Health & Medical Health & Medical

How To Develop The Positive Thinking Habit

In page 1 of this feature, we discussed how negative thinking and
cognitive distortions can impact your stress level. Here's a continuation of how to develop a more positive way of thinking, reducing stress in the process.

Cut Down On The ‘Shoulds’

As I was studying to become a therapist, I once heard a colleague tell a client, "Stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself." It was a cute way of helping the client notice how often she said the word ‘should’ when making plans. What’s the problem with the word ‘should’, you may ask? It’s another confining word that implies that there’s one way that things need to be done, and usually it’s a way mandated by someone else that doesn’t necessarily fit for your situation. The truth is, we do things because we

want to (usually, but not always, because we have valid reasons for wanting to), and if our self talk reflects this, it usually feels much nicer. “I should call my friend” sounds and feels better as, “I’d like to call my friend”. And if this is not a true statement, you might reconsider the action.

Actively Focus on the Positive

Often people place an inordinate level of focus on the negative, discount the positive, or fail to see the positive altogether. This leads to a world view that can seem overwhelming, and problems that feel insurmountable. When you place a focus on the positive aspects of a situation, and make peace with the negative, the situation becomes less stressful. If people are rude to you done day, go out of your way to notice the people who are neutral or polite. If things just seem to be going wrong one after another, make an effort to notice and appreciate what does go smoothly.
Along these lines, many people find that keeping a gratitude journal -- a daily log of things for which they are grateful -- is immensely helpful in that it not only supplies a list of blessings to look over, but it trains the mind to notice these blessings throughout the day, and it affects their whole experience of stress.

Stay In The Here And Now

When dealing with a problem, try focusing on what’s happening right now, without projecting into the future or dredging up the past; it keeps you dealing with what’s going on now. For example, interpersonal conflicts are often complicated by past grievances, and when people focus on not only what’s happening now, but on all the previous times they’ve been angry at each other, and project into the future that things will never change, their anger and frustration sharply escalates.
Try to stay in the present, the specific problem, and finding a solution that works. This can effectively help you deal with a variety of stressors without becoming as overwhelmed. (For more, also see this article on communication skills.)

Again, if you’re dealing with a more severe form of stress or a clinical disorder, you’ll see the best results with a trained therapist. However, these techniques for cognitive restructuring can be helpful in changing negative thought patterns to relieve daily stress; with practice, you may see a significantly positive change in outlook, and a decrease in your experience of stress.


Burns, David, M.D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Avon Books:New York, NY, 1992.

Fava GA, Ruini C, Rafanelli C, Finos L, Conti S, Grandi S. Six-Year Outcome of Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Prevention of Recurrent Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry. October 2004.

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