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Attitude is everything as we age Print
Guest column
Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 -- 1:00 AM

Guest Column

There is no shortage of information in the media about how to improve your life through instrumental changes such as eating more nutritiously, exercising and not smoking.

Did you know, though, that nurturing a positive mental attitude can also go a long way toward maximizing your physical, mental and spiritual well-being?

Even if you don’t consider yourself a naysayer, make it a point over the next few days to scrutinize everything you think and say; you might be surprised.

For instance, how much of your self-talk and communication with others contains the words “can’t,” “don’t,” “shouldn’t,” “couldn’t,” and “never”? Do you frequently start sentences with “If only,” “I can’t believe” or “I hate it when”? And do you use phrases such as, “it’s impossible,” “I have no choice,” “that’s terrible,” and “why me”?

Negative thinking takes many forms: doubt, worry, catastrophizing (magnifying the importance of upsetting events), focusing on our own shortcomings or those of others, seeing only the flaws in proposed plans, dwelling on what we perceive to be lacking in our lives, approaching life from the perspective of entitlement (believing that we are owed certain things), denial, inflexibility, hopelessness, and regarding the world as an uncaring, even hostile place.

By-products of such thinking include self-absorption, depression, defensiveness, self-criticism, destructive criticism of others, sarcasm, distrust, blame, jealousy, bitterness, self-pity, avoidance, indecision, chronic complaining, low self-esteem, resistance to change, helplessness, and passivity.

Accentuate the positive

Negativity is harmful not only to your physical and mental health — generating stress that can lead to illness — but also to your spiritual well-being, and the well-being of people around you. Here are some ways to accentuate the positive instead.

  • Limit your exposure to the news.
  • Use positive self-talk. Emphasize phrases such as “I can,” “I will,” “I choose.”
  • Be generous with praise and encouragement and cautious with criticism (giving only the constructive type).
  • Cultivate a healthy sense of humor. Read the comics or rent funny movies, for example. Don’t take yourself or others too seriously.
  • Accept realities you can’t change and focus instead on those you can influence.
  • Seek out inspirational stories of people who have beat the odds.
  • Trust that there’s a valuable lesson in every type of adversity. And remember that no matter what happens, you always have a choice about how to respond.
  • Pray to God to give you the strength to face life’s challenges with courage and grace, and place your trust in Him.
  • Stay connected to people who care. Minimize contact with those who are negative or self-centered.
  • Find an outlet for expressing your thoughts and feelings, such as talking with a friend or keeping a journal.
  • Pick your battles; don’t make a major issue out of every concern.
  • Get more involved in life
  • Don’t dwell on past mistakes, hurts, or other unpleasant events.
  • Look for the good in people and situations. Demonstrate empathy, give others the benefit of the doubt, and practice forgiveness.
  • Do something you enjoy each day: read, listen to music, or take up a hobby.
  • Identify sources of stress in your life, then eliminate as many as possible and learn to manage the rest. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.
  • Seek help from your family doctor or a counselor if you continually feel sad, angry, or overwhelmed.
  • Let go of the need for perfection, and be flexible about plans and expectations. Take things one day at a time.
  • Be receptive to learning new ways of doing things and try new activities.
  • Practice random acts of kindness.
  • Set aside some quiet time each day; it nurtures your spirituality and helps to keep you grounded.

Finally, focus on the good things in your life, such as supportive relationships, and seek beauty and tranquility through appreciation of various kinds of art as well as nature. Be sure to count your blessings and learn to live in the moment, enjoying life’s simpler pleasures. It makes for a happier and healthier you.

Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health, aging, and spirituality.