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Not long after hearing wise words from his mother about the importance of attitude, an adolescent son struck back. As his mother rushed downstairs on her way to a function, she asked, “How do I look?” Her son smirked and replied, “Did you take as much time adjusting your attitude as you did getting dressed?” The cheeky son had a point. So much of life comes down to Attitude. A good attitude allows many to soar above difficulties; a bad one keeps them down — literally.
A Yale and Miami University study tracked the lives of people over 50 for 23 years and found that those who embraced the aging process lived an average 7.5 years longer than those who were pessimistic about getting older. Other studies reveal that optimists are not only less likely to die from heart disease, but if they do happen to develop it, recover considerably faster from coronary by-pass surgery than their negative counterparts.
Though there are no clear explanations for the health benefits a positive outlook brings, scientists believe there is a solid link between optimism and the immune system, providing it with the boost it needs to fight the pitfalls of aging and disease.
On the other hand, a study tracking the lives of 238 cancer patients revealed pessimism of participants under 60 posed a significant risk for mortality. Why? The study’s researchers think pessimism might impede the effectiveness of the endocrine and immune systems and suspect pessimistic patients are less likely to stick to their medical regime (i.e. patients who believe they are ‘doomed’ would see little point in treatment.)
Findings released in 2005 of a Mayo Clinic study also explored the link between a negative outlook and physical health. Participants who scored within the top 25 per cent for pessimistic thinking and anxiety were more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in later life. Even more striking: another Mayo Clinic report revealed those deemed ‘very pessimistic’ increased their risk of dementia by 30 per cent.
There is a bright side: negative thought and behaviour patterns can be changed.
Nourishing Your Inner Optimist
Dr. Martin Seligman believes how you respond to life events is more important than the event itself. His research shows that when bad things happen, pessimists tend to explain incidents in permanent, universal and personal terms while optimists focus on the temporary, specific and external aspects of the situation.
For example a pessimist who fails to get a promotion might say, “I’ll never move up (permanent). All bosses hate me (universal) and it’s my own fault (personal).”
As the research suggests, this kind of negative self-talk can not only chip away at your self-esteem, but also, over time, begin to take its toll on your immune system and physical health.
An optimist, on the other hand would describe the scene very differently: “I didn’t get the job this time (temporary) because my boss and I don’t really ‘click (specific).’ Besides, he’s looking for an administrator and I’m interested in sales (external).”
Listen to your internal tape carefully, especially during moments of letdown. If you’re personalizing events and making sweeping universal and permanent statements, take a moment to stop, breathe and challenge your thinking. Is it really true that all bosses hate you? What about the boss at your last job who gave you a glowing reference? Find the necessary evidence you need to prove the thought is incorrect and rephrase the words to sound as if they’re coming from the mind of an optimist.
If there’s some truth to what your inner pessimist is saying, the key is to limit its impact. It may be true that you’re not great at keeping your office space organized, but what real impact does this have on your job? Especially since you’re so good with people and always get tasks done on time. By putting faults into perspective you’ll avoid the slippery slope of pessimism: one that creates catastrophe out of insignificant events or details and can wreak havoc on your health. Breaking thought patterns you’ve been using for a lifetime takes time, practice, and perseverance but through better self-understanding and a little effort, you’ll perk up your mind, body and life with a healthy dose of optimism.
Most people carry on a silent conversation with themselves during much of the day. This “self-talk” has a direct effect on your thoughts and behaviour. Understanding self-talk and its effects on you can help you learn to rewrite your own self-talk “script” and maintain a positive mental attitude.
Positive or Negative
You’ve probably heard the term “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Self-talk is very much like a self-fulfilling prophecy–something you think about so much you can actually make it happen. When your self-talk is positive–“things will work out,” “I know I can do the job”– you are giving yourself permission to succeed, and chances are, you will. When your self-talk is negative–“I know I’ll have a terrible time, “I’m not good enough to be a supervisor”–you’re giving up on yourself and chances are you won’t even try to succeed. Often your self-talk reflects the values and behaviors you learned as a child, and the self-esteem you now have as an adult.
Thoughts and Behaviors
Self-talk can direct your thoughts and behaviors. If you think, “I know I can do the job,” you’ll be more willing to apply. During the interview, you’ll be more likely to exhibit confidence in yourself and your abilities, and have a better chance at success. But if you say to yourself, “I’ll never get hired for the position,” you may not even apply, guaranteeing that you won’t get the job.
Physical and Mental Effects
Negative self-talk can increase your distress, and can make effects such as headaches or stomach pain much worse. It can also encourage you to behave in self-destructive ways that further distress your body. (“No one cares, so why shouldn’t I have another drink?”) Fortunately, positive self-talk can have the opposite effect, leading to a confident, positive attitude.
Rewrite Your Script
Learn to listen to your own self-talk. Note your automatic response to ideas. For example: your professor gives you a new, difficult assignment. You think, “I can’t do this. It’s too difficult. I don’t know how to do this job.” Rewrite your mental script in a positive way. You could say to yourself, “Look at the challenge. This assignment, regardless of how difficult it may seem, gives me an opportunity to learn new skills. I don’t have to do it perfectly.” Practice choosing positive self-talk. You’ll feel happier and more confident.
The presentation Mental Health for Life includes how attitude affects our mental health.
Excerpts from http://www4.nau.edu/fronske/brochures/posthink.html Copyright, Parley International, 1990