By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple ideas that you can use to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing every day, based on quality research.
This is Episode 90 and this week I’m talking about positivity. In this episode I’ll cover what positivity is (and what it isn’t), why realistic positivity is a part of good mental health, and how to embrace positivity in a healthy way. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 28 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m talking about setting healthy boundaries with family for better mental health.
Watch it below or visit the channel on YouTube:
This podcast episode was originally released on 1 August, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 90, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week is all about positivity — and specifically, how to be more positive in a realistic and healthy way. It’s another topic that was requested by a listener a while ago and I think it’s one of those things where often we might want to be more positive (again, in a healthy way — which I’ll talk about shortly) but wanting to be more positive and knowing where to start and what to do are often two very different things! So while I cannot magically turn you into a super-duper positivity machine overnight, I am absolutely going to share lots of advice with you that you can put into practice immediately and apply to your life every single day.
Before I begin with today’s content, I’m continuing to put out videos every Wednesday on YouTube and IGTV with Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV and this week I’m talking about setting healthy boundaries with family, which is a topic most (if not all) of us can relate to! If you like the content I share here on the podcast then you’ll find this weekly video helpful as well, and please bear in mind that the content I cover there is completely different to what I talk about here… so if you’re not watching, you are definitely missing out on lots more practical and simple advice for better mental health every week! Watch it now on YouTube or IGTV, or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you’ll see it on the front page and under the ‘YouTube’ tab (plus it’s also linked in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on).
So, with that covered, on with this week’s episode about positivity…
In the mid 1980’s, Katrina and the Waves declared that she (and presumably all of the previously-mentioned Waves as well) were walking on sunshine… walking on sunshine… and it’s starting to feel good… hey! And no wonder, because more than 35 years later that little number still earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (if not more) in licensing fees for advertising usage, but enough about the nuances of old music and capitalism. My point is that this relentlessly-positive song, which is actually all about new love, is a song that describes a sensation that I hope we’ve all been able to relate to at some point in our lives: that feeling of practically beaming with positive energy, regardless of how or why it may come about. The thing is that being positive doesn’t mean that you’re going to feel like that 100% of the time, because it’s physically and mentally impossible to feel happy all of the time as our moods ebb and flow depending on what’s happening internally and externally… but the thing with positivity is that it’s a state of mind, and it’s one that can help you to navigate challenging times in a more mindful and optimistic way.
So let’s begin with some definitions…
What is positivity (and what it isn’t)?
And positive thinking is about being hopeful, confident, upbeat, forward-looking, constructive and practical. What it’s not is about only focusing on the positive; I mean, I get the appeal of the whole ‘good vibes only’ thing you see on Instagram, but unlike life on the ’Gram, real life is not a highly curated and perfect-looking assortment of experiences — real life is messy, it’s complicated, it very frequently tests your limits and pushes your boundaries, and often it involves having to find ways to navigate around other people who are either inconsiderate or completely self-absorbed (or both).
Positive thinking is closely related to optimism (which I explored at length back in Episode 47 of the podcast) however while optimism tends to be about how you view the future (as mostly turning out for the best, rather than being a steaming pile of horse manure that most pessimists predict it is), positive thinking is very much about the here and now. It’s about looking around at where you are now in life and seeing all the good things, while also recognising and acknowledging the not-so-good things and being able to make your peace with them… because here’s the reality: you cannot change what has happened to get you to this point in life, but you can most certainly make changes now which will then redirect the course you take in the future. So even if you are currently standing knee-deep in that pile of horse droppings I mentioned before — and I sincerely apologise for the visual picture that I’ve just created there — the thing is that by looking for and focusing on the positive, you can identify a path out of that pile of crap.
So how do you know the difference between positive thinking and negative thinking? Well, honestly, you know. I’m quite sure that every single one of us knows when we’re in that negative headspace — you know, the one where everything feels just too difficult so what’s the point anyway — and so if we can recognise that, then we can observe it when it’s happening and choose to step back and refocus our thoughts on the positive (something I talked about in the self-awareness episode which was Episode 62 — you can find audio and transcripts for all past episode for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au).
