The Japanese have a method of repairing broken pottery called “Kintsugi.” Broken fragments of ceramic pottery are mended together by using gold-dusted lacquer. The result of this restoration method is a unique and revitalized piece, more exquisite than its original form.
Literally translated “golden joinery,” so much meaning can be derived from this art form. It is a call to embrace brokenness, appreciate imperfections and not wallow on “what ifs” and “could have beens.” It is an invitation to let things be and welcome a positive mindset.
The Challenge With Being Optimistic
During waking hours, a human being can invoke 10 thoughts per second or 36,000 thoughts per hour. Moreover, our thoughts have the tendency to tilt towards the dark and the negative. At the rate our mind is going, it is not surprising that an average human being complains about 30 times a day. From complaining about rainy weather to how difficult it is to find a parking spot to the long line at the supermarket cashier, the list goes on. People will never run out of triggers and reasons to verbalize negative thoughts. It is indeed a challenge to stay optimistic given our propensity to see the proverbial glass as half-empty rather than half-full.
But a little bit of pessimism is good. It prepares us for the worst, protects us from disappointment and adjusts our expectations. To a certain extent it can be a good source of humor. However, letting negative thoughts linger for too long can have negative consequences.
Why We Need to Dial Down on Negative Thoughts
Negative thinking can have an impact on our physical, psychological, and social wellbeing including:
- Diminished Immune System. As humans build up stress they also raise cortisol levels in the body. High cortisol raises blood pressure and blood sugar. Constant worriers often have a lowered immune system and are more susceptible to disease.
- Panic Attacks or Panic Disorders. Negative thoughts can trigger our flight or fight responses, leading to panic attacks or mental breakdowns. Overacting to stress reduces our brains capability to distinguish real from perceived threats. In the long run, excess triggering of the flight or fight response can lead to long term panic disorder.
- Pessimism numbs our brain to happy experiences. This is because chronic stress can alter the physiological composition of our brain. These physical changes in the brain can cause anxiety, depression and mood disorders.
- Long Term Neurological Disease. Cynical people are more prone to neurological diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. A study conducted by University of Eastern Finland discovered that people who distrust others are three times more likely to develop dementia.
- Increased Negative Thoughts and More Complaining. The thoughts that we allow to reside inside our mind will eventually creep out and find a way of manifesting themselves through complaining. Moreover, repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining easier. So before turning yourself into a chronic complainer, banish negative thoughts in your head and focus on the things that will help your feel grateful.
- Lower productivity. A can-do attitude does not go with a pessimist. A whiner will always find a reason why something will not work. One can accomplish more by focusing on what he or she can contribute.
Clearing the Path Towards Positive Thinking
Pessimism is an evolutionary coping mechanism hardwired in our brain. Our ancestors were able to survive the grassland and evade marauding animals because of this coping system. This is the reason why humans more often default to negative and pessimistic reaction. As such, one must take mindful steps to curb negativity and clear the mind’s path towards positive thinking. Here are 7 steps towards optimism:
- Just like Kintsugi encourages us to appreciate imperfections and life’s challenges, doing so will help you manage your expectations. You have to accept the fact that you do not have control over most things.
- The presence of negative thoughts is our mind’s way of analyzing problems and finding solutions. Acknowledge why these negative thoughts are occurring so you can start tackling the real issue.
- Practice using positive affirmations such as, “Yes, I can do that”, “I am in-charge”, “I am enough”, and so on. Likewise, avoid negative words such as “could not”, “will not”, and “not possible”. Remember, we become what we believe we are.
- List at least three things that you are grateful for throughout the day. Little things that made you smile, like the jolly barista who served you coffee this morning or getting a kudos from your boss about a job well done. This practice can be especially helpful on “challenging” days.
- Be around optimistic people. Let that upbeat and positive energy rub off on you. It will also be helpful if you have friends and family members to support you. Spending more time with friends or loved ones increases your brain’s happy hormones, Serotonin and Dopamine.
- Each and every accomplishment, no matter how small, is worth celebrating. We have become so fixated with achievement and success that we often dismiss the amount of work and effort that we put in, in order to achieve the goal.
- When all else fails, a change of scenery and schedule may just do the trick. Days can become dreadful and routine, doing the same thing day in and day out. Try a change of routine, go on a vacation or pursue a new hobby. This will help you reset your thoughts and mind.
Human beings have made a lot of progress in conquering the environment. We have learned to anticipate and prepare for things to go wrong. We have learned to imagine all possible scenarios and formulate appropriate responses. In the process of mastering our environment, we have forgotten that a lot of things are beyond our control. We do, however, have control over our thoughts and how we perceive events that happen to us each day. Just like the methods of Kintsugi, we have the power to weep over broken fragments or celebrate life’s challenges and make the best of them.