Neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, after surviving the Nazi concentration camps, wrote, “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.” Meaning, even under the most dire of circumstance, we can still choose how we think about something.
The use of positive affirmations has become increasingly popular; memes, posters and quotes with specific positive statements are everywhere on the Internet. People use these statements to change the way they think, turning negative thoughts into positive ones. Changing our thoughts can have a favorable impact on our quality of life.
Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging and a leading authority on the health and well-being of the older adult, couldn’t agree more. “Your attitude about aging can add years to your life,” he says.
Adding: “Past research has found that people with a positive perception of aging actually outlive negative thinkers by 7½ years. Positive thinkers achieve better health and cognitive capabilities, and they maintain independence longer than their negative counterparts.”
Our Thoughts Are Connected to Our Mood
We’re always thinking, and many times, whether we are fully conscious of it or not, our thoughts are negative. We’re stuck in traffic and running late, or standing impatiently in a long line at the grocery store; our thoughts are likely related to our annoyance.
Worse, we worry about life stressors: can we afford certain things; will we stay healthy; will people we love be safe; will we be safe. These thoughts circulate around our minds. Even when we’re not concentrating on them specifically, they often lurk in our subconscious ready to become our most prominent thought.
Our thoughts and mood are intimately connected. So when we’re loaded with negative thoughts, it can cause psychological distress, even depression and anxiety. It can also affect our physical health. Additionally, when we have negative thought processes, sometimes we can create the very thing we are most afraid of. This is called self-sabotage.
Take, for example, someone who fears being rejected. This person carries this idea around wherever he goes, whether he’s thinking about it in the moment or not. He interacts with people with the fundamental belief that he will ultimately not be liked. He then interacts in a way that puts people off: Maybe he’s overly careful, but then says the wrong thing; maybe he’s too abrasive; or perhaps he pushes people away (often, unconsciously) before they can push him away. This then reinforces his internal narrative: People don’t like me. I’m constantly being rejected. Using positive affirmations can help with this.
How to Use Positive Affirmations or Mantras
Sometimes we have to get out of our own way. This is something I believe we all need help with: eliminating self-created obstacles. This is where I believe positive mantras can be helpful as a daily practice. If we change the way we think about things, we can shift our attitude and ultimately our mood.
To use positive affirmations we should first identify what our negative thoughts are, and then reframe the thoughts into something more positive. This takes practice because we’re always pulled back toward our old way of thinking.
In the fear of rejection example above, reframing the internal narrative to a more positive one could look like this: I am confident with who I am. I am fearless of rejection. Writing down the new thoughts can be a helpful reinforcement. Some people find it useful to write and say the affirmations aloud, picking a specific time of day to do the exercise.
Although it can be helpful to use mantras written by someone else, it’s more valuable and effective to write your own. A quick Internet search will yield many links to popular mantras. These may be helpful, especially when looking for inspiration and motivation. But when you’re looking to change ingrained negative thoughts, creating your own statement of affirmation can resonate more deeply.
A Positive Outlook Makes Life Better
When we shift our attitude, we will see the world differently. Whatever it is you’re looking to change — whether it’s a large emotional obstacle or reducing the stress of daily life — having a positive outlook makes daily living not only easier, but more enjoyable. We may not have control over much of what happens to us, but as Frankl’s quote reflects, we do have control over our attitude. By affirming a positive outlook, we reinforce the possibility of seeing the world more optimistically, which impacts the quality of our day in a good way.