A penny for your thoughts? That doesn’t seem like very much for something so valuable.

Most of us have heard that we can harness power through positive thinking. And there’s plenty of evidence to show that to be true. Our thoughts matter.

Think on the bright side, be optimistic or think positive — whatever you want to call it — being hopeful and thinking positive certainly has its benefits.

Fran Watson, a Calgary-based transformational coach at biggerlifenow.com has seen it for herself.

If you ask why her work focuses on harnessing the power of positive thinking and to what end, her reply is quick and to the point.

“What can’t you achieve?” she asks.

She sees how positive thinking promotes changes for the better in the lives of her clients. And Watson credits positive thinking with paving the way for some of her key achievements.

“I’m living my dream,” she says. “I was single and in between two marriages in my late 30s and I was confident that there could be someone who could be a good fit for me. I just knew there would be someone. And I really also wanted a family. I did meet him and had a baby at 43.”

That’s not to say life is all sunshine and rainbows, if only you're armed with a positive attitude. But it’s a way to approach every day from a certain perspective — that’s healthy. Don’t trust us, there’s lots of psychology behind it.

Studies show “the positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management” which is good for our brains and bodies, according to the folks at Mayo Clinic.

But, like it or not, life still happens. Even the most positive people have bad days.

“Positive thinking doesn't mean you ignore life's less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst,” Mayo Clinic staff say.

Not quite in the positive camp yet? Don’t worry.

It takes a conscious effort to get there and being positive is typically a choice before it’s a habit.

Day-to-day we often cruise on auto-pilot. Our beliefs, which drive our thoughts, are both conscious and unconscious, Watson says.

“Some are handed down from generation to generation or our culture or religion or are based on where we’re living and who we’re living with and how we’ve been raised,” she explains. “They’ve become such a part of our wiring; they drive our thoughts around everything.”

And sometimes they steer us wrong.

That could be an emotional reaction to something which leads us to draw conclusions that may not be factual, like not getting a job promotion and making up a story about the reason why rather than knowing the truth.

“If you don’t like what’s happening in your life, what are your thought patterns? What’s coming out of your mouth? The more you say something, the more it becomes true for you,” she says.

Books have been written about harnessing the power of positivity (we have a list at the bottom of this blog,) but, for now, Watson says a good place to start is by looking at where you’re at.

That could include journaling as a way to start to notice some of your patterns. Grab your pen and paper when you have a negative feeling and ask yourself what’s driving it.

“What assumptions am I making? Is this true? Is it true this person doesn't like me? “Maybe there’s an avenue to say ‘no,’ or maybe, ‘I don’t know.’”

She says gratitude is a fast-track to positive thinking. It can even include small things, like “this coffee tastes so good or the sun is so beautiful,” Watson says. Of course, she cautions those with depression would need support that goes beyond positive thinking.

Kendra Cherry in verywellmind.com says the pursuit of positive thinking is a balance.

“Researchers have found that in some instances, optimism might not serve you well. For example, people who are excessively optimistic might overestimate their own abilities and take on more than they can handle, ultimately leading to more stress and anxiety,” she writes. "Bad things will happen. Sometimes you’ll be disappointed or hurt by the actions of others. This doesn’t mean that the world is out to get you or that all people will let you down. Instead, positive thinkers will look at the situation realistically, search for ways that they can improve the situation, and try to learn from their experiences”

Back to the why? Bring on the benefits of positive thinking

Mayo Clinic experts say one theory behind the many benefits of positive thinking (better health, greater resistance to illnesses and improved psychological and physical wellbeing, to name a few,) is that it enables us to better cope with stressful situations.

It's also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

Positive Thinking Techniques

To help improve positive thinking, stop doing things like this:

  • Filtering - magnifying negative aspects of a situation and filtering out the positive ones
  • Personalizing - automatically blaming yourself. It may have nothing to do with you
  • Catastrophizing - assuming the worst without facts that the worse will happen
  • ‘Shoulding’ yourself - blaming yourself for not doing things you think you should do
  • Magnifying - also known as making a mountain out of a molehill
  • Perfectionism - trying to be perfect sets you up for failure
  • Polarizing - seeing things only as either good or bad. There’s no middle ground

Try these instead:

  • Turn small negatives into positives - Take areas of your life you usually think negatively about, whether it's work, your daily commute or a relationship and try to change them for the better. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way. Think of a positive thought to manage your stress instead of a negative one
  • Stop and evaluate what you're thinking from time to time - If your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them
  • Seek humor in everyday happenings - Laughter can lower stress
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle - Exercise can positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet, get enough sleep and learn techniques to manage stress
  • Surround yourself with positive people – That are supportive and you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback
  • Practice positive self-talk - Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself you wouldn't say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself

Source - Mayo Clinic

To read more about the power and benefits of positive thinking, here are some recommended books from Watson:

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha
The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown