positive thinking strategies | PCOS and the Power of Positive Thinking: Myth or Reality | does positive thinking really work| positive thinking practice exercises | does the power of positive thinking really work

The Power of Positive Thinking: Myth or Reality?


If you have PCOS or any other chronic disease or serious health condition, you have doubtless heard a litany of well-meaning suggestions from friends, family, and nosy strangers about the importance of positive thinking:

“Remember to keep a positive mindset.”
“Just think positively.”
“Focus on the positive, not the negative.”
“Trust the Universe!”

And maybe, like me, you get really tired of hearing it! Sure, the idea of thinking positively is great, but does it really work? And is it even possible to change your outlook?

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s bestselling book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, she lays out some potential pitfalls and downsides to our cultural obsession with positivity, such as a refusal to consider negative outcomes, denial, self-blame, and counterproductive magical thinking. Applied to a condition like PCOS, this could look like a tendency to ignore the disease’s real ramifications on one’s health, a refusal to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments, shaming and blaming one’s self for struggling to cope, or throwing time, money, and hope at snake oil “cures” that are unsupported by science.

On the other hand, we know from research that when it comes to chronic diseases that are controllable with rigorous self-care, like PCOS, optimism is a crucial component to successful adaptation. In particular, a positive and optimistic sense of one’s ability to cope is crucial. There is also a large volume of research documenting the beneficial effects of a positive state of mind on a person’s happiness. But where’s the line between helpful and unrealistic positivity? Where should you start? Does this mean you have to put flowers in your hair and talk only about peace and universal love?! What if we have a bad day and just want to mope?!

Fear not! Here is a list of easy positive thinking strategies that research, as well as my clinical experience, proves are helpful in cultivating happiness and positive coping:

  • Positivity does NOT mean denial: Thinking positively doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t experience “negative” emotions like anger, jealousy, or sadness. In fact, it’s crucial that we let those emotions OUT so that they don’t stay stuck inside us. The key is to remember that difficult emotions are like bad weather; if you wait a bit and take shelter, they will pass. Encourage a compassionate view of yourself, do some self-care, and do something to release the feelings like journaling, exercising, or talking about them to someone supportive. The sun will come out again!
  • Watch out for those social comparisons: It’s easy, especially with PCOS, to look upon your non-PCOS friends or acquaintances with envy, scorn, sadness, or anger, and to compare your self unfavorably to them. But it’s a trap! Comparing yourself unfavorably to others (what we psychologists call downward comparisons) only leads to further unhappiness. If you catch yourself doing this, think to yourself: “Oops! I’m doing that comparison thing again!” Then redirect your focus to something else.
  • Remember that your interpretation influences your perception: How you interpret an event, such as positive and potentially beneficial versus negative and unhelpful, will actually influence how you perceive the event itself! This, in turn, will influence what you expect from similar events in the future. Over time, this creates a pattern of how you experience the world. If you find yourself interpreting things negatively (e.g.: “This doctor is an idiot!”), try to practice what psychologists call reframing by reinterpreting the event in a positive light (e.g.: “I seem to know more than this doctor, which means my research powers are working!”). This will help improve your outlook on the future, such as by changing a related expectation like “I’ll never find a good doctor” into “I know exactly what I’m looking for in a doctor.”
  • Try to find the upside: It can be helpful to remember that even a serious and challenging condition like PCOS can result in positive outcomes. For instance, positive coping with a chronic illness may lead to an improved appreciation for life, an enhanced sense of purpose, clarity about life’s priorities, and even better and more fulfilling relationships! I recommend making it a daily practice to write a simple list of at least five things you are grateful for. See if you can find gratitude even in life’s challenges!
  • Far from being pointless exercises in empty positivity, practicing these tips and exercises means you are actually rewiring your brain to think more positively, feel more optimistic, and experience greater happiness. Positive thinking is certainly not a quick fix, nor a cure-all, and it’s expected (and OK!) that you will have dark days, but treating happiness as a practice instead of a destination is a crucial part of coping with illness.


de Ridder, D., Geenen, R., Kuijer, R., & van Middendorp, H. (2008). Psychological adjustment to chronic disease. Lancet (London, England), 372(9634), 246–55. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61078-8

Fournier, M., Ridder, D., & Bensing, J. (2002). Optimism and adaptation to chronic disease: The role of optimism in relation to self-care options of type 1 diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 7(4), 409–432. http://doi.org/10.1348/135910702320645390

Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why Are Some People Happier Than Others? American Psychologist, 56(3), 239–249. http://doi.org/1O.1O37//0OO3-O66X.56.3.239

Leave a Comment: