Positive thinking has become a rather trendy topic, where the overall framework is for an individual to approach the situations in life with a positive attitude, framing things in a more positive manner.
Whilst the theory and articles make it sound all...positive, the practical bits can be more of a frustrating process where one can fall back to being hopeless. I am not suggesting the advice is impractical, it’s just a little “one size doesn’t fit all” type of thing. Whilst gratitude is indeed a prescription to many dissatisfactions, “Be grateful and show gratitude” isn’t enough when you feel that you can’t breathe and your chest is aching. So I thought I would provide a few alternatives because I know what it’s like to be “the other size”.
To fairly start this conversation, I need to introduce you to some data. In the book The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, the research results drawn on years of researching groups of men and women uncovered: 50% of one’s happiness is dependant on the genetic material
40% is dependant on intentional activities
10% is dependant on circumstances
What does this tell us?
The key point is that you are only in charge and can impact half of your happiness. You can change the intentions that you set for yourself and the efforts you put in to change the circumstances. And as Neil Pasricha also put it “What you do in the world is 4 times more important than what is happening to you”. So let’s see what we can do to improve our positive thinking wiring and let go of some negativity.
UNTANGLING OUR INHERITED NOTIONS OF HAPPINESS
Firstly, we need to untangle whatever is that you were taught about happiness and positivity. As children, the way we are introduced to what happiness is backwards, where we have to adhere to a stoic mindset of going through life achieving things to (possibly) reach happiness.
Behave, have good grades, get a good job and retire HAPPILY.
You might think “weren’t we talking about positivity, Rima?”. Yes, we still are. Hear me out: If all your life you have only known to bite your fingers and move to achieve the next thing because happiness is just around the corner, then you probably have also learnt to see what needs to be fixed and improved first, before seeing what is to be celebrated.
If you have “postponed” celebrating achievements of all sizes because you have been brought up to continuously go after the next thing, then you don’t take the time to look at the good aspects. And positivity, my friend is a thinking pattern. If you have been surrounded by people who were constantly complaining or criticising, guess what, you are probably doing the same.
Positivity is an exercise of what you see first in a situation. And what you see is dependant on the formed patterns.Positivity starts in your mind because thoughts are emotionally charged, and also thoughts get wired based on a pattern that you have formed. Becoming more positive means changing the existing patterns, so that next time you find yourself in a new situation- you will see the other aspects first (the ones that you probably don’t at the moment).
So what can we do to change the pattern?
Eliminate elements that trigger negative reactions: Disconnect yourself from the news and any medium that influences your immediate judgement of the “world situation”. Disconnect yourself from the things that consume you or fire you up. What we do most of the time, is we get immersed in the angry headlines and events happening around us. Our minds are captivated by controversy, shock and extremes. These can easily catch our attention and are used against us because others monetize on this. Attention is the currency of the 21st century. Many times, these shocking headlines are more a matter of dramatic writing than a reflection of the objective reality. If we zoom out a bit we can actually see that in the grand scheme of things these aren’t that frequent and the world is actually doing all right. Just like with any other financial trends, we lose sight and perspective by being in the vortex of daily negativity and data and, thus, we get consumed by relatively minor things. This might also mean stepping back from a negative talk in the office or other situations where your attention is captured, but you aren’t an active part of the setting (or you choose to not be a part of it). Your environment is full of attention sucking vampires. Don’t let them suck the positivity out of you. Become aware of when you fall in these little things. Remember, it’s 40% the intentional activities you engage in.
EAT THE FROG: This is a traditional way of saying “do the thing that bothers you most first thing in the morning". A lot of the time, we spend big parts of our days negatively in the anticipation of something that needs to happen later in the day. We spend the time complaining about it, scoffing at it, or crippled in anxiety simply because there’s something that makes us uncomfortable. As a result, our brain keeps us away from what we need to do by procrastinating. So to increase your positivity levels, in this case, means cutting out what consumes it most. Therefore, make up a list of things that you don’t like doing but need to be done and make them your first points on your to do list every day. This doesn’t only increase your mental agility, but you also get to spend the rest of the time more positively (both body and mind).
The “I want, and I will...” statement: Children are happy because they do what they want most of the time, they are guided by feelings. Children do what feels good, and when something isn’t- they outwardly show that. Adults are following thinking, are following a plan, are following security. And these latter ones often stand in the way of doing more of what lights us up. So next morning you wake up, write down “I want…” and write down in detail what you want for your soul. Then follow with “I will” and write down the specifics of what you WILL actively do to make yourself feel good. Usually, these are the things that we regret not doing when we go to bed at night and we make ourselves a promise of doing them tomorrow. Whilst adult life is indeed busy and full of responsibilities, these often feel even more difficult because we haven’t mentally, emotionally and physically nurtured ourselves in ways that would help us be more balanced during challenging times.
Removing “no statements”, negations or negatively charged thoughts: You’ll realize that something so simple can be a little more difficult in the first few days. As we are all wired differently, some of us just have the tendency to use “no” a lot, criticize, use words that focus on the negative aspects (person, situation) or denote some negative associations. For this purpose, I want you now to visualize a BIG “STOP” sign. With your eyes closed, see the red colours, the font and how vibrant the sign is. As you are visualizing this, in a soft spoken voice say the word “negativity” a few times. As you’re doing your daily thinking and talking, I challenge you to catch yourself in the action and stop yourself whenever you are on the negative side of things. Whenever you hear yourself going overly critical and negative, I want you to visualize the “STOP” sign. Even when you listen to your thinking self, supervise the talking mind and filter out the negatively charged statements that are critical towards yourself (or others). These are often bold, harsh and bitter lines.
Change from neutral to positive: So the scope of this exercise is to move from negative wording to neutral wording, and then from neutral wording to positive wording. Here’s an example: Next time someone asks you how you’re doing, don’t respond with “Alright” or “I feel like I’ve been hit by a car”, but rather say “I am doing my best to…, given that I am feeling a little off”. Another way you could reframe this is by saying “Although I feel a little under the weather today, I am hopeful to have a lovely day and do my best…”. This way you encourage yourself and send a more pleasant signal to the other person. If you keep repeating yourself “I feel like a loser/ I feel like a total wreck” believe it or not that is how you will feel, because that’s the quality of the fuel your brain is feeding on. Changing your language is a proven way to change your mindset. And the easiest way to move towards more positivity is to change the words that you use to describe feelings and to make up thoughts.
De-personalize the meaning of events: People with strong negative thinking patterns often interpret what’s happening around them from a very personal point of view. Usually, this means that they will take things personally, as if something is against them, trying to cause them discomfort, or attack their sense of identity. Most of the time, it isn’t the case, so what often happens is they consume themselves constantly by trying to defend themselves. If this sounds like you- take a step back and remind yourself it most probably has nothing to do with you. And if it feels like it does, ask yourself “what part of me is feeling threatened, offended or hurt? And why?”
The finger dance: for the times when you are in a cycle of negative thinking, as these are inevitable, I want you to look at your hands and start touching the finger from one hand with one from the other hand by following this model: Left Hand Thumb- Right Hand Pinky Left Hand Index Finger- Right Hand Ring finger Left Middle FInger- Right Middle Finger Left Hand Ring FInger- RIght Hand Index Finger Left Hand Pinky- Right Hand Thumb And then continue from the bottom upwards for quite a few times as the mind quiets down.
Whilst these are brief introductions to more complex discussions, I hope you will take a moment to include them in your daily practice. Let me know how it works for you and what your journey with positive thinking has been like.