By Cindy Atoji, a veteran newspaper journalist who specializes in healthcare and business coverage.
Maybe you remember the tale of the Little Engine Who Could. It’s an old children’s story about the value of optimism and hard work, and also the power of “I Think I Can,” the motto that the determined blue engine repeated as it chugged its way slowly up a mountainside, succeeding where bigger, stronger engines failed: “I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can.”
The power of positive thinking is an age-old truism. It only makes sense that you are what you think. “Most folks are about as happy as they’ve made up their minds to be,” said Abraham Lincoln – and who wants to argue with wise old Abe? After all, it’s the American way to believe in yourself and to achieve big dreams. And many studies show a possible connection between positive thinking and health. General feelings of happiness and optimism can play a protective role in both emotional and physical well-being. Scientists speculate that the immune system (which helps protects you against illness) communicates with the brain (center of emotions), and there is even evidence, for example, that anger and depression can be correlated with a predisposition for having a second heart attack for patients who are already suffering from coronary disease.
The 1952 classic, The Power of Positive Thinking, by Protestant preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale, long ago set the framework for believing that positive thoughts can bring about positive realities. And more recently, the runaway bestseller The Secret by Rhonda Byrne says the most powerful law in the universe can be summed up as: “You are the most powerful magnet in the universe . . . so as you think a thought, you are also attracting like thoughts to you.”
But let’s be honest. Who hasn’t struggled with the blues, or felt discouraged, negative, sad, or depressed? Thinking positive doesn’t mean squishing or ignoring your real feelings, or being inauthentically upbeat; rather, it’s about acknowledging your thoughts and emotions and trying to replace them with constructive thinking. It’s a change of inner dialogue, from, “You idiot!! Why did you say that?” to “It’s OK, everyone makes mistakes.”
So – whether it’s telling yourself “I’m doing the best I can” or “You go, girl!” – here are some tips for positive self-talk:
- Use Affirmations Frequently: Experts say it takes around 30 days to form a new habit. It takes time to change mental grooves – change doesn’t happen overnight. So be patient and kind with yourself, like a baby learning to walk. You’ll stumble and fall (“I’m a fat pig.”) but with time, new, positive thoughts will emerge (“I’m trying my very best to lose weight.”)
- Belief Comes with Time: It might feel totally weird and fake to start to play happy inner tapes when you’re used to negative internal messages. But after while it can become second nature.
- Reinforce Affirmations by Journaling: Take a few minutes every day to write in a journal and get to know yourself by expressing your inner thoughts. Seeing your words on paper has an amazing self-affirming quality. You can use the private Journal feature in My Page.
- Talk to Yourself Aloud: Some suggest the mirror technique – stand in front of a mirror and say nice things to yourself. But if this feels too strange, try saying affirmations out loud while driving or walking to school.
- Repetition is Calming: Chanting mantras, or positive affirmations, are used during meditation in some eastern religions. Mantras get their power from both the meaning of the words and the sound (such as “peace and calm”), and the repeated chanting can lead to an alternative state of awareness and relaxation. You can try chanting your affirmations as well.
So, be like the Little Engine Who Could: “I Think I Can,” “I Think I Can,” “I Think I Can.” And whatever it is you strive for – yes, you can!
This article was reviewed by BodiMojo expert Tara Cousineau, PhD.
Last reviewed October 2014