Keeping a Positive Attitude in the Midst of Challenges
Have you ever had a lingering negative thought run through your mind? Something you just can’t shake. Perhaps triggered by an event, harsh words, or a decision made in haste? Have you ever had that thought linger to the point it disrupted your ability to focus on a job, school, project, or relationship?
Biologically, “the human brain is composed of about 100 billion nerve cells…interconnected by trillions of connections... Some specialized connections send up to 1,000 signals per second. Somehow… that produces a thought,” says Charles Jennings, Director of Neurotechnology at the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research.
Unfortunately, if the thought is pervasively negative, there is no consolation in understanding the biology. The havoc it may wreak on our ability to manage our emotions, or brutalize our self-confidence, is staggering. Left unchecked, mounting negative thoughts can alter our ability to accomplish life goals and dreams.
How does one make the shift from allowing negative thoughts the ability to take up residence in the mind, to empowering our minds toward a positive attitude?
Consider the following:
- Outside Influencers Is there value in looking at who you are spending time with and evaluating his/her influence on your own thoughts and feelings? If you are constantly fed a diet of negative-in…guess what you will experience? Negative-out. Positive influences in our lives lead us toward our best selves. Alex Lickerman, M.D., writes in Psychology Today, “What we all have in abundance is influence, the power of which seems to function linearly: the closer personally and physically others are to us, the greater our influence over them, and vice versa… Attempts to influence don’t require conscious intent.” We are constantly influenced by who people are – what they say and what they do. Choosing to invite positive people in your life makes good sense.
- Dissecting the origin of our negative thought Is there value in recognizing a negative thought and tracing its origin? Not just what happened directly before the negative thoughts crept in, but the origin at its deepest level. Often negative thoughts stem from our minds convincing us of things that just aren’t true. These distortions, such as polarized thinking, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, personalizing, and blaming (Burns, 1999), hold the negative thought(s) captive. Figuring out where the negative thoughts stem from supports coming to more rational conclusions and directly refuting the lies at their source. Research indicates that the number of negative thoughts we have will diminish over time if we use this approach and seek to dismantle their power.
- Choosing what we allow to consume our minds Finally, is there value in believing we have control over what we allow to consume our minds? Always the optimist, I vote Yes! What we choose to focus on, those we tap for support during challenging times, even our musical influences make a difference in how we craft our thoughts. William James writes, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” We have the power to reframe our thinking. It may simply begin by noticing when we have a negative thought and replacing it with something else. So, what might that look like for you? Forbes contributor Melody Wilding reports, “Releasing statements such as, ‘I forgive myself for procrastinating,’ or ‘It’s okay to be angry, now let it go,’ free up emotional resources.” Another strategy might be to find something...anything…you can be grateful for in the moment. For example, you may have a pervasive negative thought, “I am not worthy.” When you notice that thought again, follow it with, “I am grateful for the respect my book club friends offer me,” acknowledging the negative space and then finding the gratitude statement to counter it.
A dear friend gave me a gratitude jar and 365 small cards for Christmas last year. Most days I grab a card after dinner and jot down something for which I am grateful. It’s pretty amazing how this simple act can shift my mood as I focus on the positive moments in my life.
How might you adapt the gratitude jar in your house with your child(ren)?
One positive step forward every day.
How can a parent help at home? Springer School and Center and Cincinnati Children’s are sponsoring a lecture for parents with Marilyn Zecher, MA, CALT, on “Why Some Students Struggle in Math and What We Can Do About It” on Tuesday evening, November 12, 2019. Click here for more information and to register.
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