Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company once said, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” His meaning of his statement is as true today as it was in the early 1900s: when facing any particular challenge, your perspective influences the outcome. While a positive perspective can increase your determination to eat right, exercise and get a good night’s sleep, a negative one does the opposite. The first helps you reach your goals; the second creates a self-perpetuated cycle of failure. It can also wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.
Perspective, Emotions and Stress
Emotions—both positive and negative—have an indirect effect on every cell in your body thanks to neurotransmitters in your brain that trigger the release of chemicals. For example, when you experience fear, your body generates more than 1,400 chemical responses and 30 hormonal responses as a result.
Approach life with a negative perspective and you’ll experience stressful emotions including fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy and disappointment more often. The chemicals and hormones your body generates in response may cause health problems including insomnia, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, high blood pressure, weight gain and other symptoms of an unhealthy life.
On the other hand, a positive perspective reduces stress responses, effectively protecting your body and mind while promoting healthy living. Health benefits of a rosier outlook range from small bonuses, including greater resistance to the common cold, to big payoffs such as reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Nurturing a Healthier Perspective
If you’ve always found positivity to be ‘unrealistic,’ recognize that it does not mean ignoring life’s challenges or ‘sticking one’s head in the sand.’ It does mean approaching unpleasantness—big and small—in a more productive way. While you may still acknowledge the worst that can happen, you also anticipate the best. Consider these simple tips to improve your perspective and, as a result, your health.
- Become aware of self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of thoughts that run through your mind every day—thoughts of which you may not even consciously be aware. If you listen to yours and ascertain they’re primarily negative, make an effort to change. Start by refusing to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say aloud to someone else.
- Focus on the positive. Appreciate and enjoy what you have rather than worrying about what you don’t. Look for that metaphorical silver lining when things don’t go your way. Don’t waste precious time dwelling on what went wrong.
- Accept what you cannot change. Some things in life—like traffic, the weather and your boss—are beyond your control. While you cannot change these challenges, you can change your reaction to these them.
- Surround yourself with positive people. The people around you can influence your reaction to stressful events. Reduce your time spent with friends and acquaintances that regularly practice negativity. Seek out those who encourage you to go for your goals.
- Change your routine. If you’ve determined you’re stuck in a negativity cycle, change your routine. Something as simple as switching from cereal to eggs for breakfast, taking a new route to the office, or trying a new class at the gym, can alter your perspective.
- Pursue small steps. Whether you want to lose 100 pounds or cut back on sodium, small steps towards your goal are not only less intimidating but also more sustainable. With each success, you’ll find greater motivation to continue.