CareAGE Connections

Start the New Year with a New Attitude

Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking, once said, “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.” Repetitive thoughts – such as “Life is hard,” “I’m a failure,” or “I’m not good enough” – form neural pathways in the brain. The more you think them, the more ingrained they become in your psyche and your unconscious mind will continue playing these thoughts over and over until they become who you are.

Fortunately, you can “rewire” your brain by actively thinking positive thoughts and focusing your attention on the good things in your life. Positive thinking doesn’t mean you are necessarily constantly happy or that you ignore life’s unpleasantness – it simply means you approach life’s challenges in a more positive and productive way. A positive attitude not only helps reframe our thoughts about life’s circumstances, it also has major health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can:

  • Increase your lifespan
  • Decrease depression
  • Lower your risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Provide greater resistance to the common cold
  • Increase your psychological and physical well-being

According to a study at Yale University, researchers discovered that people who had positive thoughts about aging lived 7-1/2 years longer than those who saw aging in a negative way. A separate Yale study showed that people who had negative thoughts and feelings about aging had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

But shifting one’s attitudes can be difficult. Exactly how does one start reprogramming one’s brain? Here are a few tips to help you develop and maintain a positive attitude.

Start your day with a positive ritual

Mornings are the most difficult part of the day for many people. So start it off with an attitude adjustment. Get up early enough that you can prepare for your day leisurely. Acknowledge the beauty of the day and all you have to be grateful for. This will set the tone for the rest of the day.

See challenges as an opportunity

We don’t always have control over the things that happen to us, but we do control our response to them. So, if you lost your job, instead of reacting with fear, take a step back and allow yourself to feel the new possibilities available to you. If we learn to recognize challenges as a way to learn and to grow, we are better able to deal with them and have a more positive response to them.

Focus your attention on the good in your life

We’ve all heard the Jewish proverb, “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” We all have something to be thankful for. Learn to notice the things in your life that bring you joy and focus your attention there.

Give thanks

Recognizing all we have to be thankful for is good medicine. One way to incorporate gratitude into your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, just jot down a few things for which you are grateful. Robert A. Emmons at the University of California Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted a study that discovered that those who kept a gratitude journal – just a single sentence of five things each day for which they were grateful – were more optimistic and felt happier about life.

Surround yourself with positive people and things

People can take on other people’s energy without even being aware of it. If you find yourself feeling negative, find some positive people to hang out with. Read a book with a positive message or listen to music that inspires you.

Be conscious of what you say

Words are powerful and can shape the way you feel about things. Try replacing the phrase “have to” with the phrase “get to.” Instead of saying (and thinking) “I have to go to work” or “I have to mow the lawn,” reframe your thoughts by saying “I get to go to work” (many people are unemployed and hurting) and “I get to mow the lawn” (many people don’t have their own yards to mow). This simple shift in consciousness can help you realize how much you have to be thankful for.

Transform your thoughts

Your thoughts are very powerful. If you find yourself thinking “Life is hard,” notice what you’re thinking and transform it. You may choose to shift your thoughts to “Life is hard and I continue to experience joy every day” or “Life is a blast and the challenges I face simply make me stronger.” If you change your thoughts, you can form new pathways in the brain which may, in turn, change your experience of life.

Categories: Senior Health