ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Health»
  • Personal Health Information & Self-Help»
  • Mentally & Emotionally Balanced Living

Can We Change How We Think? Learn to Choose Positive Thoughts More Often.

Updated on February 19, 2018
annerivendell profile image

Anne has a BSc in Applied Psychology and has qualifications in counselling CBT & mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Our thoughts influence our emotions
Our thoughts influence our emotions | Source

Three ways we CAN change how we think

What is it?
Where can I find more info
Not ONLY a meditation technique but also a way of life. It's staying with the present moment more often rather than needlessly worrying about the future or fretting about the past
Free guided meditation with this Hub
Use Positive Psychology
We CAN make a conscious effort to react with positive emotions. This not only has a corresponding positive effect intellectually and socially, but it also improves physical health as well.
Follow this link to a book written by Positive Psychology Guru, Barbara Fredrickson:
Change the way you THINK
You can CHOOSE your thoughts
"We'll laugh about it later"
"We'll laugh about it later" | Source

What determines our emotions?

  • Our thoughts and reactions to everyday events are what determine our emotions.

  • Most of us have a constant inner dialogue which determines our thoughts regarding what goes on around us. If we have mostly negative thoughts then our emotions will be mostly negative. The same is true of positive thoughts.

  • But we do get to choose, and with some practice we can learn to choose positive thoughts more often.

  • For example, someone you know walks by you in the street without saying hello. You may think: They’re ignoring me! Obviously they don’t like me. Maybe I did something to offend them. I wonder what it was? Such negative thoughts actually cause your body to tense and can make you feel anxious or even depressed.

  • On the other hand, you may just think: They must be so deep in thought, they didn't even see me. I’ll laugh with them about it later.

Guided Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation

Many people have found that mindfulness meditation helps to lessen the negative thoughts.

Mindfulness means staying in the present moment, and mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment for 20 minutes or so.

We focus on the present moment by paying attention to our breath, our body or our surroundings. When we're in the present moment, we are not worrying about the future or fretting about the past.

Try the free guided Mindfulness Meditation

Positive Pyschology

In 1998, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina and researcher into Positive Psychology, wrote the article, What good are Positive Emotions? [1] In it she argued that emotions such as love, contentment, joy and interest broaden what she calls the “thought-action repertoire”

When an individual is confronted with a situation, they think and act in a way that has been conditioned over time. However, many get ‘stuck’ with the same or similar negative reactions, such as the example above.

Fredickson proposed that we can make a conscious effort to react with positive emotions. This not only has a corresponding positive effect intellectually and socially, but it also improves physical health as well.

And the benefits are not just in the moment, but have a lasting effect. Frederickson referred to this theory as the Broaden and Build Theory. [2]

Fredickson expanded on the Broaden and Build Theory further She proposed that this lasting positive effect of positive emotions outweigh any negative effect of negative emotions and that this has wider implications for the future well-being of the individual. She further proposed that positive emotions are essential for positive personal growth.

Barbara Frederickson also works with U.S Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CFS) program. This involves educating soldiers about emotions and emotion regulation, which benefits both the individual soldier and those around him or her. [3]

Cultivate Positive Thoughts

If you can cultivate a habit of self-generating positive emotions with positive thoughts, then this can result in a more open outlook, which in turn generates more positive emotions, resulting in more openness, and so on, thus improving well-being. [4]

People who can consciously generate positive emotions with positive thoughts have been shown to recover faster and have less lasting effects from traumatic events. [5]

Many negative or irrational thoughts come from a feeling that things are being done to you. But the world goes on, things and events happen whether you are there or not. It’s your reaction to those things and events that makes the difference. If your inner dialogue is unrealistic or irrational, then you thoughts and emotions will be negative. But we can change the habit of negativity with some training.

Changing the way we think

These six guidelines for changing the way we think are adapted from David Goodman’s Emotional Well-Being Through Rational Behavior Training.

