A positive attitude has a powerful effect on both the brain and the body.
Research shows that positive thinking can
- Improve your immune system
- Help you cope better with stress
- Make you more resilient
- Help you live longer
In fact, the impact of a positive attitude has far-reaching consequences for us as we age. And in the near term, it helps us deal with the inevitable bumps along the way.
One of the biggest bumps that has come our way has been the COVID-19 pandemic. A big wrench has been thrown into our collective consciousness, so perhaps more than ever it is important to work on our attitude.
The Power of a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is a powerful thing. But what is a positive attitude? Sometimes it is easier to see what something is by identifying what it is not. A positive attitude is not sticking your head in the sand. It is not blind faith that everything will work out without any effort being required. A positive attitude usually focuses on what can be achieved or at least attempted. It is not a refusal to face problems, but rather a belief that problems can be overcome.
Individuals with a positive attitude either find a way or make a way. They seem to have more resources to call on then individuals without a positive attitude. This effect, identified in the scientific literature, is cognitive broadening.
Building Resources Through Cognitive Broadening
Cognitive broadening refers to the range of personal resources built through the body and brain’s experience of positive emotions. Those personal resources include physical, social, intellectual, and psychological resources. A positive outlook has a wide-reaching impact on both the body and the brain.
It takes time to build physical skills. If we are a couch potato, we don’t go out and run a marathon the following week. We don’t become fantastic athletes overnight. In fact, we may never become a fantastic athlete, but we master enough of the sport to make the game enjoyable.
A positive attitude helps us take on new challenges and learn new skills. Learning a new sport or skill takes time and effort. A negative attitude makes it easy to give up at the first unsuccessful attempt. And since there are lots of failures in any new project, giving up makes it difficult to master a new skill. A positive attitude helps you persevere.
As we get older, our embarrassment at not mastering a physical skill can stop us in our tracks. This is where a sense of humour and a bit of humility can go a long way. Set reasonable goals and be patient with your body as it adapts and learns. This can make a big difference.
And the rewards are worth it.
We know that physical activity has a positive effect on overall health. Do not let initial difficulties deter you. Keep at it until you have achieved sufficient mastery. Then comes enjoyment and the likelihood that you will continue with that activity.
Different physical activities work different parts of your brain. Enjoyment of those physical activities produce positive emotions. As well, exercise reduces negative stress. Thus, you achieve cognitive broadening.
A positive, open outlook on life helps us build friendships. Friendships are an important social support network. And positive social networks reduce depression and increase longevity.
Individuals with a positive outlook are easier to be around. While those with a negative attitude create a negative atmosphere. By driving people away, a negative attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the individual is left with fewer social resources.
A pessimistic attitude creates a tendency to focus on the negative. And focusing on the negative tends to make that area grow. One of my friends referred to this as feeding the black dog. Whichever dog you feed – either the positive one or the negative one – is the one that is going to grow.
Focusing on the negative can also create social isolation. And social isolation can lead to depression and cognitive decline.
Positive emotions also have an impact on the growth of intellectual resources.
Building an expert knowledge base requires a willingness to tackle complex ideas. And to build that expert knowledge base, we need to believe that we have the capacity to do so.
Setting ourselves intellectual goals is important. One goal that can make a difference is improving reading speed. As well, having a list of books to read in different areas broadens our intellectual horizons.
Learning new material can also foster a sense of wonder and curiosity. An attitude of openness to new experiences and learning increases our intellectual resources.
A positive outlook creates psychological resources to call on in times of stress. Those resources include resilience, optimism, and creativity. These psychological resources have a multiplier effect on other areas of your health.
The Nun Study illustrates the multiplier effect. The Nun Study was a study of almost 700 nuns over 30 years. A comparison between nuns who exhibited positive versus pessimistic outlooks had interesting results. The study found that nuns who had a positive attitude lived on average 10 years longer. They also aged better with less cognitive decline.
The personal resources we gain through positive emotions are durable. They stay with us through our lifetime and create resilience. Positive emotions thus, are a key driver in the building of cognitive resilience.
So how can you create a positive attitude?
If you were born an Eeyore, don’t despair. Creating and maintain a positive attitude can be a learned trait.
Here are four ways to increase your ability to be a positive thinker:
- Check-in with yourself throughout the day. Analyze how you are thinking – is it positive or negative? Reframe your way of looking at the situation to be positive.
- Find the funny in situations. Seek out and surround yourself with humour. Read a funny book, watch a funny movie, enjoy laughter with a friend.
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Practice positive self-talk. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to another human being.
The Gift You Give Yourself
Creating and maintaining a positive attitude is a gift you can give yourself. Decide to create a positive framework for viewing the world. This creates more resources for yourself. And those resources are life-long with benefits you will continue to reap.
Consider A Cognitive Coach
If you are suffering from a cognitive impairment, it is very easy to fall into negative self-talk. A cognitive impairment elevates levels of frustration, anxiety, and anger. Cognitive coaching can make such a difference to an individuals’ outlook.
Fit Minds provides cognitive stimulation therapy through our Cognitive Coaching program. Individuals who take part in our programs report improved mood and positive outlook.
It is common to have a lot of negative self- talk going on inside of their head. When you are experiencing a real loss of ability, the usual response is to withdraw. This withdrawal reinforces social isolation. It also reinforces the view that you are no longer able to do things.
With cognitive coaching the focus is on working on what is achievable. Challenging but not frustrating your brain is the work of a cognitive coach. Cognitive Coaches help you start to re-engage with the people in your life. Communication improves. This leads to a significant improvement in quality of life.
Reach out to a coach today.