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Issue 92: What Was I Thinking?

Does your thinking typically take the high road or the low road? If you’re consistently a Debbie Downer, then you could be headed for some problems, says Mayo Clinic staff. If, however, you see the up side to most circumstances life throws your way, then your overall health may benefit.

And when we’re talking about being positive, we’re not suggesting that you walk around with a forced smile on your face all the time due to being checked out from reality. Being positive has more to do with the fact that you choose to face adversity or regular life setbacks with an optimistic and productive outlook.

The Mayo Clinic staff highlights the role of self-talk—that endless stream of thoughts that wind their way through our heads day in and day out. These automatic thoughts can be either positive or negative. The researchers assert that if your thoughts are primarily negative, then you probably tend to be more of a pessimist.

But what makes up bad thinking? Negative thoughts can include focusing solely on negative aspects rather than positive ones, personalizing or taking the blame for a situation, believing that the worst-case-scenario will play out or seeing things as only good or bad—no in-between.

Daniel Amen, author the book Change Your Brain; Change Your Life, says “Our overall state of mind has a certain tone or flavor based largely on the types of thoughts we think. When the deep limbic system is overactive, it sets the mind’s filter on ‘negative.’ These people have one dispiriting thought following another. When they look at the past, they feel regret. When they look at the future, they feel anxiety and pessimism. In the present moment, they’re bound to find something unsatisfactory. The lens through which they see themselves, others, and the world has a dim grayness.”

Amen says these folks are “are suffering from automatic negative thoughts, or ANTs. ANTs are cynical, gloomy, and complaining thoughts that just seem to keep marching in all by themselves.” Amen continues, “ANTs can cause people to be depressed and fatalistic and can also damage relationships with those closest to them.”

If, however, your thoughts are primarily positive, then you’re most likely to be an optimist. The Mayo Clinic researchers say that if you fall into the optimist category, then good things may be in store for you health-wise. You may enjoy an increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.

Amen agrees. He says, “Positive thoughts and a positive attitude will help you radiate a sense of well-being, making it easier for others to connect with you.”

The Mayo Clinic staff’s not sure why those who think positively glean these health benefits, but they believe that most optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles. They eat a healthier diet, get more exercise and have reduced rates of smoking and alcohol consumption.

Amen emphasizes that most people don’t understand how important thoughts are, so they leave their thinking to chance. Every thought you have, however, sends electrical signals throughout your brain. Thoughts have actual physical properties and exert significant influence—either good or bad—on every cell in your body, according to Amen.

If you’re prone to be a negative thinker, then try these suggestions: check in with your thinking on a regular basis to make adjustments, see the humor in things—even if they’re unpleasant, follow a healthy lifestyle and be sure to associate with positive people. (You don’t want to hang out with Debbie Downer.)

If all else fails, grab yourself by your shirt collar and ask yourself, “What was I thinking?!” It could make a significant difference in your health.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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