Keeping a Positive Attitude in the Midst of Challenges

Senior man with tattoo smiling and looking at camera

Most people living in skilled nursing facilities are facing health challenges, which affect not only their physical well-being, but also their overall outlook on life. And while we may not have complete control over our physical health, there are things we can to do take more control over our thoughts.

Norman Vincent Peale, author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking, once said, “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.” Can we really alter our future by changing the way we think?

In a study conducted by Harvard University, psychologist Ellen Langer invited men in their 70s and 80s to a weeklong retreat that was made to look like the world 20 years earlier. One group was told to reminisce about the earlier time; another group was told to let themselves be who they were 20 years earlier. When they entered the study, both groups of men were highly reliant on others to do things for them. During the study, these same men began functioning independently, actively completing chores, and showed significant improvements in hearing, memory, strength and intelligence tests. This led Langer to conclude that because people assume their abilities will decline as the age, they allow it to happen.

A study from Yale University showed that negative beliefs about aging may be linked to brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease – specifically, people who had more negative thoughts about aging had a significantly greater number of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, two conditions associated with Alzheimer’s. On the flip side, another study from Yale demonstrated that positive attitudes about aging could extend one’s life by 7-1/2 years – a greater lifespan gain than lowering cholesterol or blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, or quitting smoking.

Repetitive thoughts – such as “Old age comes with pain and suffering” – form neural pathways in the brain. The more you think them, the more ingrained they become in your psyche and your unconscious mind will continue playing these thoughts over and over until they become true.

Fortunately, you can “rewire” your brain by actively thinking positive thoughts and focusing your attention on the good things in your life. Here are some ways you can help “reprogram” your brain into thinking more positively.

Be conscious of your thoughts

Your thoughts are very powerful. The first step to reprogram your brain is to be conscious of them. If you find yourself thinking “Life is hard,” notice what you’re thinking and choose another thought to replace it. You may choose to shift your thoughts to “Life is hard and I continue to experience joy every day” or “Life is a blast and the challenges I face simply make me stronger.” If you change your thoughts, you can form new pathways in the brain which may, in turn, change your experience of life.

Practice gratitude

We all have something to be thankful for. Your job is simply to discover those things and give thanks for them. Once you start focusing on the good things in your life, you’ll start attracting more and more things to be thankful for. It’s always good to begin your day with gratitude. When you get up in the morning, acknowledge the beauty of the day and all you have to be grateful for. When you start your day with gratitude, you’ve wired your brain to notice the good in your life.

Surround yourself with people and things that support a positive attitude

People can take on other people’s energy without even being aware of it. If you find yourself feeling negative, find some positive people to hang out with. Read a book with a positive message or listen to music that inspires you.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2019 IlluminAge