Negative thinking tends to come with a lot of negatively-focused behaviours, both internally and externally, such as:
- being highly critical of others
- being highly critical of yourself
- preferring to assign blame rather than looking inward at your part in whatever has happened and accepting responsibility
- dwelling on bad news
- taking things that other people do and say as a personal attack
- always expecting — and even looking for — the worst
- being drawn to drama
- seeing yourself as a victim
Think about those eight examples I just gave. That’s not a particularly pleasant or enjoyable way to live life, is it? And beyond that, negative thinking can be damaging to your physical and mental health: increased stress levels for a prolonged period of time can damage your internal organs and cause a range of physical and mental symptoms including digestive issues, frequent headaches, disordered eating, and more. And taking that further, negative thinking and behaviour patterns can have a damaging effect on your relationships with family and friends, not to mention your partner if you’re attached, because it can be draining and exhausting for other people as well as for you.
Which leads to the next part of today’s conversation…
Why is realistic positivity part of good mental health?
And I could probably just sit here and say, “because it’s the opposite of all those negative things that I just talked about!” but I won’t, because I like to make sure I share as much quality information with you as possible… but it is the opposite of that stuff! So here goes: a 2019 study found that there are many benefits of optimism and positivity — and I quote…
“Our results further suggest that optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond… independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, and alcohol use)…”(source: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/37/18357)
And the link for that article can be found in the transcript on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health website. So, while that study focuses on the health benefits of optimism (and hey, if it can extend your life, fantastic!), positive thinking is a key component of an optimistic outlook on life, and in fact that same article defines optimism as “the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be [favourable] because one can control important outcomes.” The main point here is that it’s all a matter of your perspective (positive thinking is about looking for and being positive in the here and now, optimism is about having an inclination towards hope and positivity for the future).
I’ve said in previous episodes that whether you look for the negative or the positive, what you seek is what you will find… and I’ve said that because it’s a way of explaining a psychological term called cognitive bias, which is our tendency to pay more attention to things that confirm our existing beliefs. It’s quite funny that we humans are often so resistant to change and growth, because we’re fortunate to have self-awareness and the ability to grow on an intellectual and emotional level, yet so often we fight against that with every fibre of our being. But the fact of the matter is that if you want to grow, you have to push yourself beyond your existing thought patterns and beliefs — because if nothing changes, then nothing changes.
How do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode!
How to embrace positivity in a healthy way
So the how-to this week is full of a lot of tips and ideas, so I’m going to whip through them because there’s a lot to cover (I might have gotten a little bit carried away!). I’m going to give you a few fundamentals to really work on, and then lots of specific ideas that you can pick and choose in accordance with what feels most comfortable to you.
OK, so the first general principle (if you like) is…
Decide on who you want to be and why — if you want to be a positive person, that begins with choosing to be one and clearly understanding why you are making that choice. Are you sick of feeling negative and down about things? Harness that and use it as the driving force behind your efforts to be more positive. Understand your ‘why’ and remind yourself of it every single day, because it will help you to stay motivated and on-track.
Actively look for the good things in life — when you make a conscious choice to look for the good, in spite of whatever might be going on around you or in the world in general, you begin to see more and more to feel positive about. My favourite thing to do when I’m feeling a bit low is to sit and watch my cat for a couple of minutes (because his cuteness levels are turned up to 11 as a standard on everything he does) or, if I really want that extra bonus amount of ‘cute time’ or feeling good, I spend a few minutes playing fetch with him (seriously, he thinks he’s a dog and he loves to run after scrunched-up paper then brings it back to me, drops it at my feet so I’ll throw it again… so, you know, we play fetch for a few minutes). And when you see those types of happy and joyful moments, it can be a circuit-breaker that helps you to refocus on the positive. Next…
When bad or upsetting things happen, view them in isolation — and what I mean by this is that when that type of stuff is going on, it can be easy to default into thinking things like, “the whole world is a dumpster fire” or “I never get anything right”, and if you go down that path of thinking what you’re doing is taking one specific event or situation and zooming in on it as though it were the be-all and end-all of life, which it just is not. At the same time that difficult stuff is going on, good things are also happening… because life isn’t just one thing or another, and situations are rarely ever just black or white; there are a million different colours and shades in between and all exist simultaneously, so remind yourself that the challenges you’re dealing with or thinking about are just one of those infinite shades, and not the entire world. It helps you to put things into context and step back from the situation in a more objective way.
