Imagine your boss comes up to you in the morning and says, “I’d like to speak with you.” She takes you into her office and informs you that she’s recently noticed several errors in your work. How do you respond? Do you respond argumentatively or negatively? Or do you ask what you can do to improve?

Many people become defensive, angry and even depressed when faced with unpleasant external circumstances. But by harnessing the power of constructive thinking, you can end the cycle of self-defeating thought patterns and develop a more positive mindset. In doing so, you’ll increase your overall satisfaction in life.

What Is Constructive Thinking?

Constructive thinking refers to a set of cognitive and habitual behavioral processes that govern how you react to external circumstances. Constructive thinking differs from intelligence in that it integrates your emotions and experiences surrounding events in your life. It focuses both on problem-solving and relationship-building.

You can’t control everything that happens to you. No matter how well you establish yourself in your career, you can lose your job during a round of corporate layoffs. Even if you eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise, a car accident or illness can ravage your health. While you can’t control if or when such tragedies strike, you can control the way you react to your circumstances.

How Constructive Thinking Impacts Your Overall Mindset

Consider the way your reactions to external events influence your thoughts and emotions. For example, if your boss tells you she’s noticed errors in your work, what happens if you respond defensively?

Reacting defensively injures your relationship with your boss further. Getting angry sends the message you think you’re perfect and above reproach. It also hinders your desire to make positive changes to your work habits that could bolster your productivity and improve your performance overall.

Compare this to responding both openly and honestly. Perhaps events in your personal life, like a difficult divorce, impair your performance on-the-clock. You could say, “I understand your concerns, and I apologize my work has faltered lately. I’m dealing with _____. I want to improve my performance, but I may need time. Do you have suggestions for how I can do better at my job while still dealing with this emotionally-trying time?”

A good manager will respond positively to such open honesty and genuine desire to improve. They know that employees who can communicate transparently with their supervisors stay with their organization 30 percent longer on average. Considering the high cost of employee turnover, they’ll go out of their way to retain such quality staff members.

As a result, instead of walking out of the meeting feeling defeated, even insulted, you’ll leave feeling empowered. You’ll develop with your manager a clear course of action for improvement. And, since she knows about your situation, she may provide you with paid time off when needed to manage your affairs.

How to Use Constructive Thinking to Achieve a Positive Mindset

Using constructive thinking helps you preserve important relationships and effectively solve problems. What can you do to improve your ability to use constructive thinking to create a more positive mindset overall? Try the following activities.

  • Keep a journal. Journals make excellent tools for processing your emotions. They create a judgment-free zone where you can process negative emotions and reframe your thoughts surrounding events. An entry after a particularly trying day might start with a rant, a la, “I can’t believe my coworker took all the credit for my idea,” and end with, “in the future, I can email strokes of genius to my boss ahead of important meetings so she can give credit where it is due.”
  • Wear a rubber band on your wrist. When you feel yourself growing defensive or getting ready to snap, slap the band against your wrist instead. This serves as a kinesthetic reminder to check your emotions and reflect before you react.
  • Take a break. If an overreaction threatens to overwhelm you, politely excuse yourself from the situation. Take a walk around the block or sit in your car until you get your emotions under control. Once you feel calm, you can revisit the problem.

Constructive Thinking Leads to a More Positive Life

When you use constructive thinking to manage your reactions to external events, you improve your relationships and solve problems more effectively. This creates a positive energy cycle that breeds additional opportunities to excel. The sense of control you restore alone gives you a more positive mindset, and the goodness continues to follow.