Research shows that having a positive attitude can make a huge difference in promoting better health and an improved sense of well-being -- which in turn can lead to improved confidence and productivity.

And while optimists are often accused of oversimplifying or being unrealistic, the Mayo Clinic says that people who tend to view situations in a positive light experience a higher level of both physical and mental functioning than their pessimist counterparts.

Optimists, for example, have:

- Greater resistance to catching the common cold

- Reduced risk of coronary artery disease

- Easier breathing if you have certain lung diseases, such as emphysema

- Better coping skills during hardships

- Less negative stress

Further, studies have found that optimistic people decreased their risk of early death by a full 50 per cent compared to those who were more pessimistic. (For more, see Will your personality determine how long you live?)

Retrain the brain

If you're not a natural optimist, can you change the way you think -- and become more upbeat? Experts say yes, that with practice, people can basically retrain their brains to think more positively. Mainly this has to do with monitoring -- and changing, if necessary -- the 'self-talk' or the automatic stream of thoughts that runs through your head, endlessly, every day. These thoughts can be either negative or positive, and can be based on logic or on misconceptions and lack of information.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some common forms of negative self-talk include:

Filtering. This happens when you magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, after a fantastically productive day at work, you suddenly realize you forgot one task – and it is this task you focus on instead of the ones you did accomplish.

Personalizing. In this case, when something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. Did your company lose an important account? You think it must be entirely your fault -- when in reality other factors came into play.

Catastrophizing. This happens when you automatically anticipate the worst in any given situation. Your boss asks to see you? It must be bad news.

Polarizing. In this instance there is no middle ground: You view things as either good or bad, black or white. You feel that you have to be perfect or that you're a total failure.

Silence the internal critic

Instead of automatically giving in to them, challenge your negative thoughts. You can weed out negative self-talk by replacing thoughts that are based on irrational thinking with rational, positive ones. For example, if you're feeling out of the loop at the office, instead of saying to yourself: "No one bothers to communicate with me", say instead, "I'll see if I can open the channels of communication."

Over time, if you continue to do this, your self-talk will gradually become more realistic and self-affirming. It is possible to transform negative thoughts into positive ones, but like creating any new habit, it takes time and practice.

A good place to start, experts say, is by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else.

Source: The Mayo Clinic

Photo © studiovancaspel

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Cynthia Ross Cravit