People often say to look on the bright side of things, and though the phrase may seem trite, it turns out that positive thinking is more powerful than you might think. According to a recent study from the Yale School of Public Health, an optimistic outlook on aging can help older adults with mild cognitive impairment regain normal cognition.
Of those studied, positive thinkers who had adopted positive beliefs about aging from their culture were 30% more likely to recover, seeing improvement as early as two years faster than participants with negative age beliefs. Optimistic thoughts about aging “reduced the stress caused by cognitive challenges, increased self-confidence about cognition, and improved cognitive performance,” per a press release.
“Most people assume there is no recovery from [mild cognitive impairment], but in fact half of those who have it do recover. Little is known about why some recover while others don’t,” said lead author Becca Levy. “That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs, to see if they would help provide an answer.”
For the study, researchers tested 1,716 participants aged 65 and above who had a mild cognitive impairment. Based on a questionnaire, they were split into two groups — those with positive thoughts on aging and those with negative thoughts, such as “The older I get, the more useless I feel.” The researchers then collected data every two years over a period ranging from 2008 to 2020.
The research also shows that it’s not too late for a person to alter their way of thinking about aging — a positive mindset can be learned in older age: “Our previous research has demonstrated that age beliefs can be modified; therefore, age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery,” Levy said.
Having a more optimistic outlook on life is a practice that one can start at any age, even if you don’t have a cognitive impairment. Here are five ways to learn to think more positively.
1. Memorize positive words to change your mindset
Sometimes, changing your outlook starts with the language you’re using, so the Berkeley Well-Being Institute recommends trying to memorize positive words. If you struggle at first, you can write the words down on flash cards and stick them in your pocket for easy access.
2. Write down the positive events in your life
Many psychology experts suggest creating a daily or weekly gratitude journal. The journal can be a place for you to chronicle all of the past and present positive events in your life, as well as plan for the future — some pen and paper could be all it takes to gain perspective.
3. Set attainable goals and chart your progress
Speaking of plans for the future, setting attainable goals could also help turn your outlook around. Attainable goals are, by their very nature, meant to be achievable, allowing you to score a win that will boost your positivity. They also provide a way to chart your progress (perhaps in that journal you’ve started).
4. If you’re feeling sad, try smiling more
Don’t underestimate the power of a smile. Previous research has shown that smiling, even if you don’t feel so cheery on the outside, can reduce your heart rate and lower blood pressure in stressful situations.
5. Imagine positive outcomes
Researchers have found that imagining positive outcomes or scenarios can help reduce worry. In one 2016 study, the outcomes didn’t even have to be related to the situation at hand — just imagining a positive future helped participants feel better.