The Annoyingly Effective Power of Positivity and How to Kill Negative Thinking

Simple Takeaway:

Science has shown that positivity leads to better brain function, increased lifespan, better aging, improved productivity, bolstered immunity, and better overall emotional health. Kill negativity through gratitude, margin, visualization, and problem solving.

Positive thinking might just be the secret sauce when it comes to succeeding in life.

Researchers from Stanford University found that, “having a positive attitude about math was connected to better function of the hippocampus, an important memory center in the brain, during performance of arithmetic problems.”

Research has also found that optimism increases lifespan, better aging, and improves overall emotional health.

Psychologist Michael F. Scheier, who has researched and published papers on the power of optimism as far back as 1985, said:

“I think it’s now safe to say that optimism is clearly associated with better psychological health, as seen through lower levels of depressed mood, anxiety, and general distress, when facing difficult life circumstances, including situations involving recovery from illness and disease.”

Economists at the University of Warwick found that just being happy led to a 12% spike in productivity.

Other research found that people who engaged positively and provided social support were not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves; they were 40% more likely to get a promotion.

Yet another study found that optimism can lead to a strong immunity. According to the research authors, “Under many circumstances, both dispositional optimism and specific expectancies appear to buffer the immune system from the effects of psychological stressors.”

To explain why optimists are better at business than pessimists, I think Scheier summed it up best when he said:

“We know why optimists do better than pessimists (…) they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation.”

Okay, so mindset clearly matters.

But is it possible for someone who defaults to negative thinking to become naturally optimistic?

How to kill negativity:


Gratitude has been scientifically shown to “significantly improve mental health.”

According to Joshua Brown, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, “many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.”

As Dr. Rick Hansen teaches in his book Hardwiring Happiness, practicing gratitude can literally retrain the way your brain processes information because it creates neural pathways that make positivity an easier path to default to in difficult times.

It’s really difficult to be negative when you consistently direct your thoughts to things to be grateful for.

No matter who you are or how low you are in life, you always, always, have something to be grateful for.

Get in the habit of reflecting regularly on these things and keeping them front-of-mind.

Create space

When you’re in a situation and you start to feel negativity creeping in, delay your reaction for a moment or two.


Nod your head and smile.

Whatever it takes to buy time, just don’t speak immediately. Your initial reaction will almost certainly be negative. Just let it pass.

Visualize what a positive response would sound like.

Experts agree that visualization primes and drives behavior.

According to Dr. Narineh Hartoonian, a psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine, “benefits of mental visualization include: improved attention, planning, memory, motor control, and perception.”

She goes on to say, “…the brain is receiving additional training for actual performance during imagery rehearsal. It has also been evidenced that these practices enhance motivation, self-esteem, increase states of flow, and improve motor performance.”

According to psychologist A.J. Adams, visualization can “enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow.”

Visualization prepares your body to do what you want it to do.

If positivity feels like trying to push a boulder up a hill, start here:

Imagine what a positive response would sound like.

You don’t need to say it immediately, just get comfortable with the idea of thinking positively.

Once you get into the habit of acknowledging a healthy response, you’re equipping your brain to choose a healthier response.

Consider what negativity would accomplish

Allow yourself to address a negative thought and then discard it.

The more you try to avoid negativity, the more your mind is drawn to think about negativity. It becomes the guilty pleasure you can’t have until you finally give in, then you’re an up-and-down mess.

It isn’t realistic to think you can push negativity completely out of your mind, so simply practice becoming aware of it.

Thoughts are like pieces of paper floating around you.

You get to decide to either keep them or discard them. If you don’t decide what to do with them, they’ll linger in an uncategorized state for you to deal with later.

There’s been some interesting research around the power of taking action to categorize your thoughts.

One study found that when people commit to doing something with their thoughts – such as writing thoughts down and throwing them away or typing them out and putting them into a trash folder, they’re less likely to make use of those thoughts later.

The study’s co-author Richard Petty of Ohio State University said, “However you tag your thoughts — as trash or as worthy of protection — seems to make a difference in how you use those thoughts.”

The key factor in the study, however, was that the thoughts couldn’t simply be visualized as gone. There had to be a moment of commitment to the representations of those thoughts being removed, at least temporarily.

While it might not make sense to write your thoughts on paper, you can take a moment and write out the draft of that nasty email, then delete it.

Write the angry text message draft, then trash it.

Or just do some venting speech-to-text style into your notes app on your phone while you take a walk, then swipe it into the trash when you’re done.

This might sound revolutionary, but it’s not.

It’s simply a tool to help you take time to slow down and sort through your thoughts in an otherwise hectic world.

When you slow down and express your thoughts by writing them down, it makes it easier for you to see what’s worth keeping and what’s not.

If you’re caught in a moment and you’re not sure if a thought is worth wrestling with, consider what it would accomplish if you let it go unchecked. 

Allow yourself to visualize the outcome of the thought if it were to play out to its end. If it isn’t likely to be helpful, discard it.

Categorization helps you cultivate the kinds of thoughts you want rather than letting negative thoughts take up all your mental space. 

The truth is, this is tough. You’re not going to be able to push negativity completely out of your mind, so simply start by becoming more aware of it.

Face it head on then ask yourself, “If I say what I’m thinking, what would be the result? Would it accomplish something I value?”

If the answer is no, then let it go.

The most effective way to navigate negativity is to switch from the role of a critic to the role of a problem-solver.

Successful people don’t complain. They find a mutually beneficial perspective, then they go into problem-solving mode.

You’re frustrated? Great. Take it out on the problem instead of complaining about it.

You’ll be infinitely better off for it, and people will actually enjoy being around you.

The bottom line is this:

If you’re a “realist”, you’re only hurting yourself. Because, whether we like it or not, positivity actually does lead to a better life.