The Importance of Being Optimistic

“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”  ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

It’s a new day, a new year, and a new way to live your life.

This year all zodiac signs will benefit from the Year of the Earth Pig. Chinese astrology suggests 2019 will be a year full of joy, friendship and love. It’s an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.

But there’s a catch. According to Chinese tradition we will need to learn how to take advantage of everything that’s beautiful in life in 2019. So it is time to ramp up optimism and positive thoughts as all qualities of the Pig sign will find a way to express themselves this year.

We’ll be exposed to gentleness and generosity, but we’ll need to be more attentive to others and, on a collective level, to altruistic initiatives.

And yes, optimism doesn’t solve all of life’s problems but sometimes it can make the difference between coping and collapsing.

‘It’s not easy being optimistic but positive self talk is the core of optimism.’ ––  LUCY MACDONALD, Learn to Be an Optimist  

Sounds great so we’ll need to catch our negative inner critic before it starts beating us up. 

When that happens, make a start by telling yourself: It’s your right to enjoy life.  Use Health Storylines to give yourself some Healthy Doses of positive thoughts. Choose from Love, Gratitude, Optimism, Funny and Mindfulness. Each saying will lift your spirits. For example, under Mindfulness Mother Teresa tells us to “be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”

Or use Health Storylines to practise regular gratitude. Use the Journal or Positive Thoughts Diary tools to become more optimistic by writing down the things you are grateful for.

www.confidentlife.com.au says not only does expressing gratitude light up parts of the brain that make us feel good, but also the effects are long-lasting and have a self-perpetuating cycle. So the more gratitude we feel, the more attuned we are to things to be grateful for, and the more benefit we find from it.

And of course, there are great health benefits from thinking positively.

The Mayo Clinic suggests the following health benefits of positive thinking and optimism: 

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression, and distress
  • Greater resistance to infection
  • Better psychological and physical well-being, cardiovascular health and coping skills

So lets ditch the common forms of negative self-talk such as filtering, personalising, catastrophising and polarising. Instead we can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. Sure it takes time and practice, but given it’s the year of the Pig, we’ve got the best chance of making a change.

Are you ready to join me in living a healthier and more joyful life? You are, great. Just click on this link to get started.

The author has used Health Storylines since being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours in 2016. After more than a year documenting her health via the app, she has become a Self-Care Ambassador as part of a pilot to encourage others to track their health.

Why mind over health, matters

The human brain is ‘Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones’. —Psychologist Rick Hanson

Did you know humans have a natural negativity bias? Apparently we remember on average seven times as many negative things as positive ones.

With such odds stacked against us, how can we turn that around? Glad you asked. It’s as simple as paying attention to the present moment, or being “mindful”.

Monash University’s clinical psychologist Dr Richard Chambers says mindfulness techniques train our mind to unhook from unproductive thought patterns.

Is being mindful hard to do? No. It just takes practice using cognitive behavioural strategies (CBT) that teach us to be kind to ourselves, as opposed to being critical or judgmental.

Adopting a mindful life is about paying attention to “what is” and not “what if”.  It’s having the ability to distinguish between what our imagination is telling us and reality. That is, when we get caught up in “what-if” scenarios we allow ourselves to become stressed, angry or even sad. Our imagination takes over and instead of looking at hard cold facts, we fill in the gaps. It’s a recipe for disaster mentally, emotionally and physically.

So how does this negativity bias manifest?

Say you have a health goal, you’re trying to be healthy like eating well and exercising, or trying to lose weight or get a good night’s sleep … have you noticed when you focus on the negative what-ifs you fail?

For example, we tend to ask ourselves:

  • What if I can’t sleep tonight, and then we begin focusing on the fact we can’t get to sleep.
  • What if I don’t reach my goal weight, and then we decide we may as will give up and eat unhealthy food to comfort us.

The way out of it is to focus on the here and now. Paying attention to what is going on around us is a first step in cultivating mindfulness. The practice teaches us to live each moment as it unfolds and accept what’s happening.

As part of my journey with Health Storylines, I’ve noticed since adopting a mindful approach to life, I can reduce stressful thoughts. I find tracking my progress on things such as symptoms, weight, mood, documenting health concerns, or writing in a journal brings me back to “what is”.

After I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours and had surgery, I used the Health Storylines app every day. It became my greatest support in helping achieve peace of mind and later providing encouragement to reach my health goals.

It helped me track symptoms so I could calm myself with “what is” instead of going into meltdown over “what if”.

Using the Health Routine Builder, I went from walking as little as 2000 steps a day to 10,000, and using Guided Meditation, I learnt how to master mindfulness in an instant.

As previous Self-Care Ambassadors have written before me, the purpose of Health Storylines is to help people improve their quality of life through their own data.

It’s a really powerful tool so I have accepted the challenge to encourage family and friends as well as readers of this blog to monitor their health through the app.

PAPER TRAIL

So if you’ve got a health challenge in mind and you want to come along with me on this Health Storylines ride and face “what is” and leave the “what ifs” behind, then my first challenge to you is not only to track your health via Storylines but also to track your stool health using the Stool Diary tool.

Yes, not the most glamorous of first challenges but an extremely important one as it is a window into understanding digestive health. It tells a story of an individual’s wellbeing.

My symptoms manifested this way but I didn’t realise the importance of how our digestive system regulates the body’s inflammatory and immune responses. So it is especially helpful to track your stool if you have experienced symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, or irregular bowel movements.

Bistol Stool Chart
Here are more detailed steps to start tracking your stool:
1. Open the Health Storylines app on your phone, or click here to use the online version
2. Click on the ‘Tool Library’ in the menu (if using the app version, simply scroll left on the top of the screen and click “add tools”)
3. Click on ‘Stool Diary” and add it to your home screen
4. To document your stool, simply click on the picture which most resembles your stool, followed by the colour
5. Click done, and repeat regularly (you can also share your results with your doctor)

Once you start tracking your health you can compare your stool to the Bistol Stool Chart (pictured) and find out what’s your normal.

If you notice anything amiss, like blood in your stool, or very dark stools, experience diarrhoea or constipation over long periods of time, make sure you mention it to a health-care professional.

Of course, if you’ve switched to a healthier diet you’ll notice changes here (more frequent movements or more formed stools that are lighter in colour). Walking will also get you moving, in more ways than one, so let’s end this challenge with a poop poll! 

The author has used Health Storylines app since being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours of the small intestine in 2016. After more than a year documenting her health via the app, she was approached to become a Self-Care Ambassador as part of a pilot to encourage others to track their health. She gleefully accepted the challenge. Show your support by tracking your health using this link: https://judyw.healthstorylines.com/app/#/register