Mind over Matter: Creating Resilience through Positive Thinking

In the Oscar-nominated film Shawshank Redemption, main character Andy is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Andy befriends another inmate named Red, and together they make the most out of life behind bars. Red observes Andy with curiosity and admiration; he notices that although his situation is dire, Andy never really accepts that he is in prison. Red says, “Andy [wore] his freedom like an invisibility coat…he never really developed a prison mentality. His eyes never got that dull look.” After twenty years of unjust captivity, Andy is eventually able to escape from prison and start a new life.
We’ve all heard sayings about the transformative power of the mind. Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, taught this principle to his followers: “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” In a time when there is so much to feel down about, even hopeless, can we really change our circumstances by changing the way we think?
There is ample evidence from the medical community about the ties between positive thinking and physical wellness. Positive thinking yields many different health benefits, including longer lifespan, decreased rates of depression, a stronger immune system, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease (Mayo Clinic, 2020). People who see things positively are also more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices, and they are more resilient in stressful situations (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020).
There is also evidence linking a positive mindset to business success. In a study of almost 200 self-made millionaires, 79% of the group believed they would be successful before they actually “made it.” Additionally, 71% of the millionaires had a habit of finding things to be grateful for in life (Corley, 2018). These success stories are not just miraculous, self-fulfilling prophecies. Numerous studies have shown that thinking positively fosters other traits crucial to succeeding in business, such as creativity, willingness to collaborate with others, and the ability to tolerate risk and failure.
How can we as business leaders foster a positive mindset among our employees and within ourselves? Here are a few expert tips for creating more positive thinking habits (Mayo Clinic, 2020):
• Check yourself. Learning to think positively requires breaking habits of negative thinking. Set reminders for yourself throughout the day to notice your thoughts and make adjustments if needed. If you do a daily meeting or check-in with your team, start your meeting by encouraging the group to notice their thoughts; if they are bogged down with something negative, suggest they find something positive in their life to be grateful for.
• Bring humor into your life. Even in difficult times, smiling and laughing are crucial to improving our mood and coping with stress. Make time for yourself to enjoy a movie or show that makes you laugh. Share a funny story with your team. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself—finding humor in your own mistakes sets a good example for your employees.
• Create active habits. Just as a positive mindset is good for our bodies, the inverse is also true: exercise is a mood-booster. Make sure you are giving yourself time to exercise—around 30 minutes a day is ideal. When possible, have “walking meetings” with team members rather than always sitting at your desk. For company events or team-building exercises, consider holding activities outside that give people a chance to move.
In both our personal and professional lives, many of us have had to cope with new sources of stress and worry. Political unrest, economic recession, and an ongoing public health crisis have made life in America drastically different than just a few months ago, and many feel worried about the future. The challenges ahead are very real, but we cannot underestimate how our mindset can help us through these difficult times.


Corley, Tom. 25 July 2018. Author who studies millionaires: Here’s why most successful people are upbeat and positive. CNBC Money. Available at https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/24/tom-corley-why-most-successful-people-are-upbeat-and-positive.html.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2020. The power of positive thinking. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-power-of-positive-thinking.
The Mayo Clinic. 21 Jan 2020. Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950.

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