Focused Positivity

Focused Positivity

The Path to Success and Peace of Mind

John F. Tholen


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For anyone who suffers more anxiety or sadness than is justified by healthy concern or normal grieving

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me is an adage we teach our children to insulate them from the cruel remarks of others. As adults, however, it’s often the words that arise spontaneously from within—the self-disparagements, disturbing recollections, and ominous forecasts—that cause us emotional pain and prevent us from living our fullest and most productive lives. The human brain has provided us with the technologies that allow us to dominate our planet, but it is also the source of much unnecessary emotional distress. Even when we have no good reason to be upset, our brains can spontaneously flood our minds with disturbing thoughts of past trauma or future disaster.

Much of our unnecessary emotional distress occurs because our attention is involuntarily drawn to whatever most angers or frightens us, even when no immediate action is required and the risk is minimal. Our mood tends to be harmed much more by each negative thought than it is improved by each positive one. These two findings constitute what researchers call the negativity bias, and it’s one of the reasons we often struggle to attain peace of mind: that mental equilibrium in which we accept both ourselves and our circumstances, without experiencing distress about something from the past or that might happen in the future.

By becoming more mindful of our thoughts, we can learn to recognize those that distress and impede us unnecessarily. We can then respond by identifying, and focusing on, more functional alternatives. Reviewing, discussing, rehearsing, and roleplaying functional self-talk can strengthen our ability to reshape both our mood and our self-image. This focused positivity strategy can serve as the foundation of our efforts to become more assertive, more relaxed, healthier, and more connected to the world around us.

Focused Positivity presents a comprehensive and accessible approach to positive thinking, one that is independent of religious or political beliefs and consistent with what science has discovered about negativity bias, automatic behavior, the impact of self-talk on mood and behavior, habit change, and even the competition that occurs between the two hemispheres of our brains. Focused Positivity can provide us with an accessible strategy that anyone can employ to enhance both success and peace of mind.


John F. Tholen:

Dr. John F. Tholen is a retired clinical psychologist who practiced psychology in Southern California for more than forty years. He is also the author of Winning the Disability Challenge.