Positive thinking is a key element to a successful athlete. Those who are positive are able to recover from failure without nagging guilt or self-blame. For example, if Michael Jordan missed a buzzer shot, he wasn’t fazed for long. He would be eager to make the same big plays the next night. Researcher Judy McDonald of the University of Ottawa stated, “People who are exceptional have developed that skill of positive thinking. It goes beyond confidence.”
So how is your glass now, after sports? Half empty, or half full? Some studies show that personality traits like optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of your health and well-being—not just success in athletic performance. Optimism and recognizing what you are grateful for actually releases chemicals in your brain that help you to be more healthy, at peace, and fulfilled in your life. Your beliefs and focus becomes your reality, and if positive, also enables the ability to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Below are some ways in which you can become more healthy through implementing positive thinking and reducing stress:
- Identify areas to change. Start small by focusing on one aspect of your life to approach in a more positive way. For example, your job, daily commute, or a relationship.
- Find resources. Find books or audio on teachings and focuses that resonate with you, perhaps from motivational speakers, business leaders, or spiritual teachers. Dedicate 20-30 minutes per day on feeding your mind with words of wisdom. Perhaps listen to audio during your commute, when you are getting ready in the morning, cooking, or even while you exercise. Reading a few pages when you have a break in the day or before bed is beneficial.
- Dedicate time each day to you. Spend 20-60 minutes per day engaging in healthful practices, such as working out, playing a sport, gardening, journaling, donating time to a good cause—whatever it is that makes you feel good.
- Use positive affirmations. By writing down carefully thought out statements and keeping them visible to you, perhaps on your mirror, in your journal, on the refrigerator, or somewhere else you refer to frequently, you can actually deeply embed them in your subconscious and thus it becomes ingrained in you. Read them out loud or rewrite them several times per day. An affirmation should be present tense, positive, personal, and specific. A good rule to remember is to not say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. For more information on how to write an affirmation, and for some examples, click here.
- Gratitude. Take a couple minutes at the end of the day to write down three things you are thankful for.
- Guided meditations. Meditation teaches the ability to more effectively handle distress and regulate emotions, and overall can improve coping skills. Through meditation, you can change the way you perceive and relate to a stressful situation, resulting in a less judgemental, non-evaluative stance, and therefore changing the way the information is processed in the brain. Perhaps find a meditation or yoga class in your area, or if you don’t have time for a full class, there are many short guided meditation videos online. For more information on the benefits of meditation, tips on how to manage stress, and relaxation records, click here.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Find a group to meet with once or twice per week that focuses on solutions and empowerment. This can be with a group of friends, but please note that these sessions should not be where you vent or complain. Perhaps find somewhere that leads you through meditation, a men’s/women’s focused group, or spiritual gathering. Meetup.com is a good place to start if you are unsure of what is available in your area.
- Limit your contact with media, especially before bed. Though it is important to know what is going on in the world, the news focuses on the negative. Many television shows are also not focused on empowerment. Some experts recommend that for a better night’s sleep, we should avoid checking their e-mail or watching late-night TV an hour before we head to bed. Checking email can especially lead to feelings of unfinished business and anxiety.
It takes years of repeating certain negative thoughts to chisel those neural pathways, so it will take work to mend any you may have. When your state of mind is generally optimistic, you’re better able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way, and ultimately contribute to your overall health.
Wilderson, Vanessa. 5 Habits to Reclaim Your Happiness by Transforming Negativity. Healing the Body. Nov. 24, 2014. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2014 from http://www.healingthebody.ca/5-habits-to-reclaim-your-happiness-by-transforming-negativity/.
Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-Talk to Reduce Stress. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Mar. 4, 2014. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950?pg=1.
Lee. Affirmation Class: Question and Answer Time. Bmindful. May 29, 2007. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2014 from http://bmindful.com/forum/thread/545/affirmation-class-question-and-answer-time.
Robbins, John & Robbins, Ocean. (Oct. 28, 2014). Session #1: Get Set Up for Success. Six Weeks to a Healthy Kitchen.
Pain Relief: Techniques for Pain Management and Pain Reduction. Inner Health Studio. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2014 from http://www.innerhealthstudio.com/pain-relief.html.
Dotinga, Randy. Using Electronics Before Bed May Hamper Sleep. HealthDay. Mar. 7, 2011. Retrieved Nov. 30, 2014 from http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/behavior-health-news-56/using-electronics-before-bed-may-hamper-sleep-650536.html.
The Power of Positive Thinking for Athletes in Sports and Bodybuilding. fitFLEX. Retrieved Dec. 21, 2014 from http://www.fitflex.com/positive-thinking.html.