Manage your self talk — the way you think about yourself and how you talk to yourself matters, because it shapes your reality and creates your future. In the words of Lao-Tzu;
So, I talked about self talk back in Episode 9, and I recommend checking that out for a much more detailed look at improving your self talk. The next principle to consider is…
Choose what you consume — and by this I mean what you consume physically, mentally and spiritually. What goes in creates your reality so regular trash food will make you feel like trash physically and mentally, just like watching or reading or listening to trash affects your mental health. My next door neighbour was working out in his garden the other day and had the radio on quite loud, and it was talkback radio in the middle of the day so, you know, a lot of bored people with too much time on their hands who were ready and willing to complain about anything and everything, and it got to the point where I could still hear it with all the windows and doors closed so I had to put on headphones to drown it out, because all I could think was “why are these people so angry about everything?!” — and, frankly, I don’t need that type of juju in my life. It’s the same for spirituality; I’ve talked about this before and it doesn’t have to mean religious beliefs (but if that’s what feels right to you, go for it), but what I mean here is having a sense of something more than just yourself. When we only focus on our own wants and needs, it disconnects us from the wider world and the enormous universe that we just happen to occupy a tiny fraction of a percentage of; and when you consider the sheer scale of the universe, you begin to realise that many of the things that annoy us or upset us each day are actually pretty insignificant, which makes them easier to let go of. Next…
Be conscious of who you spend your time with — there’s a thing I read somewhere a while ago that claimed you are the product of the 5-10 people you spend the most time with, which may or may not be the case, but those relationships absolutely do have a big impact on you. If you’re around negative people all the time, it can be challenging not to be dragged into that kind of thinking and behaving as well… whereas the opposite is true when it comes to being around positive people, because positive energy creates more positive energy, so choose who you spend time with carefully.
OK, so now I’m going to share a whole bunch of general ideas for being more positive — pick the ones that feel right to you and give them a go, and feel free to come back and try others once you’ve spent a few weeks embedding your initial choices (remember you can always find the transcript at the Let’s Talk About Mental Health website). So, let’s start with:
If/when a negative thought occurs, challenge it with a positive one — this is pretty straightforward in the sense that you are choosing to be more conscious and self-aware if and when those negative thoughts pop in, and then if you challenge that with a positive counterpoint it can jolt you out of that negativity. For example, if you default to thinking “urgh, this is too hard” then challenge that with, “actually, this is an opportunity”.
Find someone to focus on positivity with — it’s a great way of keeping one another focused; my partner and I do this sometimes, where one of us might be getting annoyed about something or complaining and the other will say, “OK, so now let’s look at the positive” or something similar. Having someone to bounce things off and support you (and vice versa) is really helpful. Speaking of complaining, my next point is…
Stop complaining or gossiping — I am not even going to try and explain or sugarcoat this one; complaining and gossiping are negative and that’s the end of the sentence. If you want to be more positive, don’t do those things.
