The Science of Positive Thinking

I’m sure there’s been a point where we’ve all faced a moment of doubt. A moment where we didn’t know what we were doing, where we didn’t think we could do it or we simply just had no idea what was going on with our lives. This moment could still be happening for you and that’s okay too. This feeling could be incredibly difficult to escape but it’s easier to do so by remembering the fact that it is simply JUST a mindset. Believe it or not, it is not actually true that it is impossible to pass university calculus and it is also not true that you will never get a job ever. It’s challenging to get out of this mindset once you are in it, but the quality of your thoughts can make ALL the difference in progressing forward. 

One can turn to the studies of Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina to see why this is so true. She developed something called the “Broaden and Build Theory” which states that having positive emotions creates a waterfall that broadens someone’s desire to learn and develop skills. Essentially, when you are feeling yourself and living your best life, you are more likely to want to learn more so that you can continue to live your best life. Positive thinking means forward-thinking, and you begin to think that your life can only get better. 

On the other hand, we also get pretty immersed in our negative thoughts, to the point where we can’t think of anything else and it becomes a cycle. Picture all those times you have a huge pile of homework sitting on your desk with midterms right around the corner. At this point I would typically start thinking about everything that I have to do, this would then lead to me being stressed about how much I have to do, from which I would start getting upset about how I wasted time stressing instead. Then I start thinking about how much time I wasted and how I don’t want to get started now so then I start thinking about everything I actually have to do… and I’m sure you have an idea about where this is going. The point is, negative emotions absolutely CONSUME our thoughts and that’s not a good look for anyone. 

Further scientific studies have shown that increased positive thinking decreases anxiety and stress levels, as well as lengthens your life. The studies of Dr. Norman Doige can support this through his brain plasticity ideas, which states that positive thinking can also physically alter the shape of your brain. Since the brain continues to grow as life progresses, your thoughts throughout that process effect which parts of your brain develop and at what pace. With continuous positive thinking, parts of your brain that tend to make you feel good will become stronger. So let’s get out there and make some strong, positive brains! 

Okay, so your next question will probably be "How exactly am I supposed to do this??" It is one thing to say, but it is a completely different thing to do which I totally acknowledge. And honestly I can’t give you a solid defined formula for having positive thoughts but I can give you some ideas. I find what helped me a lot was just being grateful for life. Now this doesn’t have to be something you verbalize - make a journal, say it in your head, put it on an Instagram account only for you. The point is that you are finding something out of every day that makes you happy or that you are grateful for. I challenged myself to work on this for a whole year during my senior year of high school and it helped me appreciate smaller things that may later be missed. Something else you can try doing is finding an escape and taking breaks!! I cannot stress this enough. It is so incredibly important for your focus, stress levels and well-being to turn your attention to a hobby or distraction, even if it is only for a small amount of time. In this time, try and pick something that you believe will make you want to “Broaden and Build” to get that positive thinking going and change your mindset. Whenever you are feeling stuck or down, remember that you are in control. Use science to get into your mind, build yourself up, and do what it takes to live your best life.