Like most of the world I watched the unfolding of the Thai Cave mission with baited breath. Two weeks in complete darkness, surrounded by cold murky water, with no real certainty around whether you are going to make it out or not, sounds like a terrifying experience – especially for a group of children! But besides the immense courage of everyone involved, this experience made me aware of a powerful human trait that often gets dismissed in today’s society…positivity. Regardless of the fear circulating the boys’ survival, those involved chose to focus on the 5% chance of getting them out of there, versus the 95% chance of fatality – and they used this outlook to maintain momentum towards success, even when faced with extreme challenges beyond their control. What made this interesting for me, is that this outlook is not common in most people today, and it is having serious impacts on our overall health and lifestyle choices.
So, what’s the misunderstanding here with positivity?
Over the years I feel the concept of positivity has been distorted to be seen as a sign of weakness, or as an impossible, if not unrealistic, quest far removed from everyday reality. However, what a lot of us don’t know is that having a positive mindset is a powerful tool in helping us navigate a variety of experiences and situations, just like the cave mission, and ultimately enabling us to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. In fact, studies spanning across the last 50 years show that those who express positivity, live up to 10 years longer than those who go through life believing their glass is half empty.
As human-beings, we were evolutionarily programmed to be pessimistic and imagine the worst possible outcomes. We developed this skill in order to activate our flight or fight response to keep us safe from physical harm such as lions, tigers, and bears! (oh dear!) However, as we continued to evolve, and our environments changed, our threats also changed – they became more complex, in the sense they’ve become deeply connected to our mental and emotional resilience. As a result, pessimism is no longer the best, or healthiest, approach to our survival. Cue: POSITIVITY!
Positivity is not about turning a blind eye to what is going on in your life, or becoming a fake Polly-Anna like character who supresses your emotions; it is about embracing curiosity and taking greater responsibility for your choices – choosing to find a way forward that moves you up and out of situations, rather than downward and in.
Hardship is inevitable throughout our life, and how you decide to approach these moments will ultimately colour every interaction and experience you have. Not only for yourself, but for those around you. Would you rather come from a place of strength, born out of positive expectation and hope that your actions can diminish or at least alleviate the issue, or from a place of fear driven by a sense of permanent hopelessness and blame?
If you constantly choose to respond with the latter you will only ever feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and eventually depressed. Pessimism lets the negative emotions and thoughts narrow your ideas about possible action and outcomes, whereas positivity enables us to become more receptive and creative in finding alternative solutions, that better serve our overall health and happiness.
So, what can we be doing to cultivate a more positive and healthier mindset?
Research today around neuroplasticity shows us that our brains are in fact pliable (not cold, hard, unretractable machines!), and that we have the ability to make meaningful changes on a neural level. Yep that’s right – you can proactively change the pathways in your brain to view life from a more positive and empowering position. The catch is, you have to work at it every day, like every other muscle in your body!
Over the next week trial the following changes. I invite you to commit to at least three of these, and practice them on a daily basis to really experience the magic that unfolds!
Kick negative thoughts to the curb – break negative thought cycles by asking yourself what beliefs are being triggered, then challenge these by assessing the cold-hard facts. How do these thoughts compare to the reality of the situation? Are your beliefs based on truth or fear? Are these beliefs serving you, or do you need to adopt more empowering ones?
Find the silver-lining – it is rare to be in a situation that is 100% shite, therefore focus on what you have, or can grow from, in these moments. How does the situation play to your strengths? How could you use these to move you forward?
Quit the complaining – we waste so much time on negative chit chat and rumination. How often do you find yourself purposely highlighting the negatives about a situation, or gossiping? How does this make you feel? Consciously make an effort to find substitutes in these moments – highlight the positive outcomes, good fortunes, and strengths… trust me this one is a game changer!
Defuse the landmines – do you know what triggers negativity within you? Awareness is the first key to being able to effectively manage your emotions and reactions. Simply ask yourself what circumstances trigger negativity throughout the day? Is it a specific person? A specific activity? What can you change about this circumstance moving forward to reduce negativity?
Recognise gratitude – we’ve all heard about keeping a gratitude journal, and the reason is…they work! Recognising what you are grateful for instantly pulls you into the moment and focused on what you do have versus what you don’t. Set time aside each day where you can reflect on what you are truly grateful for that day and why. If you aren’t into the whole writing thing no stress, try making it a conversation you have at home around the dinner table, whilst cooking, before you go to bed…the options are endless!
Let me know: What area of your life might profoundly shift if you focused more on cultivating a positive attitude and mindset?
I hope you are having a fabulous week team, and I look forward to hearing all about your positive shifts!