Positive thinking is a discipline that trains the human mind to change a perceived reality by repeatedly making positive mental statements. A person practices positive thinking when they derive a positive sense of well being, optimism, belonging, meaning and/or purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves. Positive thinking is a process of choosing positive emotions from stimuli in the environment and applying them to perceptions and beliefs. The objective is to create an outlook that translates into a new or better chosen reality.

Positive Mental Attitudes

A positive mental attitude is the belief that one can increase achievement through optimistic thought processes. A positive attitude comes from observational learning in the environment and is partially achieved when a vision of good natured change in the mind is applied toward people, circumstances, events, or behaviors (Wikipedia). Since it is difficult to quantify (measure) the effects of a positive mental attitude, it can be considered a philosophy and a way to approach life.

Emmet Fox and The Mental Equivalent

Emmet Fox, a contemporary philosopher and New Thought minister, taught that the foundation for all true productive expression was positive thinking. The technique involved having conscious awareness of our daily thought process and connectivity to God in order to realize any change or manifestation in the external environment. This concept was also taught by many mystics, including Rumi, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, and others from across all wisdom traditions. Fox believed that the doctrine of the mental equivalent was an essential metaphysical teaching; the doctrine that you will receive that for which you provide the mental equivalent. This is akin to the Law of Attraction where like energy attracts like energies and conditions. According to Fox, a lack of positive life conditions results from errors in thinking because we always demonstrate our consciousness. Negative thinking, such as unforgiveness, fear, worry, self-doubt, and a lack of understanding of the unlimited nature of the individual soul and of God, is a habit that can be unseated with discipline and self-awareness.

Fox also stressed the importance of positive thinking as a companion to developing clarity and passion when organizing an outlook on one’s life. He believed the secret to creating successful and prosperous circumstances with spiritual enrichment and material wealth was directly proportional to the mental concepts held in the mind. The Bible, he said, taught the power of positive thinking from beginning to end by giving metaphysics a religious and metaphorical language. To Fox, witnessing any demonstration or change in a personal condition began with furnishing a positive mental attitude, or mental equivalent, for what was desired. He believed negative external conditions in the world, such as poverty, ill health, or war were the embodiment of mental equivalents held by people everywhere.

Since external conditions in the physical plane are the consequence of the mental equivalent held by one or more people, to change one’s situation requires consistent positive. Thoughts must have two qualities: (1) clarity, or definiteness, and (2) interest, or passion for the idea. Knowledge and feeling, he said, were the two key ingredients to produce a successful mental attitude that results in measurable change in a person’s external environment. Fox emphasized building health, inspiration, your true place, or companionship required using clear and persistent positive thoughts and understanding of God that each individual, including the person who is attempting the demonstration, knows that they are one with God. He believed thinking clearly and with feeling led to positive change because you have then built a mental equivalent to invite whatever is desired into your life.

Ernest Holmes and the Power of the Mind

Ernest Holmes, the founder of the Religious Science movement, also known as Science of Mind, was a New Thought teacher. Religious Science, like many New Thought faiths, presented positive thinking as a way to create a foundation to understand the Universal Mind. Righteous thought included what a person thinks, believes, feels, visualizes, imagines, reads, and talks about which flows into the subconscious mind. It is an individual’s path to putting the Universal Mind to work.

Influencing reality was possible through a person’s mental process as well as the recognition of a universal energy source called God, Spirit, or Universal Intelligence that manifests as the physical universe. Holmes’ approach to a successful life was to concentrate on the power of the mind to create reality, in the form of spiritual mind treatments. A treatment was a type of prayer, or method, that changed thought and cleared negativity, fear, and doubt while identifying with the presence of God. He taught that there was a natural law available for everyone’s use and that it was possible to create a new and wonderful experience of reality with persistent and positive thinking.

Holmes thought choosing positive thoughts brought one closer to God and that a life filled with success was first created through the discipline of a positive mental attitude. In scientific prayer or affirmations the I AM, or the God principle, provided the foundation of positive statements. Only to the degree that an individual could embrace the presence of God within, could they experience wholeness or happiness. He believed all discord and negativity in life was attributed to a sense of separation from God. According to Holmes, the ultimate goal was to heal this mistaken belief by practicing unity with God, and consistent application of the Laws of Cause and Effect, The Laws of Attraction, and positive thought.

What The Bleep Do We Know?

The mega-blockbuster movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” examined positive thoughts and the energy of thought from a variety disciplines. In this film, the universe was seen as constructed from thought, or ideas, rather than substance. A blend of expert viewpoints from the fields of psychology, science, religion, medicine, mysticism, and spirituality emphasized the power of positive thinking and the imagination to change reality and create what we want in our lives. It was based upon some principles of quantum physics and our body’s physical reaction to our own self-created emotional state.

