My Thanksgiving Message from the Mayo foundation
Is your glass half-empty or half-full? How you answer this age-old question may reflect your outlook on life and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic.
In fact, studies show that these personality traits —optimism and pessimism — can affect how well you live and even how long you live.
Need an attitude adjustment? Find out how to reduce your stress by halting negative thoughts and practicing positive self-talk.
Be positive: Live longer, live healthier
Self-talk is the endless stream of thoughts that run through your head every day. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is likely pessimistic. If your thoughts are mostly positive, you're likely an optimist.
Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create because of lack of information.
Researchers continue to explore the effects of optimism on health. The health benefits optimism may provide are:
Greater resistance to catching the common cold
A sense of well-being and improved health
Reduced risk of coronary artery disease
Breathing easier if you have chronic obstructive lung disease, such as emphysema
Improved coping ability for women with high-risk pregnancies
Better coping skills
It's unclear why optimists experience these health benefits. But one theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the effects of stress on your body.
How to put a positive spin on negative thoughts
Self-talk — the inner monologue sometimes referred to as automatic thinking — can be positive or negative. When the theme of your self-talk is mostly negative, your own misperceptions, lack of information and distorted ideas have overpowered your capacity for logic and reason. But if you weed out misconceptions and irrational thinking and challenge them with rational, positive thoughts, your self-talk will gradually become realistic and self-affirming.
Some common forms of irrational thinking are:
Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.
Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. You refuse to go out with friends for fear that you'll make a fool of yourself. Or one change in your daily routine leads you to think the day will be a disaster.
Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad, or black and white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or you're a total failure.
You can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. The process is simple, but it takes time and practice.
Throughout the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else.
Examples of typical negative self-talk and how you might apply a positive twist include:
Negative self-talk Positive spin
I've never done it before. It's an opportunity to learn something new.
It's too complicated. Let's look at it from a different angle.
I don't have the resources. Necessity is the mother of invention.
There's not enough time. Let's re-evaluate some priorities.
There's no way it will work. I can try to make it work.
I don't have the expertise. I'll find people who can help me.
It's good enough. There's always room for improvement.
It's too radical a change. Let's take a chance.
No one bothers to communicate with me. I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.
I'm not going to get any better at this. I'll give it one more try.
I'm never going to learn how to manage my stress. I'm going to try to learn how to manage my stress.
Practice makes perfect
If you tend to have a negative outlook, don't expect to become an optimist overnight. But eventually your self-talk will automatically contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance.
Practicing positive self-talk will improve your outlook. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you're able to handle everyday stress in a realistic and constructive way. That ability may contribute to the widely observed health benefits of being an optimist.
Last Updated: 06/21/2005
© 1998-2007 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).