of Positive Thinking
There are so many benefits to positive thinking! People who think positively feel less stress, since they are always looking on the bright side of things, and are looking towards the many ways a situation can work out positively, rather than fearing all the bad things that can, but probably won’t, come to fruition. As a result, positive thinkers have lower likelihood of suffering from depression, and are more resilient when something does go wrong temporarily. When we are able to avoid stress and depression, and are able to bounce back more quickly from true negative experiences, we also tend to be in better physical health, too. Our motivation is improved, since we are always reaching for the stars and seeking and drawing more and more positive outcomes. Positive people often enjoy more feelings of increase personal, internal strength, and improved clarity in our thinking as well. All of these benefits can be extremely helpful to anyone working on his or her recovery. Strengths such as mental clarity, physical health, resilience, and general happiness are all things that can help people in recovery to continue moving forward on their clean and sober journey.
How to Practice Positive Thinking in Recovery
Certainly, this all sounds wonderful, but you may be thinking that thinking positively is easier said than done. If you are someone who is wrapped up in negative thinking and has been for much of your life, it may be difficult to make a change. However, there are many things you can do to help put yourself on the right track.
- Help others. Not only does helping others who are struggling or who are less fortunate than us remind us of all the good things in our own lives, giving people a boost can help inspire us by showing us that there are often solutions to problems that we can’t clearly see on our own. Consider volunteering with people, animals, or in nature, or simply be there to lend a listening ear to a friend when he or she needs one.
- Practice acceptance. Sometimes there isn’t a solution to every problem, certainly, but if we accept the things we cannot change in the world, and look to them as learning experiences rather than curses, this new way of viewing things can help us to be more positive about the challenges we face.
- Keep your relationships strong. When we are busy and wrapped up in our own lives, it’s sometimes easy to let our relationships with friends and family go by the wayside. However, if we take the time to reach out to the people that are important to us, we are consistently reminded of our support systems and the people that are a positive force in our lives.
- Practice gratitude. Developing a gratitude practice can help you become more and more positive each day. Even in our most challenging times, we all have so much for which to be thankful, and no matter what obstacles you may face, there are always people out there much worse off than you. Remember these things; write them down or at least take time each day to list several points of gratitude, and you will be amazed at how much of a difference it can make.
- Stay healthy. A good diet and regular exercise can help you stay positive, too. When our bodies are in optimal shape, then it’s natural that we will feel good about ourselves and, in turn, about the world around us. Further, exercise releases endorphins, which naturally make us happier and more positive people.
- Seek out inspirational readings, speakers, and affirmations. In the world of recovery, there are so many positive readings and speakers available to you online and in person! Many of these were created by people who have been through many of the same struggles as you, and just listening to or reading about their journey can help you to feel more positive about your own. Daily affirmations, spoken aloud in the morning or just before bedtime can further help to solidify feelings of positivity in our own life.
- Smile! It seems so simple, but just wearing a smile as often as you can can make a huge change in your life. When you smile, the whole world smiles with you. Smile at children, animals, and people you see on the street. In most cases, they will react positively back to you, and then the positivity will just grow and grow from there!
Although you may feel down about your past and your addiction, clearly, positive thinking can be a big help to you on your recovery journey. It may seem daunting to try to feel positive after all you have been through so far, realizing these benefits and using these tips to start thinking more positively can help to get you on the right track to a happier and continuously improving life in recovery. Good luck, and hey – smile!
At Clear Sky Recovery, we are here to help you take the first steps on your recovery journey. Our facility in Cancun, Mexico is a staffed by experienced doctors, nurses, and therapists that will help you go deep within yourself to get to the root of your addiction. Our innovative ibogaine detox therapy is special and life changing and may be just what you need to start anew. Please give us a call today to learn more and to determine whether this sort of therapy is right for you. We look forward to hearing from you!