Life Advice

Positive thinking can jump-start your life, career and happiness

Use it to embrace new possibilities, and make the most of bad situations

If you need proof of the life-altering powers of positive thinking, then you only need to look at Neil Francis. The author of new book Positive Thinking: How To Create A World Full of Possibilities was only 41 when he was hit by a stroke that left him unable to speak, with his memory in shreds and temporarily blind in his right eye. 

That’s a lot to bounce back from. But bounce back Francis did – and all because of positive thinking. ‘For about three years it was absolutely horrific,’ Francis explains. ‘Physically I was lucky, but cognitively I was a mess. For about a year I couldn’t communicate, I lost my memory, my words and I was an emotional wreck.’

Neil Francis, author of Positive Thinking

Before the stroke Francis had been the CEO of a digital company, and it was this identity that he missed most. ‘When that’s ripped away it’s really difficult to just get up and live every day,’ says Francis. It took working with a NHS neuropsychologist for him to understand that he was grieving for his previous life, and that he would have to learn to accept his new situation to be able to move forward.

‘About nine months later I got to the point of accepting that I wouldn’t be a chief executive again, and suddenly I started to see possibilities all around me about what I could do,’ explains Francis. At the time he was still struggling with his speech and memory, but his wife encouraged him to take up caddying at his local golf course. ‘It was at that point that I started to realise that positive thinking for me is all about looking at the possibilities you’re presented with every day, and making sensible decisions whether you should go for them or not.’ 

Francis advocates a positive thinking that revolves around making the most of the possibilities in your life, rather than blind optimism or blocking out negative thoughts. ‘First up, you’ve just got to accept where you’re at,’ says Francis. ‘Whatever life has thrown at you, good or bad, you’ve got to accept it. If you keep looking backwards and regretting what has happened, you’re not going to see any possibilities.’ Once you’re in a place where you can assess what possibilities are open to you, you can decide what risks and rewards they present. For Francis, the risks of caddying were that his language skills still weren’t back to normal; he was worried about sounding foolish, or getting embarrassed about forgetting words. But the rewards would be that he would get his confidence back, he’d get to interact with the CEOs and business people he’d worked with before, and he’d get fit in the open air. 

That possibility became a reality for Francis, and his experience caddying enabled him to write his first book, Changing Course, as well as giving him the chance to network with venture capitalists. As a result he’s been on the board of five different digital companies over the last eight years, and has helped his son set up a digital agency, which Francis is chairman of. 

Francis is a prime example of how positive thinking can change your life for the better. Here are his three ways you can reset your mind to embrace positive thinking, and make the most of the possibilities life has to offer.

1. Cultivate a growth mindset

In Positive Thinking Francis emphasises the importance of developing a growth mindset, which determines how you deal with tough situations and setbacks, as well as your willingness to improve yourself. ‘A fixed mindset means your attributes, beliefs and abilities are inherently fixed, while people with a growth mindset see things differently,’ he explains. ‘They see their intelligence, talent, skills and success as a starting point, which allow you to grow, and can be developed with dedication, time and hard work. With acceptance comes a growth mindset. Accept your imperfections, work on the skills that don’t come so easily to you, and don’t give up because you’re not the best at something. Focus on growth rather than speed, and think of failures as a learning opportunity. Value the process over the goal, and always set new targets for yourself.’

2. Learn from your failures

Francis rejects the more old-fashioned approach to positive thinking for its attitude to failure – or rather, its complete dismissal of it. For him, failure is a central tenet of success, and something to embrace. ‘Failure teaches you to pursue more creative solutions, to build resilience, and to accept that it is not a reflection of the self,’ says Francis. ‘There’s no better feeling than success after you’ve been through a period of failure.’

3. Turn negatives into positives 

Illness, death, failure – these are all part of what it means to be human. But, for Francis, it’s how you approach them afterwards that matters. For him, positive thinking doesn’t mean avoiding negative experiences completely, but instead turning them into positive ones through embracing the new possibilities that they create. As he puts it himself: ‘Having a stroke has turned out to be one of the most positive things that has happened to me.’

Positive Thinking: How To Create A World Full of Possibilities is out now