positive thinking

The Ultimate Guide to Positive Thinking

“We are what we think”.

How many times have you heard that before?

And how many times were you truly dedicated to changing your thoughts?

I know, I know. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing ever.

We can’t control our brains all of the time, and without specific knowledge and some great techniques, it can be virtually impossible to switch to a better, more positive you.

Read on, this Ultimate Guide to Positive Thinking will provide you with tips and tricks, explanations and exercises grounded in science and research, to help you start thinking more positively about your life.


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You can’t live beautifully without positive attitudes in your life, your surroundings and your everyday experiences. Your thoughts shape your reality and how you see it.

As for myself, I always try to find the beauty in every moment. I have written previously about living beautifully and my “special” glasses, which I try to wear as frequently as I can, in order to see a positive world around me.

I understand that it’s impossible to be positive all the time. We are only human, after all. But there are people who are able to find positivity, even in the worst life situations. I applaud them!

I hope this Ultimate Guide to Positive Thinking will help you to figure out how to deal with challenging situations and what techniques to try, for improving your positive thinking.  

The Ultimate Guide to Positive Thinking



The study “Worry changes decision making: The effect of negative thoughts on cognitive processing”, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in January 1990, has analysed how worrying affects an individual’s ability to complete a task.

Participants who declared that they worry around 50% or more of their time, showed a diminished ability to complete tasks, as their difficulty increased.

The studies that followed, demonstrated that negative thinking affected the participants’ ability to think objectively, while performing given tasks.

Firstly, to analyse this phenomenon, we need to understand how the human brain works. All negative, hurtful experiences are stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala. This important part of the brain, tells you to “fight or flight” whenever you encounter dangerous situations.


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For example, once you have been exposed to life threatening situations, you tend to assess all potentially dangerous future situations, based on past experience. Therefore, it may be that you assess a situation where your safety is not threatened, as being one which really endangers your life. When this occurs, you cannot correctly identify the real threat that you are faced with and as a consequence, you over-react.

Another part of the brain which plays an important role in thought management, is the thalamus. This is allows you to confuse the negative thoughts in your mind with actual peril. By doing so, it sends your body signals that put you in fleeting position (such as fast heartbeat, high blood pressure or an intense state of readiness) in order to face the falsely induced danger.

Negative thoughts are very powerful, they affect your brain and your body.


negative thoughts

When it comes to identifying negative thinking, you need to have a lot of patience, be very self aware and open to inner analysis. Studies have shown four main patterns in negative thinking: filtering, personalising, catastrophising and polarising.

Filtering means that you filter positive thoughts. You either eliminate them from your mind and only keep the negative ones, or you magnify the importance of the negative thoughts to the detriment of the positive ones.

If for example, you spent a beautiful day outside with your son, but you didn’t make it on time to his favourite park, you might focus on this last detail (although in reality, perhaps he doesn’t mind not spending time in that park) instead of being positive about the experiences you had during an entire day with him.

Personalising is when you blame yourself for every bad or unpleasant event or experience that occurs, even when it was out of your hands.

For example, if you overhear your boss commenting on your team’s performance during your coffee break, you automatically assume the comments are about you, that you are the reason for your his/her dissatisfaction.

Catastrophizing means that you anticipate that the worst will happen, or you exaggerate the negative side of a situation.


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Perhaps you won’t go to a costume party, even though you love costumes and like spending time with your friends, because you are afraid they will laugh at you when seeing you dressed up.

Polarizing is when you see the world as split into two categories: good or bad, right or wrong.  

You might experience the “all or nothing” attitude, thinking you are a failure if you don’t do everything perfectly.

Other common negative thoughts that you need to identify and acknowledge are:

Over generalising by using “ultimate” words to describe a one-time situation that you find yourself in.

I will never be good enough for that job”,

I will always ruin my dates”,

This mistake will make my colleagues hate me forever” are just few examples of over generalising language.

Should” or “Muststatements describe how you create stress for yourself every time you don’t tick a box from your self-imposed list of “shoulds” or “musts”.

I should have washed these windows before Easter” is an example.

Mind reading means you develop negative thoughts, by imagining what others think about a particular situation that involves you.

By doing so, you can stress yourself to the point where you start engaging in negative feelings towards certain people through the conversations you are having in your mind. who in reality didn’t say or do anything to hurt you or to make you look bad.

What if scenarios create negative thinking. Firstly, because of the uncertainty they bring.  Secondly, because of the weight these scenarios place on you, which can be really serious.

What if scenarios create negative thinking. Click To Tweet

For example, “What if she dies?” (even if all you know, is that she is in the hospital).


In 1863, Fyodor Dostoevsky described his travels in Western Europe. The piece called “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions” contained the following paragraph:

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology from 1987, Daniel Wegner PhD, a social psychologist at Harvard University, published the results of research which indicated that the more you try to avoid thinking about a certain thing, the more you will actually think about it.

The experiment was simple: the participants were asked not to think about a polar bear for five minutes. However, if the bear would appear in their thoughts, they should ring a bell each time that happened.


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The results showed that on average, the participants rang the bell once per minute.

In the next stage of the experiment, the participants were asked to try to think about the bear and this revealed they thought about it even more often than during the first stage.

The conclusion was,  that in the second stage of the experiment the participant’s minds were “flooded” a lot more by the thoughts they tried to avoid in the first stage, causing a more difficult recovery from those thoughts.

This conclusion led Wagner to a series of research projects during the following ten years, which enabled him to create the theory of “ironic processes”.

This theory stipulates that when you try to avoid thinking about something, your mind operates in two “ironic” ways. One side manages to avoid that certain thing, while the other verifies that the thought does not return and in doing so, it always brings it back to your attention.

This experiment showed how difficult is to get rid of negative, unwanted thoughts. In other words, the more you try to bury these thoughts, the more they return with a vengeance.

However, scientist and researchers over the past decades, have found ways to train yourself to stop worrying or at the least, stop, block, decrease or replace the amount of negative thoughts in your mind.


Wegner presented several techniques for stopping worrying. He said that  whenever negative thoughts are engulfing you, you should:


Wegner asked the participants of the aforementioned study, to think about a black Volkswagen and not about the polar bear. By executing this task, participants have managed to avoid the appearance of the white bear in their minds.


This means you teaching yourself to avoid thinking a negative thought, until a specific moment of your choice. According to Wegner, people who schedule a period of time dedicated to worrying, have shown decreased worrying levels during other periods.


As per Wegner’s research, the ability to perform a task diminishes when negative thoughts are increasing in your mind. Furthermore, another study has discovered that thoughts about death appear in the minds of people who constantly have a mental low. So, less multitasking, less negative thinking.


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Although a painful and risky process at the beginning, Wegner declared that “if you allow yourself to think in controlled ways of the thing that you want to avoid, then it will be less likely to pop back into your thoughts at other times”.


Meditation is a technique that requires patience and a great deal of practice, but can help you to strengthen the control your mind has over your thoughts. You can learn how to meditate from my post about my meditation routine

Here are some other recommendations on how to stop worrying:


Training your brain is a concept that allows you to teach your brain to eliminate negative thinking and replace it with positive thoughts.

Teach your brain to eliminate negative thinking. Click To Tweet

The Taking in The Good Course is a training program that was developed by Dr. Rick Hanson. Participants were trained to replace negative thinking with a positive thinking. Results showed that the participants experienced significantly less anxiety and depression and greater self-control, enjoyment, compassion, love, contentment, joy, gratitude, self-esteem, satisfaction with life and overall happiness.

The good news is you can replace your negative thoughts with positive ones, by treating your brain like a dog you want to train. You do this by rewarding your brain with positive thoughts that create pleasure in the brain. Once the brain feels this pleasure, it will come back for more ☺.


Sometimes, when you feel that negative thoughts are approaching, the best solution is to allow them to be. By doing so, you can challenge these thoughts by writing them down on a piece of paper and dismantling them one by one, using  realistic and logical thinking.


This technique consists of becoming aware of negative thoughts, acknowledging them and finally letting them go smoothly, after an inner conversation with your self on the positive effects of letting go.


relieve stress

Negative thought induced stress, can affect your brain in the long term, making you a more susceptible candidate for mood disorders, depression or ADHD.

Stress has been around for a long time, but was documented in the 1950’s by Hans Selye, an endocrinologist whose research gave rise to a huge variety of studies and experiments, all aimed at helping people to relieve stress.

Stressful thoughts cause an imbalance between white matter and grey matter inside your brain. The white matter connects the neurons in a network, whilst the grey matter exists where neurons process the information.

When you suffer from chronic stress, your brain will produce less neurons and more connections due to the increase of white matter. This imbalance affects your mood and the corresponding memories.

In order to relieve the stress you are facing, some tools are available:


On a blank sheet of paper, write down all the thoughts that stress you and put two columns underneath them. Make one column for arguments that these thoughts are justified and the other for arguments against them.

If for example, you feel stressed about not arriving on time to an important, top management meeting, one argument in favor of stress can be that your boss will be very angry with you, while an argument to relieve stress is that you have spent the night adding extra research to your presentation, which will make your boss happy.


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According to a study performed by Ohio State University in 2012, writing down stressful thoughts and then tearing them up and throwing away the paper, resulted in a relief of a state of stress experienced by participants.

You could also do this on your computer, by putting the list of stressful thoughts in the Recycle Bin, once you have finished it.


Stress often occurs when things don’t turn out according to your plans, so a solution to relieving that stress is to reposition yourself.

If you missed your flight because you got up late and you are stuck in an unknown city for several hours, instead of stressing yourself about it, try to make the best of it! Take a city tour, visit a library or have a walk in a park.


This is one of the most efficient and achievable tools in relieving stress.

It’s entirely up to you to manage your everyday activities, in such a way that you benefit from resting from a seven-eight hours night  of sleep.

This will not only charge your physical batteries, but will also allow your brain to fight stress better, as it has had a sufficient period of rest.


The best exercise in strengthening your mind and relieving stress, is to talk to yourself until you get rid of the stressful thoughts.

Talk to yourself until you get rid of the stressful thoughts. Click To Tweet

You need to examine the cause of the stress and identify what activity you can perform to relieve the stress. Tell yourself that this state of mind will pass and get to action by doing that activity that will remove the stress you are experiencing.


When the level of stress seems to choke you, drop everything for couple of minutes and listen to some music. It doesn’t have to be an entire album, all you need is a song or two that you know will calm you down.


Stress sometimes causes agitation to the point of forgetting to take care of yourself. This means that in a crisis, you tend to either starve or eat whatever is at hand (or at the least what the stress mode of your brain is asking demanding).

Dismiss the longing for snacks, chips or sweets and have some tuna sandwiches and lots of fruit, which could help to reduce the level of stress.


Cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones in your brain that cause stress, are decreased by … laughter.

The endorphins released in your brain make you happy, thus stress is gone.


Teas are usually at hand in any environment and you can use either green tea or herbal tea to combat stress.

Green tea is known to contain theanine, which calms the nervous system and has also a lot of antioxidants, which are good for your health.

Herbal tea also has a relaxing effect on your brain and the experience of preparing it, with honey and lemon, for example, can also help to relieve your stress.


positive thoughts

Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher into “positivity” at the University of North Carolina, conducted a study with five groups of participants who were all shown video clips:

Group 1 were shown joy producing images

Group 2 saw images that generate contentment

Group 3 watched neutral images

Group 4 viewed images that trigger fear

Group 5 was shown images that create anger

Afterwards, all participants were asked to write down a situation that would create the same emotions as the ones they experienced while watching the clips, as well as to describe what course of action would they take in that situation.

The piece of paper handed to each participant had 20 blank lines on it and the same phrase repeated throughout– “I would like to …”

The participants who watched the positive images (joy and contentment) described a large number of actions, higher than the group exposed to neutral images. The groups that saw clips depicting negative emotions, wrote down less ideas than the other groups.

The conclusion of this study was that in the presence of positive images, positive thoughts emerge. These thoughts allow your brain to identify several ideas, actions and opportunities.


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Furthermore, Fredrickson suggested that our brains are programmed to respond in the same way to the thoughts we feed it. In other words, positive thoughts breed positive responses from your brain.

In 2005, Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener conducted an analysis of nearly 300 findings and their conclusion was, that positive outcomes in people’s lives such as health or success, are generated by positive thoughts.

Your brain is responsible for more than just reflection of positive thoughts, as shown in a study performed by Fredrickson in 1998.

Her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, indicated that their brains were generating connections and ideas above usual levels, due to positive emotions, which enabled people to have a higher focus and a more intense thinking process and focus on possibilities.

Our brains generate ideas above usual levels, due to positive emotions. Click To Tweet

In other words, people with positive thoughts identify and use more resources for their benefit, compared to others who lack positive emotions. These include:

social resources – the ability to provide and accept emotional support cognitive resources – the brain’s ability to “live” the present moment psychological resources – which mean mastering the challenges around you.

In the book Mind over medicine, Lissa Rankin, M.D. speaks about the power of positive thinking, stating this “tool” stimulates natural endorphins which relieve pain, mitigate symptoms and uplift your state of mind.


positive thoughts

Studies over the past decades have indicated that positive thinking has positive effects on your health, such as improved immunity, increased life span, lower risk of cardiovascular death, lower cholesterol rates, greater resistance to colds and lower rates of depression.


Researchers Segerstrom and Sephton state that optimists (positive thinkers) have a stronger immune responses than people who are displeased with their lives and that constantly have negative thoughts.

Their statement is backed up by the findings that people who have negative emotions create an activation in their brain, which leads to weaker immunity to a flu vaccine.

One explanation for why positive thinking improves immunity, is that you face environmental stress better by thinking positively and so your body is better equipped to fights against germs, bacteria or viruses.

Another explanation is that positive people tend to have a healthier lifestyle which includes healthy food, exercise and no bad habits such as alcohol in excess or smoking.


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A Dutch study, published in JAMA Psychiatry”, showed that participants who possess a disposition to negative thinking, were 55% more likely to die in the next nine years.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicated that adults aged 60 and older who live with negative thinking, experience mobility problems in their daily activities.

Positive thinking slows down the aging process, as people who think positively are more interested in achieving their goals and feel more fulfilled in their lives, thus having a better control over their mental and physical health, compared to negative thinking people.


A study has showed that positive thinking people have a heart failure risk lower by 73% compared to negative thinking people.

Another study, called Optimism, Cynical Hostility, and Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative has proved that dispositional optimism, defined as the positive expectations for good things to happen in one’s future, has helped patients who have undergone bypass surgery by lowering the risk of being hospitalised again as well as reducing their mortality risk.


The study Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife ( David R. Williams, PhD,  Carol Ryff, PhD, Eric B. Rimm, ScD,  Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD) conducted on 990 middle-aged participants by a team of researchers, has shown that positive thinking participants (optimists) have lower triglycerides and greater high-density lipoprotein cholesterol than the negative thinking participants (pessimists).

Participants were assessed as optimists based on their scores at a Life Orientation Test and this is the first study that links lower cholesterol to positive thinking (optimism).


Resistance to cold is directly influenced by positive thinking, as shown in the study of Segerstrom, conducted on 124 students.

Resistance to cold is directly influenced by positive thinking. Click To Tweet

The study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity consisted in completion of five questionnaires by the participants and checking of their immunity over a one year period.

The explanation for this resistance is that positive thinking participants have a greater immunity created by the action of white blood cells.


Positive thinking protects teenagers against depression, according to A Prospective Study of the Effects of Optimism on Adolescent Health Risks, conducted on teens with ages between 12 and 14 years.

When joined by other proper emotional factors, positive thinking decreases symptoms of depression and occurrence and to a larger extent, protects teenagers against the use of drugs and prevents them from having antisocial behavior.

This result, published in Pediatrics journal, is applicable to all ages and reinforces the importance of positive thinking.


positive thinking guide

In your brain, there are billions of brain cells called neurons, connected indirectly with each other by trillions of neurotransmitters, which are special chemicals.

The communication between neurons means sending messages, which are always accompanied by a packet of chemicals. These packets, one for each message, are highly influenced by your state of mind, which means you can send messages that are angry, anxious or satisfied. What you send determines the chemistry of your brain.

In Mind over medicine, Lissa Rankin, M.D provides some examples on how positive thinking works:

“nearly half of asthma patients get symptom relief from a fake inhaler or sham acupuncture. Approximately 40 percent of people with headaches get relief when given a placebo. Half of people with colitis feel better after placebo treatment. More than half of patients studied for ulcer pain have resolution of their pain when given a placebo. Sham acupuncture cuts hot flashes almost in half (real acupuncture helps only a quarter of patients). As many as 40 percent of infertility patients get pregnant while taking placebo “fertility drugs.”

What do all these examples have in common? The patients believed they would get better or heal completely. They developed, nourished and practiced positive thoughts which actually helped their healing.


positive thinking guide

Everyday life can sometimes seem hard to bear. Responsibilities, problems, expectations, shortages – all of these realities can often make positive thinking a very difficult task.

Additionally, you may be someone who has gene chemistry that makes you more susceptible to depression or mood swings. Even the human genome seems to spite you, in your determination to focus on positive thinking. So, what do you do about it? How do you focus on positive thinking, when negative thoughts pop up in your mind at even the slightest sign of difficulty?

Your inner dialogue is a key component in this process as you need to talk to yourself differently. You need to check all the thoughts that are circulating in your mind and act. If they are positive thoughts, you need to magnify their impact, if they are negative ones, you need to change them immediately, by self-talking to positive thoughts. When this is not possible, you can trick your mind, by putting positive spins on your negative thoughts. This will still enable you to stay positive.

Focusing on positive thinking is not an abracadabra stunt. Likewise, putting your head in the sand in order to avoid reality is not a solution either.

Focusing on positive thinking is about self education, in seeing the positive in people, events, challenges and environment. This is a long–term process and it requires emotional availability, a great inner determination and a lot of practice.

Focusing on positive thinking is about self education. Click To Tweet

One thing you need to be aware of is that at times, your process can make you feel incredibly lonely, as after all, this is your battle.

An important step in focusing on positive thinking is visualization.

As the motivational speaker Les Brown once said, you can waste a lot of years not doing what you dream of, because you don’t envision yourself living that dream. The same applies for positive thinking. You need to have  strong motivation in practicing positive thinking, such as obtaining happiness or achieving your goals.

Although there are a lot of tools available, you need to use those that fit your needs. So, if laughter is what works for you, then make this your tool for focusing on positive thinking.

No matter what tool you choose, you always have to be aware of the traps negative thinking set for you and avoid them. Don’t become a victim of events inside your mind. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t complain about what you don’t know or have. Don’t compare yourself to others.


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Each time you need to pay special attention to your situation and ask yourself:

What brought you there?

What role did you play in that particular situation?

What is the worst thing that can happen?

What is the solution?

What is the lesson you’ve learned?

What have you discovered about yourself during this experience?

Positive thinking is a “happy habit” and it requires that you change the way you see everything that is happening.


positive thinking exercises

Here are some positive thinking exercises you might want to try:


It often happens that you become discouraged because of the inner conversation that takes place inside your mind. By changing the words you use there, you can encourage positive thinking:

“I will learn new things” instead of “I don’t know how to do it”

“I need a different approach” instead of “It’s too complicated”

“I won’t stop trying” instead of “It will never work”

“I’ll give it a try” instead of “This change will not be good”.


Find what positive words can help you to maintain positive thinking and repeat them several times a day. You can schedule a specific time to do it, so you don’t forget. Your choice has to be something that really elevates your spirit, something you strongly believe in, as the power of positive affirmations enhances when you believe in it with all your spirit.


