The Power of Positive Thinking

By: Crissy Neville

A litmus test for a person’s perspective is a rhetorical question “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Juxtaposed to the pessimist’s half empty, negative, I don’t have nearly enough, mug is the optimist’s half full, positive, I have my portion and room for more when available, cup. The first is a vessel of despair, the second one of hope. Which do you have, or better yet, which do you want?

To further explain, such habits of mind are both born and made. In childhood, Positive Pollys are happy the sun is peeking out on the playground while Negative Neds worry about the coming rain. In adulting, Cheerful Charlies see the cost of living raise as a godsend, but Gloomy Gladys is barely getting by. Disposition is something you may be born with, but it also something you can change.

It is obvious why change is necessary. Negative people bring others down with them and live under a shroud of constant worry and fret. The energy they expel does not motivate people or conditions; in contrast, it exacerbates and exasperates both. Their down vibe repels people who don’t care to hear all the negativity and they, without realizing it, may let depression and poor health in the front door.

Alena Barosa, a board-certified behavior therapist in the Fayetteville area, says negative thinking never does one any good.“Negativity does not help our mental nor physical health. It affects our brain chemistry as well as our general view of the world around us,” she said. “Mental and physical health go hand in hand.”

This worldview may happen, she continued, because negative situations are more noticeable, as the viewer is not the only one who notices them. 

Explaining, she said, “Society puts pressure on people to be the best they can be. When someone does something great, it is regarded as a given, something the person should or must always do. It is as simple as leaving a review for business. How many people go out of their way to leave a good review? On the other hand, people are quick to leave a bad one. Such punishment procedures are referred to as “default technologies” in my field, because punishments are relied on too quickly and reinforcement strategies are significantly overlooked.”

One group, however, is not currently overlooking reinforcement strategies; in fact, they are laser-focused on it. The reinforcers are educators; the receivers? Students. 

Positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is a way for schools to encourage good behavior. With PBIS, schools teach students about behavior, just as they would teach about other subjects like reading or math. The focus of PBIS is prevention, not punishment. Initiated in 1997 by the Office of Special Education Programs, US. Department of education, PBIS came into use in North Carolina public schools about 2007, and has made a great impact on students and teachers alike.

Donna Woods, an instructional assistant in Fayetteville, is a fan of PBIS. She commented, “Reframing our thinking to the positive took some practice but as an educator, I enjoy rewarding students for good behavior and letting them know exactly why they are being complimented or rewarded. Times have changed from punishing children that happen to have an off day.”

One primary change with PBIS is the way teachers and assistants communicate. Woods continued, “After so many years, changing from a focus on negative behavior to positive was hard work. Instead of saying, ‘You’re not making good choices, please go move your clip down’ to ‘thank you for making a good choice; here’s a reward’ took practice, but it is much better for us and them. The students know that tomorrow is a new day and new chance for positive outcomes.”

Barosa agrees with the PBIS approach. She noted that researchers suggest that smiling more often creates happier moods and that acknowledging happy events, no matter how small, may provide a more positive outlook overall for all involved. This interpretation gives credence to the old adage,” smiles are contagious… be a carrier.”

Ready to spread your own positive aura? It is more of a cure than a condition, according to Greogory L. Jentz, Ph.D., author of Hope for Relationships. He has identified six ways to become more positive. To infuse positive thinking in your mind for a happier you and yours, he recommends these steps:

1. Practice being grateful. Try listing all the things for which you are thankful. You can make this list in a journal or record it electronically. Another idea is to find a friend with whom you share your gratitude and progress toward more positivity.  Can you find three things a day to tell, text or call your friend about for which you are thankful? If you have children, teach them to do this each night to kick off their positive thinking early in life.

2. Keep track of what you say and think and for every negative thought, counter that with two positive thoughts, comments or action. This helps to form a new habit and is what Jentz calls the “one step forward rule.”

3. Hold your body in a positive posture by showing confidence with your body language and stance. Jentz says to move your body first and then your mind will follow; this means demonstrating positivity with the way you walk, talk, move and hold yourself. Stand up straight, put your shoulders back, hold your chin up high and stretch your arms alongside your body as you walk. Doesn’t this sound better than a hunched back, droopy, head down and arms folded approach? 

4. Smile. This act can trick your mind and instantly change the way you feel. Try smiling at others and see how they react. 

5. Listen to the old saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” Who are you hanging out with? Other Negative Nancys who will pull you down further into their way of thinking? If so, according to Jentz, make some more positive friends and place yourself in uplifting circumstances. If you are trapped talking to a complainer or nagger, try to gently change the subject off the negative subject he or she keeps harping on.

6. Show kindness to someone. This is the best way to get the focus off whatever is making you feel negative and get your focus on the needs of others. Jentz recommends doing one kind thing for at least one person each day. This gives you the perspective you need. The “pay-it-forward” campaign is the notion of paying for someone’s food or drink ahead of their turn so that when they get to the counter their bill has already been paid. Tag. You’re it. Pay it forward and be the person who does that for someone else next time.

Barosa concurs with Jentz but adds to “love yourself, acknowledging your successes, discovering new places and participating in experiences of humility” such as missions work, charitable service, teaching, health care, volunteerism, and the like are all ways to “step out of your comfort zone,”  she said. 

So, look on the bright side of things, for, like food, where you are what you eat, think positively for you are what you think, too.