1. Nothing is being done to me. I choose the thoughts that are making me feel anxious or afraid.

2. Things are the way they are. I may wish them to be otherwise, but there is no “should”. How I react to how things are is what makes the difference.

3. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m no different from anybody else. I’m not bad or stupid or worthless because I made a wrong decision or behaved in a way that others see as inappropriate, or whatever the mistake was. How I think about it is what really matters.

4. All conflicts have more than one party involved. It’s never all the fault of one or the other. How others react and how I react is what makes the difference.

5. Looking back and constantly going over the cause of the hurt or the negative thoughts or emotions is fruitless. Moving on and looking forward is a more positive way to go.

6. The events around me are not what cause the emotions, it’s how I react to and think about them that causes the emotions.


But negative emotions should not be eliminated altogether.

In fact, a ratio of 3:1, that is, three positive emotions to one negative emotion per day, results in optimum benefit.[6] This does depend on the negative emotion. For example, shame is a powerful emotion and can have a stronger negative effect than guilt. This is because shame involves the person as a whole, whereas guilt involves the action.

But clearly, if the ration is 3:1, then negative emotions have a stronger effect on us than positive emotions, so it really is worth trying to change balance in favour of positive.


[1]Fredickson, B.L., (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-31

[2] Fredickson, B.L., (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden and build theory of positive emotions. American Psychology, 56, 218-226.

[3] Algoe, S.B., & Fredrickson, B.L. (2011) Emotional fitness and the movement of affective science from lab to field. American Psychologist, 66, 1 35-42.

[4] Fredrickson, B.L., & Joiner, T., (2002) Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science 12, 2

[5] Tugade, M.M., & Fredrickson, B.L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 320-333.

[6] Fredrickson, B.L., & Losada, M. (2005). Positive emotions and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60, 678-686.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you for your kind comment, Katie

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 3 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      This is a very positive,practical hub. Thanks.

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you, Bill. I know got my positive attitude from my Mum. She was always able to see the silver lining, and if there wasn't one, well, she had a good cry, wiped her eyes and moved on :-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      This is one of my favorite subjects and it is so important. I call my approach PIPO....Positive In/Positive Out. Think positive thoughts and those thoughts will lead to positive actions. I don't know why I've always been a positive person. I suspect my parents had something to do with it. :) Loved this article.

    • dndswordsmith profile image

      Nique 5 years ago from Philadelphia County PA

      As your Hubs are very thorough, another great article. Thanks

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      well researched and brilliantly presented! Great article with strong message

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you everyone for the positive feedback. @T4an, can I recommend the book "the Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook" by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman and Matthew McKay? I think it's up to the 6th edition now, and I know it's available on Amazon. (I do not have any affiliate agreement with Amazon BTW). This book has been a life saver for lots if people. Best of luck :-)

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 5 years ago

      An excellent hub to brighten someone's life by introducing them to a life of positivity.

    • T4an profile image

      T4an 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      Thank you so much for this. It couldn't have come at a better time in my life. I really need to turn things around and your article is a good way to start.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

      A very good hub and I agree with thinking positive and have worked to retrain my brain and actually be conscious of where my thoughts/emotions are going. It has greatly improved my life. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • wewillmake profile image

      wewillmake 5 years ago from kerala-INDIA

      Ya very well said and indeed a great hub as well. iam also thinking that every thought in us influence our every decision and our every act...

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Well said. Positivity attracts, negativity deserts. Everyone wants to be around a positive person. Remaining positive has health benefits too.

      Your research is really good.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

      Shared socially.

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you CrazedNovelist. It does take time and practice to stay positive. I know-it's taken me several years but it does finally become easy. :-)

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      You worked really hard on this article and it was good read! :) Good job. I was intrigued by the research you did and I know I am sometimes bad about staying positive. I do hope that this article has helped me to keep those things in mind. Sometimes, we're harder on ourselves more than we should be.