woman jumping
woman jumping
(Image credit: BURGER/PHANIE/REX/Shutterstock)

We've all heard that optimists live longer, happier, healthier lives. But, if you fall into the pessimist camp, this is just one more thing to lie awake worrying about. After all, we can't press a magic switch to flip our thought patterns from negative to positive, can we? Maybe not, but there are concrete, evidence-backed steps we can take to begin to harness the power of positive thinking.

Your state of mind may influence your mental and physical performance to a far greater degree than you are aware. Sports psychologists believe that psychological factors may account for up to 90% of the variability in an elite athlete's performance. But these Olympian-approved tips and tricks, reported by the British Psychological Society in their most recent PsychCrunch podcast, could help you to achieve your (off-field) goals too…

1. Change your mindset

Familiar with that heart-pumping feeling of dread? See that upcoming meeting, deadline, date or gym visit as a threat (a negative, overwhelming experience) and your blood vessels will constrict as your heart rate increases. The result? Decreased blood flow to your brain.

Tell yourself that it is a (positive, achievable) challenge, though, and, whilst your heart rate will still increase, your heart will pump out more blood as your blood vessels widen, enabling more blood to flow into your brain.

2. Make it all about you

That little voice in your head that tries to push you on or drag you down? Psychologists call it 'self-talk'. Positive self-talk is, unsurprisingly, thought to be much more helpful than negative self-talk, but a simple switch can boost its impact even further… addressing yourself in the second person. Tell yourself that 'you can do it' (not 'I can do it') for maximum impact.

Struggling to believe yourself? Don't forget to tell yourself why 'you can do it'.

3. Picture this

It's official - mental imagery works. Martial artists recorded an immediate 20% improvement in reaction times when they visualised themselves performing well. Scientists believe that simply thinking about an upcoming challenge can impair performance, but that visualisation can hone a more helpful form of focus.

For optimum results, picture yourself doing exactly what you intend to do, but see yourself performing better than you - or any human - could ever realistically manage, researchers recommend.

Listen to the full podcast below. Read the advice of happiness expert Paul Dolan for more tips on positive thinking.