What is more important, positive thinking or positive action?
Updated: Sep 25, 2018
It’s a basic, common and fundamental desire to feel good or better. Whether it’s eating chocolate when feeling blue or doing affirmations to think more positively the basic goal is the same- to simply feel good. Feeling good of course matters; it translates to being more energized, more productive, more effective, healthier and better company. Actually, that all seems like the very opposite of depression and fatigue! There are 2 obvious ways of feeling good: through positive thoughts and through positive actions.
How positive thoughts impact how you feel
It’s now known that thoughts effect production of neurotransmitters and hormones. These substances affect the function of the nervous and endocrine systems, which by extension then also affect all the other physical systems in the body. When these systems are functioning well you feel good. Feelings could be simply defined as ‘thoughts physicalized’. That literal gut feeling you get is due to what is happening on a neurotransmitter or hormone level. The thought isn’t occurring in your gut but it's affecting the gut’s function. If that gut feel is a sense that’s hard to rationalise or articulate it’s probably because it’s spurned from a deep level of the unconscious. A bad gut feeling about someone or something can be powerfully useful as the unconscious mind is incredibly good at detecting a plethora of information way beyond the limits of the conscious mind. The point is that no matter whether thoughts are conscious or unconscious they are going to affect how you feel- like it or not.
Ways of thinking more positively
Thinking positively can be done very deliberately by using affirmations. These are usually positive statements done repeatedly.
Re-framing is another means of thinking positively by simply thinking about a situation differently and choosing another perspective.
The practice of identifying things you’re grateful for has become really popular. Intentionally having that ‘attitude of gratitude’ helps break the minds fixation on what’s wrong or lacking and instead brings focus to the good stuff.
Simply being aware of when thinking has become overly negatively, and then very deliberately stopping a train of thought or interrupting it, is yet another means of thinking more positively. This is perhaps the most important aspect of effective thinking- developing an awareness of when you are thinking negatively and realising you have the capacity to do something about it.
The limits of positive thinking
People who come across as over the top with positivity and don’t want to acknowledge the relatively negative aspects of a situation are often not only irritating but largely ineffective. A degree of critical thinking is essential in order to be effective; to abandon it wouldn’t be wise. Your ability to discern between relatively good and bad options would be thrown out the window. The capacity to think positively is also limited by the degree to which the unconscious mind influences predominant thoughts. Habits are basically unconscious, and thinking like pretty much all of our habits, is no different, it happens mostly automatically and without effort. So the challenge to think more positively is largely about changing unconscious thinking, and this is what modalities such as Hypnosis, NLP and Kinesiology seek to do i.e. re-program the unconscious mind. There is, however, no substitute for awareness of thoughts and monitoring the quality and nature of them. Taking the approach that ultimately it is actually only you that is responsible for your thoughts can be a powerful yet very challenging change for many people. There is of course another thing to consider- positive actions….
The direct and indirect effect of positive actions.
There are some forms of action which very directly alter how you feel. A really strong and clear example is 'runners high'. This is a feeling of euphoria and elevated mood (yes please!!) believed to be mainly due to release of endorphins resulting from strenuous exercise. Endorphins are examples of neurotransmitters and hormones. By the way, if you’d like some help getting into that state I have decades of experience with Personal Training and Exercise Programs. Massage, acupuncture, meditation, medicine, supplements and food are some other things which very directly result in changes to how you feel, through changes on a molecular/cellular level. Doing things like having a really good chat with a friend or doing something else you enjoy or are interested in would not so directly impact the body’s chemistry but still have a significant impact resulting from positive thinking due to the experience. This improved thinking would then naturally positively affect how you feel.
The relationship between thoughts and actions
If you take action and directly or indirectly it changes how you feel, it’ll more than likely change how you think. Everyone’s experienced this- after taking some type of positive action and feeling fantastic, positive thoughts are so much easier to come by. On the other hand when stuck in a state of inertia and rumination those positive thoughts are really elusive and seem almost impossible to conjure up. In essence, the relationship between thoughts and feelings clearly goes both ways. It can become like a rolling ball gathering brilliant momentum or similarly a vicious cycle of stagnation and pessimism.
Actions and purpose
Feeling purposeful is vital, a lack of purpose can also result in a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. These feelings are essentially the source of depression. As Paul Dolan writes in his brilliant book Happiness by Design, "Action can create a sense of purpose & much of feeling good can relate to simply feeling purposeful. We tend to think of purpose in a whole life/big picture way too much and value too little the day-to-day in the moment type of purpose." Ultimately its action that creates that sense of purpose, whether it’s the greater life purpose or the daily productivity type of purpose to which Dolan refers. A lack of action and particularly relatively positive action is, in the main, more harmful than doing too much. Taking action and/or risks means you find things out, you learn, you grow, you meet people, you sometimes get hurt and it creates change and often momentum. Action and particularly changes in action can also serve as a great way to interrupt streams of negative thought. This is especially true for action which gets you really immersed and focused.
Getting real and practical
In spite of taking positive action with even the greatest levels of enthusiasm and commitment, sometimes things just don’t go so well. This is when positive thinking can be most relevant and helpful. What you choose to think about a relatively negative experience will be often more impactful than the experience itself and will dictate how willing you are to take similar action again in the future. Clearly positive thoughts and actions are not only undeniably interconnected but essential for feeling good and having a fulfilling life. In answer to the question ‘What is more important positive thinking or positive action?' On balance I believe you can’t beat action- there is no substitute. Are you struggling to take action and move forward due to fatigue or lethargy? Not feeling or functioning as well as you’d like?Why not contact me and see how I may help… OR simply cut to the chase and book a session.
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