“Well you can’t now!” Then I would turn over and go back to sleep. She would never believe me that the more you tell yourself that you can’t sleep, the less likely that you will fall asleep anytime soon. Being able to fall asleep quickly has always been one of those situations where I’ve believed that control of one’s thoughts is a terrific boon. There were times in the past where I’d lay awake, cursing myself for my inability to fall asleep. These days, I just remind myself that I’ll fall asleep soon, and guess what? I do.
Jim Kwik is always saying, “Your brain is a supercomputer and your self-talk is the program it will run,” and he’s right. You could go now and test it by telling yourself loads of negative things, but I don’t want you to do that. The whole point of this article is that you do the exact opposite.
Negative Thoughts Ruin Relationships
Minutes ago I sent a client a screenshot of seven emails she had sent me, every email the same. Something was wrong with her email server so she thought that her mails weren’t sending and so she sent me multiple copies of the same mail. When she got my screenshot she laughed and said, “I knew I’d sent them.” This was through Facebook messenger so she knew I had seen her reply and when I hadn’t responded in short order, she messaged again saying, “Are you annoyed?”
This is a person who has worked with me for 6 months and never seen me annoyed, in fact I am so rarely annoyed that many of my friends that I’ve known for years have never seen me in a bad mood. The way she interpreted my lack of an immediate response was entirely negative. The reality was that I was writing another email and I don’t “task switch” if I can help it. It’s inefficient.
I get that we can’t all be Zen masters never experiencing any sort of preconceptions, but it seems too easy to jump to a negative conclusion. I’ve found that doing so is extremely harmful and not helpful in the slightest. I once dated a lady who was a little jealous and one night an ex called me. Her name popped up on the screen of my phone. I didn’t want to speak with her (for reasons that will become clear) and intended to just let it ring out. Fiona, my girlfriend, asked me, “Why don’t you want to answer it in front of me, have you got something to hide?” She had a look on her face I’d never seen before, it was blind fury.
“Very well,” I said and answered the call on speakerphone to receive a tirade of abuse and recriminations from the caller.
Fiona was most apologetic and admitted she’d been jealous for no reason. I’m not interested in arguing so I moved past the episode, but it could easily have sparked a fight. And for what?
Imagine all the times that negative thoughts have contributed to unhappy feelings:
- A loved one is late. Where are they? Are they safe? Anything could have happened. You panic and start getting upset. When they get home you are angry with them or upset and it manifests in a negative way. They’re confused or apologetic.
- Your significant other is out with his/her friends and tells you they’ll be home by midnight and it’s ten past. They didn’t text and they’re not answering their phone. They’re drunk in a ditch or cheating on you. You go to bed in a bad mood and pretend you’re asleep when they come in. You harbour doubts.
- You cook a nice meal, you don’t get the response you were expecting. Why don’t they care about all the hard work you put in?
- You get a new haircut, wear a new suit/new cologne. Your partner doesn’t notice. Why aren’t they interested in you any more?
- Your other half works such long hours, it’s almost as though they don’t want to be home with you.
And so on. Are any of those familiar? Some are familiar to me.
How To Handle Negative Thoughts
You could rephrase that into, “how to handle positive thoughts,” if you wanted, but there’s a marked difference between the two. There’s many schools of thought that say that things are only negative and positive if we believe them to be and I agree with that. The thing is, our culture and upbringings drive our beliefs, so I’m not sure pretending to be above all that sort of thing is helpful.
I recommend the practice of meditation. There is no scope here to teach you how to meditate and I’m not well suited for that sort of instruction. Nevertheless, sitting quietly, by yourself and examining your thoughts is an invaluable exercise. There won’t always be space for that sort of thing, so let’s look at a negative thought a person might have and look at an example of what I’m talking about.
Tomorrow, I will be making a 30 minute presentation to the executive board of a large company. I stand to make a lot of money if the presentation goes well or I could end up looking like a tool. Something could go horribly wrong. What if I forget what to say? What if I fluff my lines or don’t come across well? What if someone doesn’t like my face? What if I cough or sneeze or fart or get a stomach ache during the presentation. What happens if (and this isn’t that unlikely) I say something outrageous and there are people present who are humourless?
This is a real example. Those thoughts aren’t mine though. I do have a big presentation to make, and it’s pivotal for my relationship with that company. I’m not worried though and here’s what I would tell myself if those thoughts started worming their way into my mind.
- I might look like a tool – nobody cares how I look. I’ll wear a suit and I’ll brush my hair. That’s about all that is necessary. Most people find me acceptable to the eye and I’m convinced that these people will be no different. I often get positive feedback about my dress sense and appearance, why would tomorrow be any different?
- I won’t forget what to say. I have a presentation, that will prompt me. In addition to that, they don’t know what I’m going to say, so how will they know if I get it wrong? I can speak for literal hours about succession planning and manager development, 30 minutes is a piece of cake.
- I won’t eat in the morning and I won’t drink a lot meaning that the chances of me needing a call of nature or my stomach rumbling are zero. Basic biology.
- My sense of humour and presentation style is close to the knuckle, but we’re all grown-ups and not once in 20 years has anyone complained about it. In fact, I know that my dry wit and keenly developed communication strategy is responsible for much of my success.
I’m not sure if what I do to negative thoughts is obvious from what I’ve written. I look at them logically and turn them on their heads into something positive and then bolster that positivity with evidence from my past. Putting it simply I have positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts.
It’s one of the big myths of our time that we are at the mercy of our thoughts. