Dream Big: Think Only Positive Thoughts for 24 hours

Thoughts have power; this 4-week guide will teach you how to have power over your thoughts.

by Amy Marturana Winderl Health Writer

We've all made lemons out of lemonade at some point, or forced ourselves to see the glass half full. But a month of 24-7 positive thinking? Now that's an ultimate challenge! If you're up for giving it a shot, we've got all of the tips and advice (from pros who know) to help you walk on the bright side in this 4-week, step-by-step plan. Since smiles are contagious, we encourage you to invite a friend or family member to do this challenge with you. The more the merrier!

Week 1: Identify Negative Thoughts

The science: Thinking happy thoughts may seem trivial, but research shows it has the potential to boost your health and well-being. Focusing on the silver linings in life may even help you live longer. Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that optimism is related to an 11% to 15% longer life span, on average. It also increases the chance you’ll live to be 85 or older. Yes!

Move-the-Needle Monday: The first step on the path to positive thinking is to get good at identifying each negative thought when it pops into your brain, says Allison Chawla, licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist, intuitive counselor, and a certified life coach in New York City. Then, come up with a new, positive phrase or thought to replace it. For example, if you’re thinking: “I have too much work to get done today, there’s no way I can do it,” replace it with: “I am good at what I do and will do my best to tackle it today.”

“You want to keep [the positive thought] succinct,” Chawla adds. “If you make it too complicated, you’re just going to get overwhelmed and flip the switch back to the negative thought.” Once you’ve settled on the positive version, repeat it to yourself until you believe it. By getting in the habit of stopping negative thoughts in their tracks, you can start to rewire your brain to think differently (aka, positively) moving forward.

The plan: Journaling is a great tool to help you start identifying and letting go of negative thoughts. It’s so helpful that Chawla suggests all her clients start journaling every morning, even if it’s very brief. Again, you want to keep it simple—even just writing down a sentence or two can make a huge difference.

Here’s what to do: Keep a pen and notepad next to your bed; When you wake up every morning this week, take a few seconds to jot down whatever negative thought or worry you have. Think of it as a “purge,” or “wiping the slate clean,” Chawla says. Your journal is where negative thoughts go to die. “You’re emptying the space [in your brain] so positive thoughts can then enter,” she explains.

Top tip: If you’re self-conscious about it or nervous someone might see what you write down, rip it up and throw it away after. Seriously. You don’t have to keep what you write, but you don’t want it to consume your mind, either. So just write it down, get it out, throw it away, and make room for the positive.

Week 2: Master Mindfulness

The science: Mindfulness—focusing on the present and soaking in everything that’s happening, instead of letting your mind worry or wander—has been linked to tons of health benefits. Research suggests that practicing mindfulness may help improve stress management, reduce anxiety and depression, increase a person’s ability to relax, and boost both self-esteem and enthusiasm for life. Sound like the keys to a happier you? We think so.

Move-the-Needle Monday: This week is all about starting a mindfulness practice. Allison Chawla, a licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist, intuitive counselor, and certified life coach in New York City, says it’s important for everyone to do this, but there isn’t one right way. “Meditation and mindfulness come in many forms,” Chawla says. Ultimately, you want to find a way to sit in silence so you can allow yourself to be more aware of your surroundings, your body, and your feelings. The more practiced you are at mindfulness, the better you’ll be at identifying those negative thoughts when they pop up—then flipping the script.

The plan: The secret sauce to reaping the most benefits of mindfulness is to do it regularly. This week try to sit in silence and be mindful at least once a day, even if it’s a short and sweet one or two minutes. You can work your way up to longer—10 or 15 minutes—when you get the hang of it. Even then, on certain days you may only need a minute to reconnect with yourself; other days you may feel like you could use some more time. Apps like Headspace, which offer guided meditations at varying lengths, are great for getting started and maintaining focus. The more practiced you are at it, the easier it’ll be to employ when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed and need to refocus your thoughts.

Top tip: When you have a hard time reigning in your thoughts, check in with your five senses, Chawla suggests. Find a quiet space to sit and observe exactly what you’re seeing in front of you, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The senses are what put us in the moment, she explains. Focusing on each of them will bring your mind to the present and help you be more aware of your thoughts.

Week 3: Get Moving

Here’s the science: Exercise is a known mood booster, so it probably comes as no surprise that physical activity can help put your mind in a better place. One research review published in Journal of Happiness Studies found positive associations between physical activity and happiness, with as little as 10 minutes a day or one day a week of exercise making a significant difference.

Move-the-Needle Monday: “I’m a very firm believer in moving,” says Allison Chawla, a licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist in New York City. “The morning tends to be a time when people’s thoughts overwhelm them. You wake up, and your brain wakes up,” Chawla says. Cue the negative thoughts and stress about all the things you have on your to-do list. Getting your body moving first thing (after you jot down a few things in your journal) helps get your thoughts moving, too—think of it as literally burning off the negative thoughts with each step you take.

The plan: Go for a short walk first thing in the morning. As you’re moving, breathe out the negative thoughts and breathe in the positive. Set an intention or mantra for the day and repeat it in your head as you walk. For example: “I have gotten through busier days before,” or, “I am capable of more than I think.” When you get back and sit down to work or parent or whatever is on your plate, you’ll be ready to approach the day with a positive headspace. Your mindfulness practice will make it easier to recognize when your thoughts stray toward the negative. When they do, you’ll have the tools to stop and refocus.

Top tip: If vigorous exercise is your thing, that’s great. If not, that’s great, too. Exercising and taking care of your body doesn’t have to involve pumping iron at the gym or getting totally breathless in a bootcamp workout if that’s not your jam. The best way to move is by doing activities that you actually enjoy. That can be walking, running, dancing, tennis, or even golf. The morning walk is a great place to start, but if there’s a different form of movement you’d rather do, make that your go-to.

Week 4: Practice Gratitude

The science: Positivity doesn’t just give your heart a figurative boost. It may actually make your heart physiologically healthier. One study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.

Move-the-Needle Monday: “Putting out gratitude brings positive feelings back to you. It’s contagious,” says Allison Chawla, a licensed social worker and clinical psychotherapist in New York City. So, this week is all about making gratitude a regular part of your routine. Showing gratitude really just means recognizing the good things that happen to you throughout the day and stopping to appreciate them. It’s recognizing and acknowledging the good and positive.

The plan: This week’s plan is to find one way every day to show gratitude. It can be as simple as smiling (with your eyes, if you’re still masking up) at the person who hands you your coffee over the counter, saying thank you to the taxi driver, or sending a quick text to a friend to tell them how thankful you are for them. When you combine everything that you’ve learned this month—recognizing negative thoughts, mindfulness, movement, and finally, gratitude—you’ll be able to start a cycle of positive thinking that benefits you and everyone around you. Eventually, optimism will be your first instinct—and everyone will be better off because of it.

Top tip: “Remember that you’re going to have bad days, but the main goal is to find tools to manage them better and recover from them faster,” Chawla says. Practicing gratitude will help you remember that even when things aren’t going your way and you’re feeling negative thoughts, the sun is still going to rise. “It’s about managing the negativity better and faster instead of letting it consume you like it may have in the past.”

Amy Marturana Winderl
Meet Our Writer
Amy Marturana Winderl

Amy is a freelance journalist and certified personal trainer. She covers a wide range of health topics, including fitness, health conditions, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and more. Her work has appeared on SELF, Bicycling, Health, and other publications. When she's not busy writing or editing, you can find her hiking, cooking, running, or lounging on the couch watching the latest true crime show on Netflix.