Start a competition with yourself in which winning means being able to extract the positive side from three negative situations that occur in your daily life. The stakes are high, as life is unpredictable and you cannot foresee what will happen in any one day. Every time you manage to do this, reward yourself with a small treat, like having a cup of coffee on a top-floor terrace or watching a film premiered at a fancy cinema.


Every time you get stuck in a negative situation, think about what you did in the past in a similar situation and decide how you are going to act now. This will not only help you find a better solution this time, but it will give you a positive boost because you will realise how much you’ve grown in judgment.


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Positive quotes have an impact on our mind, especially if placed on sight. You can display some of these quotes at your desk, on your refrigerator, on your nightstand, on the bathroom mirror shelf. You can print quotes from the internet, buy pocket books containing positive quotes or, for even a more solid impact, you can write them yourself by hand.

All you need to do is choose quotes that actually work on you and not just print any quotes.

Here are some examples:

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.- Mahatma Gandhi


When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we took so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened up for us. – Helen Keller


We don’t see the things the way they are. We see things the way WE are. – Talmund


Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds. – Norman Vincent Peale


If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.- Dr Wayne Dyer


Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present. – Olatunji


Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude. – Zig Ziglar


Formal education will make you a living. Self education will make you a fortune. – Jim Rohn


Visit my post with motivational quotes for more inspiration.


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practice positive thinking

As mentioned in  the section “Focusing on positive thinking”, positive thinking requires practice above all else. In order to think positively every day, you can use some of the suggestions below:


Choose something you enjoy, whether it’s jogging, tennis or swimming and exercise every day.

Physical effort will uplift your mood, clear your body from chemicals, release endorphins and improve your blood pressure, with all of these contributing to positive thinking and attitude.


Identify the areas that push you into negative thinking and throw them out of your life! Although it can be a time-consuming, determination-needed and sometimes hurtful process, changing the negative from your work place, social interactions or love life will definitely be worth the effort, as you will empower yourself more with positive thinking.


Schedule a 10 minute break every day and away from everything, to read comic books, watch funny videos, think about a memory that makes you laugh or listen to audio gags. Laughter triggers positive thoughts, not to mention, it acts as a tonic for your entire body.

Laughter triggers positive thoughts & acts as a tonic for your entire body. Click To Tweet

Identify and spend at least 5 minutes every day with someone you see as amazingly positive. If it cannot always be face to face, a phone conversation can do the trick. You will fill your positivity batteries just by seeing or hearing their appetite for life.☺


You need to spend some time with yourself every day. In the evening, before going to sleep, make yourself your priority.

Give yourself credit for something good that you did during the day, forgive yourself for at least one mistake you made that day and make a commitment to learn something from it, take a moment to be grateful for all the amazing people and things in your life, clear your mind through meditation from all the negativity built over the day, encourage yourself for the next day’s challenges.


It is important that you show a positive attitude every day, in regards to your life, goals and achievements. That is why it is important to understand what is it that you really want, to see yourself doing or how you want to live. You must write down the Action Plan of how you are going to get there and start working immediately on what you have decided, with small steps. The feeling that each day you are working on your dreams will boost your confidence and willpower, while maintaining a positive thinking attitude.


In the agitation of life, make room for play. Just have fun, either it’s playing with your niece, frantically dancing by yourself in pajamas or watching some classic animated movies. If your childhood has been a happy one, behaving like a child will remind you of those times and fill your positive think tank.


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Set yourself a route to explore the treasures of the city you live in. Most people don’t know what beauties hide under the appearance of a common city, from that modern Australian food restaurant up on Sesame Street, to the independent theatre near the park, performing only at night. The sense of adventure, when visiting all kind of attractions, will relieve your stress and bring in some positive thinking and enthusiasm.



This guide turned out to be longer and more complete than I initially planned. And it’s no wonder why. Positive thinking is a hot topic with a lot of research papers dedicated to studying our brains, psychological techniques and exercises.

No matter how you are going to use the knowledge from this guide, I wish you all the best on your journey towards a more positive and happy self.


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