Experts posited that life’s conditions could be altered with a high degree of awareness over a person’s daily thought processes. This could be accomplished by making change from both the conscious level of the mind as well as the subconscious. The conscious mind represents intention and willpower. The subconscious mind contributes to the vibration or energy of what humans think and is also said to control identification and behaviors. Automatic programs are created and reside in the subconscious mind, like shaving, typing, driving, washing dishes or performing tasks automatically. These automatic “mental programs” are helpful to daily human functioning. But when old, automatic programs involve hasty emotional reactions to present day events, then a person is said to be reacting to life and not fully living it.

Joe Dispenza and Breaking the Pattern of Negative Thinking

In “What the Bleep” Joe Dispenza argued that thoughts pieced together create attitudes that later become beliefs. Beliefs secured together make perceptions, which are the way we interact with the world and develop relationships. As skills and tasks are developed, people have the ability to act automatically because the brain develops more neurological networks to assist with daily functioning.

Dispenza believed that people can become trapped by these networks. Old, automatic “mental programs” that do not serve an individual well can be replaced with better, more productive thoughts. He discussed the concept of emotional addiction, where thoughts produce a biochemical reaction in the body. Emotions produce chemicals in the brain. He indicated that an individual’s past mental programs are used to react to a present situation. Since they are associated with chemicals in the brain, the body has a physiological reaction to environmental stimuli.

Humans can become addicted to their emotional state when the body becomes dependent upon the chemicals it is accustomed to receiving regularly from certain emotional reactions to stimuli. For example stress, rage, or guilt can give the human body a surge of adrenaline to heighten awareness. A human begin can choose to live continually in a state of vigilance. When an individual creates emotions associated with people, places, events, circumstances, or even new relationships from the past, and the body can get addicted to the chemical reaction associated with those emotional exchanges. Often, the long-term effects of living on negative emotions are unhealthy and cause the body to breakdown over time, e.g., lack of reasoning power and digestive disturbances.

Being addicted to one’s emotions means a person lacks self-awareness and unconsciously searches for situations that will support old ideas. Like an adrenaline addiction, if one is addicted to the chemicals their body receives from certain emotional reactions, such as guilt, pain, suffering, or control, then they will unconsciously search for situations in life that provide that particular chemical boost. Thus, reality never changes until a person takes charge of their thoughts. Without conscious awareness of emotions and reactions to the environment, one cannot reach their higher potential.

To see the benefits of positive thinking, a human must replace negative emotions, such as anger, fear or worry, or low self-esteem with something new, such as forgiveness or creativity. Because of free-will, an individual can create a new neurological network in the brain. Consequently, they will have a more beneficial interpretation of their reality. Dispenza claimed that old programs are rooted in the subconscious and the subconscious mind always supports whoever we choose to be. If you recognize you can change, the brain will follow suit because it can be retrained to fire neurologically. However, relying upon some automatic programs is good when the world is seen with more joy and compassion. Should a person choose to reprocess their reaction to their environment in order to break an existing pattern of negative thinking, over time the interruption will weaken the neurological networks in the brain and a new pattern can be developed.

Candace Pert and Bodily Reactions to Emotions

This viewpoint was supported by Candace B. Pert, Ph.D., author of Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, who researched receptor sites and peptides manufactured in the brain and how they cause bodily reactions to emotions. She believed thoughts not only have an affect on our physical bodies but on our goals. Emotions are the key element in self-care because they allow us to enter into a body-mind conversation. Her implication was that adopting a new and positive perspective to one’s life goes beyond observing who we are and what is real. It actually forms our realities and is dictated by physiological reactions to what we choose to think and feel.

Although “What the Bleep Do We Know” was widely criticized for illogical scientific conclusions, due to its financial success and popularity, the public seemed to embrace the following principals: (1) Thoughts do matter, (2) Nearly everyone has created automatic programs that influence the perception of their own future, (3) Our physiological reactions to current day realities can be changed by positive thinking and practicing a high level of self-awareness, (4) Validation the effectiveness of positive thinking can only be determined by each individual and the changes witnessed in their own environment, and (5) Gaining dominion over your body and mind is the beginning of a personal mastery that leads to an empowered outlook on life.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on improving the mental functioning of human beings above that of normal mental health. Researchers in the field of positive psychology have examined how people optimally experience, forecast, and savor the positive feelings and emotions that are part of healthy living. Despite a lack of empirical evidence behind their work, several humanistic psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, and Carl Rogers, developed successful theories and practices that involved human happiness. Like Dispenza and other Bleep experts, they all argue that certain emotions brought on by stress do have a negative effect on the body that lead to illness. Positive emotions help people relax back to their physiological baseline. When an individual feels positive emotions, they show heightened levels of creativity. In the long-term, they can develop more resilience and ultimately flourish.

Practical applications of positive psychology include helping individuals and organizations correctly identify their strengths and use them to increase and sustain their respective levels of well-being.