Practice self care — do you know who likes to feel good about themselves? You do. Do you know who has the power to make you feel good about yourself? You do! Make time every single day for healthy self care and treat it as a priority, because when you feel good about yourself you tend to be more positive. Self care is much more than bubble baths and a chocolate chip cookie; check out Episode 6 of the podcast for a more detailed look at how to practice healthy self care. Speaking of, my next point is…
Regular exercise — and I’m saying this because exercise increases your mood, and a good mood leads to greater positivity. I’m pretty sure I’ve used this before, but as Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands… they just don’t.” Do with that quote what you will… but, exercise makes you feel good! The next point is…
Gratitude practice — I talk about this one nearly every single episode and the reason why is because when you’re grateful for what you do have in your life, you are less focused on the stuff you don’t (and less prone to fear of missing out or trying to compete with other people). I talked about gratitude at length in Episode 46 of the podcast, so check that out. My next point is…
Use a ‘parking lot’ for issues — I often recommend this to clients when I’m working one-on-one; when you’re feeling overwhelmed by challenges and issues, write them down and then put it away and come back to it in a few hours or, even better, a few days; often you’ll see that the things you were dwelling on are less important than what you initially thought they were, because the emotions will have simmered down a little by then. This is a great technique as well if your mind is racing before bed — write it all down and commit to review it in the morning (but not until after you’ve had your breakfast and actually started your day). Things often look much less worrisome by the light of morning. Next…
Address issues and obstacles — we’re always going to have some issues that need to be dealt with, so rather than letting them pile up or pretending they don’t exist, deal with them; break things down into small steps and make a little progress each day, even if it’s just a few minutes. Any progress, big or small, is progress. Next…
Start every day by choosing to focus on the positive — what you focus on is what you focus on, and in addition to gratitude practice you may find making a conscious choice to focus on the positive to be a good way to kick-start your mindset every day. Sure, at first you might need to be making that choice a few times each day, or more, but eventually it will become second-nature. Commit to positive thinking and make the effort every single day.
Choose who you spend your time with — similar to what I said earlier (but a lot blunter this time!), distance yourself from people who don’t respect or support your focus on being more positive. Which kind of leads into my next point…
Walk away from drama — what’s more important, being caught up in the drama with other people or having peace of mind? Because you cannot have both. And while we’re at it, choose not to create drama of your own. Life is so much more enjoyable when you don’t have to deal with drama. Next (and on a sort-of related note)…
Live your life for you and focus on your own backyard — your life is yours to live, and if you’re someone who behaves in a way that is kind and that does no harm, to hell with what others think. And that also extends to focusing on your own business and not getting involved in what others do; their life is theirs to live as they choose, and if they aren’t harming anyone just let them be. Focus on your own backyard — focus on your own business. Next…
Have a clear sense of purpose in all that you choose to do — when you know who you are and why you’re doing the things you do, you can live a life that feels more purposeful and meaningful (and also it’s easier to let go of the crap that really doesn’t matter). I talked about priorities all the way back in Episode 3, so check that out for more on the subject. Next…
Limit your news media intake — if you spend a huge amount of time reading, listening to or watching the news, you are going to get bombarded with a massive amount of negativity and less-than-constructive opinions. Sadly, it appears that positive news gets way less viewers than the sensationalised negative stuff — and news outlets know that, so they will bombard you with all the doom and gloom that they can possibly find (and some of them will even manufacture drama to try and keep viewers engaged). Get your news from impartial and reliable sources, and limit it to once or twice a day at most. And then my final suggestion is…
Get support — if you’ve tried lots of different things and still struggle with negative thoughts, get support from a therapist or counsellor who can help you to work through the underlying reasons why and who can also guide you and identify potential approaches that may work for you. It takes time and a lot of effort, but it absolutely can help you to refocus your thinking.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to positivity and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Sometimes in life we have to deal with stuff that isn’t particularly great, but that doesn’t mean that life is a total dumpster fire. In fact, there is so much in life to be positive about and grateful for — loved ones, nature, the nearly infinite possibilities just waiting to be explored by each of us every day — so choose to focus more on the positive while being realistic about your expectations, and accepting that life is not always going to be rainbows and unicorns 100% of the time because, well, shit happens — and that’s OK.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the Buddha, and it is:
“Mind is everything; we become what we think.”Buddha
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about triggers. This is a topic that comes up a lot, and sometimes triggers can be used as a weapon on social media and in society, but there is a massive difference between being triggered because you don’t like something versus actually experiencing triggers. Genuine triggers are important to analyse and understand, because they provide us with clues about work that we might need to do to help ourselves to heal from situations and events in our past. So in the next episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health I’ll be talking about what triggers are, why understanding your triggers matters for your mental health, and how to manage your triggers in a healthy way.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 8th of August. And on Wednesday, catch the latest episode Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube or IGTV.
You’ll find all podcast episodes and videos at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au along with free transcripts, and if you join my mailing list you’ll have the transcript plus my weekly newsletter full of simple ideas for better mental health land in your inbox every Thursday, completely free. You’ll also find the link in the description of this episode on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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