Positive Thinking and Aging-Harriette Barker, Ph. D, RN

Free Stock Photo: An African-American woman looking out a window

Have you ever been accused of not thinking positively about a situation?  It hurt when someone says, “you are always thinking negatively.”  Your first reaction is to defend yourself and try to convince the person that you are positive in your outlook and approach.  As we age, remaining positive may become stressful.   Many years ago, as a young staff nurse working in a geriatric facility, one of my patients said to me, “growing older is a bitch.”  At that time bouncing with youth and fairy dreams, I could not relate to her sentiment.

Positive thinking (feel good approach) is promoted as being healthy for aging hearts.  It helps to reduce the risk of inflammation and heart disease.  It can also boost your self-esteem, increase your ability to make decisions, and improve personal relationships.  Focusing on the positive and minimizing negatives thoughts and attitudes add years to life, increases resiliency, decreases stress levels and gives you greater insight.

Positive thinking is a healthy behavior that can help add years to our lives. We are encouraged to let go of negativity.  To view the older years as opportunities and challenges, that keep us engaged and in touch with the world around us.

Positive thinking from a religious perspective was healthy, and necessary for spiritual development according to the late Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and Rev. Dr. Robert Schuller.  Their ideas that focusing on the positive eliminated the negative, has been the hallmark of their books, sermons, and letters. Such thinking is very beneficial to older persons as they explore and enhance their spirituality.

However, there are some newer thoughts on positive thinking that reinforce the idea that positivity alone does not necessarily result in successful outcomes.  The Obama Presidential campaign touted the positive slogan of “Yes, we can.”  It was a message of optimism and hope that energized the nation and moved it forward.   Although his message was one of hope, in hindsight we can see the obstacles that presented every step of the way.

 Oettingen, a psychologist, agrees that positive thinking is a strategy that enables persons to take a positive approach on striving for goals.  However, she acknowledges that positive thinking alone does not eliminate obstacles that may get in the way.  Assessing these and developing a plan to overcome them in a realistic way is important if you want to achieve your goals.

 Oettingen, developed a four-step, wish, outcome, obstacles,  plan (WOOP). This strategy helps you  put your old dreams into action or develop new ones.  The steps to this program are:

Wish: Be specific

Outcome: Think about the results

Obstacles: Identify anything that may set you back

Plan:  determine where or when setbacks may occur and how to overcome them.

 

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