Affirmative Thinking and Affirmations

The technique of writing and repeating affirmations has been said to institute a positive mental attitude resulting in measurable change. An affirmation is a positive, present day statement that assumes what one declares is real and present. The more an affirmation is practiced, the mind has a greater the level of acceptance of that thought. Positive thinking experts, such as Louise Hay, Michael Beckwith, James Arthur Ray, Catherine Ponder, Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, and John Randolph Price advocated the use of affirmations to both reprogram the brain by repetition and maintaining present moment centeredness. The desired result is to manifest new and positive circumstances.

Since an affirmation declares one’s state of mind and expectation, it acknowledges to the mind and body a present-day reality. An example of an affirmation is the following: “I am filled with wonder and I now manifest prosperity and abundance in every aspect of my life. I use the creative genius of the universe in all I do. I am successful, healthy, and live life well. This day I have the power to change myself.”

Affirmations are a spiritual idea, and non-quantitative. They are based upon “as within, so without, as above so below” which is an idea, or universal presented in many religious works, including the Bible. If thought attracts, or resonates, with like energies, than any individual practicing positive thinking can eventually see results externally in the form of a better job, more loving relationships, or even satisfying experiences.

The Secret to Positive Thinking

Creating reality by how one chooses to think about life, health, relationships, and finances was the subject of the hit movie “The Secret.” Current self-help gurus discussed the Law of Attraction and other principles congruent with positive thinking. Building a positive mindset that attracted better circumstances in one’s life involved: (1) alignment to a clear vision of what is desired, (2) an attitude of thankfulness, (3) having positive emotions associated with the desire, and (4) releasing that desire to a greater power.

The experts in “The Secret” emphasized an individual’s responsibility to create and institute positive mental programming and present moment awareness to release emotional drivers that cloud a person’s ability to have a productive life. Regret, shame, and blame and a negative outlook on life focused on past circumstances can also be fundamental cause of physical disease in adults. Similarly, physical healing can be obtained creating a self-made vision. Demonstrating a healthy life with positive outcomes involves setting an intention, consciously creating a mental attitude of positive expectation, and conditioning the mind to accept navigate through grief, loss, anger with ease or choosing to eliminate those mental attitudes altogether.

Experiencing Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude

The practice of positive thinking, repeated positive statements, and witnessing success through a positive mental attitude, is an idea many mystics and spiritual teachers have presented throughout history. Retiring certain emotions and breaking the addiction of old emotional states is a choice and requires persistent effort. A successful mental attitude that includes thoughts of gratitude, unconditional love, and freedom can translate into new perceptions of a person’s perceived reality.

Adopting positive thinking with the intention of experiencing change can be accomplished in a number of ways:

• Recognize that change is needed.

• Believe change is possible. The brain can be re-programmed to provide support in your life.

• Give yourself permission to be in control of your own life.

• Practice awareness of your emotional state. Your internal state is what creates your external world.

• Release past negative experiences and move forward.

• Let go of self-criticism and move forward when a challenge arises.

• Stay in present moment thinking and affirm powerful and positive thoughts regularly.

• Practice verbal harmlessness. Identify and eliminate negative speech habits e.g., I can’t, I’ll try, or I’ve never been able to.

• Be thankful for what you have.

• Have a positive vision for your life and for others around you.

• Live proactively.

• Know that you are composed of unlimited Divine Spirit and are an example of uniqueness and wonder.

Positive thinking is associated with empowerment because an empowered thinker is one who masters their emotions and outlook on life. By being aware of our internal state, and how that translates into our reactions and behaviors, it is possible to develop the mind to support who we want to be, rather than being an effect of our world.

© The Goddess Network, Inc. and Charlene M. Proctor, Ph.D. 2007. All Rights Reserved. See http://www.thegoddessnetwork.com/connect.php?page=eshow for more empowering thoughts! Register for The E-Show, a series of enlightening lectures!


Author's Bio: 

Dr. Charlene M. Proctor is the founder of The Goddess Network, Inc. an on-line educational resource for topics on spirituality, relationships, and women's studies. Author of Let Your Goddess Grow! she is a researcher and educator in the field of women's empowerment and develops self-empowerment strategies for women in all walks of life. She is a subject matter expert for Beliefnet.com, the world's largest self-help and personal growth website. Her affirmations from The Women's Book of Empowerment reach 2.7 million web visitors daily. She currently facilitates the PATH to Empowerment program for Lighthouse Path in Michigan, a residential women's shelter for homeless mothers, teaching them how to cope with life and increase self-esteem and confidence. To learn more, visit http://www.thegoddessnetwork.net

Additional Resources covering Positive Thinking can be found at:

Website Directory for Positive Thinking
Articles on Positive Thinking
Products for Positive Thinking
Discussion Board
Charlene M. Proctor, Ph.D., Official Guide on Positive Thinking