Cognitive Science

The Power of Positive Thinking


By Richard Ryland


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Cognitive Theory

The concept of positive thinking has been around for at least several decades.

Several decades after Freud emerged a new school of thinking called Cognitive Therapy. At its heart this article is about Cognitive Science. In Cognitive Theory it is believed that many mood disorders arise because of the way we think. Different personality types react differently to life’s mishaps, with some appearing less well equipped to move on without assistance. Let us consider an example.


An Example

A 24 year old woman takes a large overdose of drugs but survives through medical intervention and states she took the drug overdose because a man she met 6 months ago, and had an intimate relationship with her, has left her for another woman. Now the lady postulates she is in deep despair, bereft of the need to live and cannot live without the man. No one who has really lived and loved can deny that an intimate relationship can, when ended, cause deep emotional trauma. To the woman, in her mind, she invested all her emotions in this man and now she cannot live without him. She is heartbroken. What is the way forward?

The Way Forward

The cognitive science approach would immediately strike at the heart of the problem. The cognitive therapist would point out to this troubled lady that prior to meeting this man she had lived for 23 years without him. Also since this man left her for another woman maybe this was not a wise investment of the totality of her emotional trust in the first place. We can also look at the positives, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

The power of positive thinking makes it possible to get over a betrayal and remember only the positive. Once we have accepted the emotional loss we can move on and possibly remember and appreciate the good times in the relationship, without getting distressed.

Weight and Sleep

Low mood and low self-esteem is often at the heart of mood disorder and sleeping problems and maintenance of a normal weight. Weight is always difficult because as a symptom or sign it can go both ways, low mood can lead to loss of appetite and loss of weight but for some “comfort eating” is a maladaptive behaviour which puts on weight. Low mood and low self-esteem particularly in conjunction with a sleeping disorder means something needs to be done and cognitive science might be an option that can be considered.

Key Messages

Cognitive science or power of positive thinking through cognitive therapy can help you:

  • Come to terms with the way things are (as opposed to the way you would like them to be).
  • Change the things you can and accept the things you can’t.
  • Seek pleasure in your relationships and personal experiences.
  • Think good about yourself and you will feel good.
  • Learn to tolerate fools gladly.
  • Lost a loved one, lost a career? Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and look forward.
  • Most of all count your blessings, look at the positive things in your life and feel proud of them.
  • Do not ever let your memory of past events trouble you.
  • If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts or dwelling on a past event think of something positive or do something to take your mind off the past.
  • If you can exercise power in any way, try and do this always for a positive result.

Learning to Adjust

It is very important to adjust to life’s changes. We can be sad for a while when we lose loved ones but life goes on, we have to move on and adjust. As we get in the September of our lives we should seek pleasure in our life’s experiences and avoid, so far as is possible, displeasure. If, say, meeting your mother is always a destructively critical event then take action and change the relationship. Tell your mother you will walk out as soon as you are criticized. Or if change cannot be affected, reduce contact to small doses.

Adapting to Change

Life is a roller-coaster sometimes and throws challenges at us. We need to adapt and try and take charge and plot a way forward. Sometimes you really can do everything right but chance events keep knocking you down. Do not lose heart, adapt and face each disaster as a challenge. Most people feel very anxious when they are not in control and cognitive science might help you to accept the situation.

Taking charge and moving forward in a positive way is important both materially and mentally. Anyone who has raised children correctly will have taught their children that life is unfair but even after disasters we can be masters of our own destiny. Harnessing the power of positive thinking will help you cope while the going is tough.

Tormented by your past?

A common issue is for people to keep thinking about events in the past. You cannot live in the past; you can only live in the present and future. Change the things you can and accept the things you can’t. Often the memory of a past event torments us. Our conscience can be very critical of the way we handled past events. In this situation the person becomes guilty and feels low self-esteem. Professional champion ball catchers fumble the ball and drop it, despite their best efforts. We all drop the ball sometimes. But we must move on, perhaps apologize but do not let yourself ruminate on it.

Some personality types find it difficult to get past a given life event, perhaps a loss of career. It is not being argued here that losing a career is a golden moment and great opportunity for a change of career. Such a loss can be devastating but we must move on and unless the situation is recoverable we must adapt and put it all behind us. Cognitive science can help us do this. Life is to be enjoyed not to be endured.

How long to adjust?

When recovering from a negative life changing event it is understandable to vent your anger, talk through it with friends. But at some time, certainly, after 6 months it is time to stop talking about it. It is time to stop thinking about it. It is now time to look forward, to adapt and to move on.

Clinical Depression

Some people are so devastated by a life event they become clinically depressed and need medical intervention. Treating depression is not like treating an infection. If clinical depression sets in it can take months to fully recover under medical supervision.

How do we distinguish between feeling very sad and clinical depression? In clinical depression the person affected fails to function and needs medical intervention. Failure to function can be not opening letters and bills, in a man not shaving, in a woman not putting on her make-up, complete disinterest with personal hygiene. Loss of sleep is a frequent reason for medical intervention.

Changing the way a depressed person thinks has to wait until the depression has been treated, although some therapists believe that cognitive science can work alongside medication.

A Possible Cause of Clinical Depression

The road to depression can be that a person allows themselves to constantly ruminate over a problem where there is no solution (say, the loss of a loved one). Certain personality types appear to be more prone to depression than others. It is said that depression strikes the type of people who internalize their problems and spares people who vent their anger more easily. To stop depression taking a hold we need to encourage adaptation and positive thinking.

Natural Supplements

There are some natural dietary supplements that can assist with elevating mood. Amongst these is St. John’s Wart. This is a well know mood stabilising dietary supplement but St. John’s Wart is very powerful and is known to interact with other drugs. Essentially St. John’s Wart should only be taken in consultation with your doctor.

Another product is Tryptophan; this is sold in the USA as 5HTP and in Europe as Cincofarm. This dietary supplement is thought to stabilise mood and helps sleep.

The Role of Exercise

Although mood may be low a natural way of raising feeling good is by taking about an hour a day of moderate exercise. Swimming is probably best but power walking is good too. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can act as a natural mood enhancer. You need to exercise for up to an hour a day so that you are just slightly out of breath.

Finding the Right Path

Antidepressants are not for everybody and dietary supplements are not recommended by all health professionals and indeed moves have been made to restrict their sale, both in North America and, more recently, in Europe. St. John’s Wart, for example, is composed of the same chemicals as similar pharmaceutical drugs. Many doctors will argue that they have an additional problem in that it is more difficult to get the correct dose with supplements than with allopathic medicine.

Many people, including health specialists believe regular exercise can improve mood and help people to feel better and be more productive.

However nothing but nothing is going to work better to elevate your mood than positive thinking. Believers in Cognitive Science believe that Cognitive Therapy can help you to think more positively. And remember, think good of yourself and you will feel good.


age-well.org > self-development section > cognitive science


*Richard K Ryland is a former Registered Mental Nurse, General Nurse and Nurse Teacher from the United Kingdom. Richard also holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master of Science in Nursing.


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