There are many things around us that influence the way we feel and ultimately influence our behaviour—it may be something on television, something someone has said, even the way in which something is said or just “something in the air.” Identify the positive things in your life and put more time into them or add new things you enjoy to the list. Identify the negative things in your life and reduce these or the amount of time and effort put into them.
Media has a powerful effect on all of us and can be incredibly negative. Seeing violence on the news and in the movies reinforces negative states of mind. Our ancestral mind was not designed to see destruction and devastation every night of the week. Most of the media, the news and the current affairs programs work on approximately one positive program to nine negative ones because they know that negative stories sell. This daily barrage influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Even worse, imagine the powerful impact such reporting has on the developing minds of our children.
For weeks after 9/11, adults and kids walked around in a zombie-like way, not because of the gravity of the situation—thousands of people die every day in equally ghastly or even worse situations. What made 9/11 worse was that the media repeated the scenes over and over and over again, hundreds of times and each time our spirits sank a little lower. Watching this type of coverage, the thinking mind exposes us to a constant bombardment of more negative news.
The more negative things we bring into our lives, the more negative we feel and the less control we have. In a study on the link between mood and perception, people were shown ambiguous drawings. Their mood would determine whether they would consider the drawing to be happy or sad. The pictures did not change, but people’s interpretations did. When they were feeling good they saw the pictures more positively and would identify more with the people they interpreted as being positive. When shown the same faces, children who had been abused reported more faces showing anger or fear compared to children who hadn’t been abused.
In another study, in which adults were asked to recall their childhood memories after watching videos, sad videos prompted them to recall more sad memories. Happy videos caused them to recall happier times. Similarly, research on attitudes has shown that if people focus on negative memories or negative words, or phrases or facial expressions that make them frown, they are more likely to continue feeling negative. Put simply, by focusing on negative images and words such as “I can’t,” “I don’t,” and “I won’t,” you become more negative. The opposite is also true and by using positive words and expressions you can lift yourself into a positive frame of mind.
One study asked people to read aloud many sentences containing words that cause the lips to purse together with the sound “oo,” which mimics a frowning facial expression. These people registered greater dislike for what they read compared to people who read similar stories but without the scowling facial expressions. Our own facial expressions can influence how we feel and, in turn, influence our perceptions. So smile! It’s good for you!
Find positive people, places, programs and pictures and surround yourself with them rather than the negative images on which our society seems to thrive. Illness past the age of 70 is correlated with thoughts individuals had during their younger years. More illness is associated with negative thoughts and better health with positive thoughts.
Becoming more positive
You can change your conditioning through developing a positive attitude. This doesn’t mean you have to become super-optimist; you just need to recognise and chip away at self-limiting conditioning. The benefits of being optimistic include:
A willingness to meet new challenges and take risks