The power of positive thinking has been well understood down the years. We can think ourselves into action and we can think ourselves out of action. The underlying principle here is “we are
what we think”.
Positive thinking takes the notion of we are what we think and transforms it into an approach that encourages ideas, words, and images into the mind that are conducive to performance, wellbeing, growth, and success. Everything we know, feel, and believe is based on our internal thoughts.
Positive thinking relies on two interrelated themes:
• Avoid negative or demeaning statements in your language or in your mind
• Adopt a positive approach in everything you do, say, or think.
You reinforce self-limiting beliefs every time they slip into your conversation or mind.
Unfortunately we are more often aware of the negative aspects of mindset than we are of the positive aspects. If we list everything we typically do in a busy day we might find that we have done say a
hundred different things. We might have even done some of them to an exceptional standard and received some form of recognition. We will also have come across a few problems and setbacks. That is the nature of life—it's full of ups and downs. At the end of the day, just before going to bed, if asked to recall the most significant moments in your day which are you more likely to remember? The hundred or so things that you handled perfectly well or the half dozen or so that didn't work out so well? For the vast majority it will be the latter.
Positive thinking (or its polar opposite—negative thinking) impacts upon:
• Control—both emotional control and life control (self-efficacy)
• Interpersonal confidence.
It requires experience and maturity to learn how to be more positive and deal with all the challenges that arise in life. Young people don't have that experience and rarely possess the maturity to see things positively as a default response to an adverse situation.
Positive thinking is also an approach that appears in almost all models of resilience, mindset and optimism. Dweck's “growth mindset” is essentially about building belief in one's ability to achieve anything. Seligman's “learned optimism” is very much about developing the ability to see the sunny side of things. In his 2012 book Flourish, he introduces an acronym PERMA which he claims represents the five building blocks of wellbeing and happiness:
• Positive emotions—feeling good about onself
• Engagement—being completely absorbed in activities
• Relationships—being authentically connected to others
• Meaning and purpose—purposeful existence
• Achievement—a sense of accomplishment and success.
Positive emotions or positive thinking is, according to Seligman, the cornerstone of this approach.
• So how can you change negative thought patterns and get young people to take a more positive view of their world? More formally, how can we prepare young people to:
See problems and difficulties as challenges rather than problems
• Confront mindsets which automatically default to “I can't do that”?
• Ultimately taker a positive view about life and all that it entails— even the difficult stuff.
We cannot remove hurdles, challenges, and create a world free from setbacks. At the same time we cannot just tell young people to be more positive, they need to be shown how to be positive.
There are now hundreds of tools and techniques which support the development of positive thinking. They appear within CBT, NLP, sports coaching, and positive psychology. We will describe a few for which there is some evidence here. They tend to fall into two broad groupings:
• Those that develop a positive mindset
• Those that turn negative thoughts into positive ones.