The Power of Positivity

Glass half full

It was a recent glass half full comment that sparked this topic. Yes – I’m a pretty positive person. But I haven’t always been so.

Indeed, when I first landed on these beautiful shores, I was still in the midst of a rather rocky childhood. Once I reached my teens, and turned into the teenager people have sleepless nights about, my mindset was extremely negative. Of course it didn’t seem that way! No – I was a realist! Why bother pretending the world isn’t a complete shit storm – just look around you.

But for some mysterious reason, a started to question this in my mid to late teens. To this day I don’t know what prompted me to undertake mental exercises to attempt to see things from different points of view. Perhaps it was due to the loyal friends around me who inexplicably put up with my moods and bad behaviour, and occasionally plucked up the courage to point out that I was being cruel and ‘out of order’.

Self Medication

At that time I suffered from some very black moods, no doubt bordering on depression, and self-medicated with copious amounts of dope to deal with it. But I remember seeing my thoughts as having a die very close to my face. So close that I could only see one side of it. Smoking dope allowed me to distance myself sufficiently from emotions to be able to pull that die away from my nose and to start seeing some of the other facets of the cube.

This became an exercise of sorts which I did regularly. Each side of the die contained a different possible outcome to a situation. The closest side told me that there’s not much point in trying as it generally contained all the things that could go wrong. The other sides however showed a number of other outcomes, and I made myself consider them. I still believed that the closest side was realism and most probable. In fact some of the alternatives I dismissed as fantastical. Yet I still made myself go through the exercise.

It could be that I would have changed anyway as a natural result of growing up. But I believe it was this enforced exercise that really made the difference. Somewhere along the line, without even noticing, I started thinking more positively. The possibilities I never believed in before started to appear unbidden.

The real change came a couple of years after I stopped ‘self-medicating’. It took that time to readjust to the new reality and to be a slave to my emotions again. But I discovered that it was all far more manageable than before. I always pushed myself out of my comfort zone in order to achieve things – that seems to be firmly in my character – but the fear of failure was definitely diminished.

Neural Pathways

What is so interesting is that at the time, such mental exercises were poo poo’ed. It was thought the brain structure was a fixed entity and that thought couldn’t change it. In more recent years this has been proved utterly incorrect. We even have the term neuroplasticity to describe the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Not only after injury or trauma, but also through thought.

Happiness equals pleasure. It releases endorphins which makes us feel fabulous. The more negatively you think, the more unhappy you make yourself – ergo it’s an attitude worth changing. Being successful in endeavours, completing projects and trying new things also generally makes us feel good. And in order to achieve those it helps to think positively. It improves everything in your life.

I have met countless people who never seem to do very much. They often have grand ideas and dreams which remain firmly lodged in their imaginations. They always have excuses as to why the can’t do things, and rarely why they can. I believe fear of failure is the main reason for this. But part of positive thinking is to realise that the worst that can happen often doesn’t actually matter that much. Who cares what some people might think of you? As long as you like yourself.

Positive Reinforcement

Many will take short cuts to ‘happiness’ by creating endorphins in other ways, often very harmful. Gambling, drinking, shopping, over-eating all create feel-good hits. Often followed by misery perpetuating the addiction. You can see why many people enjoy religion – the positive thought that some greater entity than you will save you/ forgive you/ reward you. The alleviation of guilt for your actions.

Ultimately it takes a lot more effort, and most importantly willingness, to embark upon mental exercises to retrain your brain, especially as it seems silly and pointless when you need it most. But I for one believe that positive reinforcement really works and I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t feel satisfied with life.

Of course I’m not saying that it will make everything happy clappy. Life throws curve balls at us all. If we lose someone dear to us we need to grieve. If we are hit with health problems we need to persevere. Where it really makes a difference is with those regular issues of everyday life. Sometimes I have to make difficult decisions (like everyone) which plague me until they are sorted out one way or another. But the trick is not to take things too personally and to think things through from all angles, rather than just from the negative ones.

If you want to know more about positivity exercises, there’s quite a bit online. Here’s one: https://www.rickhanson.net/articles/positive-neuroplasticity/ – this chap seems to feature quite heavily in research results. Do let me know how you get on!

 

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