The Power of Positive Thinking

Life. It’s fond of throwing curve balls when you least expect them. Sometimes, the preferable coping strategy is drowning stress in boxes of Godiva truffles. Though we rarely get to choose our challenges, and the outcomes are often out of our control, the one area where we do have complete power is attitude. When the inevitable foul comes your way, you have two choices: lie down in defeat, or rise up to make the most of the situation. We say, put your best outfit on and unleash the cheetah within.

Maintaining a positive attitude doesn’t mean ignoring reality or forcing an artificial cheerfulness when things get difficult. What it does mean is making a choice to look at the big picture, accept that no one is perfect and settle on the side of optimism and acceptance. According to some studies, an optimistic outlook on life not only makes you feel good; it may even reduce your risk of health issues like heart disease, depression and even the common cold.

How Do You Think Positive?

Of course, the above is easier said than done. For many, depression and anxiety are defaults. In fact, a person’s tendency towards optimism or pessimism may be inherited. The best way to counteract the norm is through self-awareness. Recognize when you slip into a depressive state and consciously stop yourself. Recognizing provides you with the power to control your emotions. Try developing a mantra that places you in a more positive headspace.

Make it a habit to practice:

Gratitude: Instead of focusing on the difficult or bad things in your life, appreciate the gifts each day brings, even (or especially) the small things. (Do you remember when Paula Abdul said, “I’m tired of people not treating me like the gift that I am?” I digress…). Some suggest making a list, but realistically, who has the time? Keeping a mental tab should suffice.

Friendship: Some people make you feel good just by being with them. Whenever possible, surround yourself with nurturing, positive people who cherish you just for being yourself. If your mother constantly pokes your belly fat and asks if she’ll have grand children before she hits the grave, it might be best to search elsewhere for social gratification.

Kindness: Your struggles and sadness are your biggest assets, as they allow you to understand how others feel during difficult times. Be empathetic. Extending kindness and understanding to others is a start towards a positive outlook. Even better is turning that same kindness and understanding inward.

Resilience: Everyone has bad days and occasionally makes mistakes. When the inevitable dark cloud seems to be hovering over your head, remind yourself that you are human and that mistakes are what you make, not who you are.

Laughter: Life is filled with moments of humor. Make it a habit to look for those moments and enjoy a good laugh. Watch your favorite comedy, re-live some of your best memories through photos, or spend some time with your funniest friend. Just laugh!

Self-respect: No one else can truly speak for you. Set your own personal standards and don’t let others define you. Treat yourself as compassionately and respectfully as you treat your best friend. (We’re assuming you treat your best friend quite well…if not, ignore the aforementioned advice.)

What Does a Positive Attitude Look Like?

Few would suggest that life with a chronic illness is easy, but a positive attitude can help you along your journey and lift you over some of your daily struggles. Celebrate the successes, big or small – they can help you continue to see the positive and all of the great things you’re doing in your life, in spite of the challenges and setbacks.

Consider actress Teri Garr, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after 16 years of consulting specialists about her slowly increasing symptoms. Although initially angry, Garr’s attitude slowly turned to optimism. Today, she travels the United States, using wit and a positive outlook to educate people on living well with MS.

Or look at country singer Clay Walker. His diagnosis with MS at the age of 26 hasn’t stopped him from selling more than 10 million albums, or recording 11 hits that hit the top of the country chart. Along with his music career, Walker, who views his MS as a motivating force, is a powerful voice in the fight against the condition and is an ambassador of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the US. Walker credits his healthy, active lifestyle for his success. So go ahead, and let your inner Reba McEntire fly. Drop that album (or go on that friends’ weekend you’ve been waiting for).

A positive outlook doesn’t mean you’re free from bad circumstances. Nor does it imply pretending that life is great. What a positive attitude means is that you know how to deal with what life throws your way.

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