Your Thoughts Have the Power to Transform Your Health
Rebecca Robin, IIN Content Editor
What does it mean to have a positive mind-set?
A positive mind-set doesn’t have to look like a consistent happy-go-lucky attitude or permanent smile on your face. It’s the ability to face both the good and the bad head on, while doing your best to avoid a self-defeatist attitude in the process. Life is always going to present challenges, but the true test of resilience is when you find a way to reframe the negative self-talk that goes on in your mind. This mind-set shift can prevent you from allowing negative thoughts to control your emotions.
Our thinking and belief systems influence our emotions. Positive thinking leads to feeling positive emotions, such as love, joy, contentment, and curiosity, and when you work to defaulting to this positive thinking, you are more likely to tap into those positive emotions and healthier coping mechanisms to better manage tough days.
How a positive mind-set correlates to better health
The thoughts that course through your mind, as well as your self-talk, impact your health on a daily basis more than you may think. A “glass half-full” attitude can shift your mood in the moment, but it also has the power to influence long-term improvements to your overall health.
Think about it this way: You’ve found yourself discouraged with your current workout plan, which has caused your brain to think of a million reasons why you’ll never reach your goal weight or how you just aren’t cut out to live a healthy lifestyle. You begin to engage in negative self-talk, which only continues the vicious cycle of discouragement until you eventually give up on your workout plan.
Cultivating a positive belief system can help you dig to the root of your thoughts, especially the negative ones, to help you realize that the struggle you’re experiencing is the result of giving in to the negative self-talk in your mind. You can then identify the actual source of the problem – perhaps you haven’t had enough sleep or your body is dehydrated – and work on sustainable changes to stay optimistic and try again.
Let’s return to the scenario described above. You’re discouraged with your current workout plan because you haven’t seen results yet, and you’re feeling more fatigued than you thought you would. Instead of sticking with negative self-talk – “I’m not working hard enough” or “I’ll never reach my goals” – try addressing and then replacing these negative thoughts with positive ones – “I am working hard enough and I am doing the best I can right now” or “I will reach my goals; it will take time, patience, and perseverance.” By consciously engaging with your self-talk, you’ll train your mind to challenge those negative thoughts and eventually create a more positive mind-set in all areas of your life.
Beyond just creating an optimistic attitude toward your life and long-term overall health, science has shown that positive thinking may improve cardiovascular health, inflammation and stress responses, the immune system, and even genetic makeup!
Positive thinking can have an impact on four areas of your health:
- Heart Health
Lisa Yanek, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, led a study that determined that people who have a cheerier disposition are less likely to suffer from cardiac events. Yanek and her colleagues asked a group of siblings with early onset coronary artery diseases to rate their levels of cheerfulness, anxiety, energy, and overall life satisfaction.
In a 12-year follow-up, those who were at the highest risk for coronary artery disease had nearly a 50% reduction in risk (taking into account other factors, like age, smoking, and high blood pressure). Her research suggests that this reduction in risk for developing coronary artery disease was due to the mind-body interaction, as those who reported having less anxiety and a more positive mind-set have better coping mechanisms to combat higher stress levels that may spike cardiac events.
2. Stress and Inflammation
Stress takes a major toll on the whole body. One study found that the body reacts well to a diverse set of positive emotions, identifying 16 different healthy emotions that help the body fight inflammation. The study showed that a healthy mix of these emotions – like enthusiasm, interest, and contentment – can be the perfect mix to sustain your health on a consistent basis.
When you talk to yourself positively, you are simultaneously training yourself to cope with stressful situations more effectively. By keeping your stress and cortisol levels under control, you prevent inflammatory damage to the body, including chronic issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, which are all triggered by inflammation. To try this for yourself, integrate meditation or daily positive affirmations to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
3. Brain Health
Research has shown that the brain has an amazing adaptive quality of neuroplasticity, the ability to adapt and fine-tune its function in real time in response to external stimuli. The synapses in the brain are constantly synthesizing new information, responding to positive and negative thoughts to adapt and release appropriate hormones and chemicals. Happy, positive thoughts tell the brain to produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that creates feelings of well-being, calm, and focus. It also causes a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone, effectively reducing negative feelings of stress.
Positive thinking may also help your body deal with chronic conditions, like traumatic brain injury, stroke, or brain tumors. A Scottish study found that therapeutic exercises that integrated positive psychology were helpful as a rehabilitation method for people with brain injuries. These exercises encouraged patients to increase experiences of pleasure, engagement, and meaning, helping them reduce stress and recover more efficiently.
It’s well known that our genes are made up of predetermined DNA when we are born. However, according to Bruce Lipton, PhD, the cells in our body are affected by our thoughts, meaning our belief system determines how genes are expressed. Lipton believes that different genes are turned off and on according to the way our brain functions and responds to the world around us. This could mean that a person who has a genetic predisposition toward self-sabotage or addictive behaviors can consciously redirect the way this gene is expressed, if at all.
Whether we have a positive or negative mind-set, these thoughts have the power to alter our genetic code. Cells learn and evolve according to new experiences, creating perception proteins that can rewrite our genetic code. When we shift our consciousness to have a healthier belief system, we can change the course of our body’s health.
Learning to shift your mind-set
Making the shift to a positive mind-set is easier said than done. The process starts with acknowledging that you have the power to change the way your brain reacts and processes emotional information. This is a conscious choice that can start with something as simple as smiling more, which activates mood-boosting neural messages within the brain.
You can achieve a more positive mind-set by surrounding yourself with people and participating in experiences that inspire you to consciously seek more positivity in your life. This could look like carving out time to write in a gratitude journal or finding 20 minutes to take a breather with an outdoor jog. It may also look like seeking relationships with people who value their health and challenge you to think about the world in new ways and embrace change.
The IIN community has such people, striving to improve their health holistically and find passion and purpose in their lives. If you’re interested in learning more about how shifting your mind-set can help you transform your life and your health, check out IIN’s Superstar Graduates, some of our most successful community members who have created careers and lives they love!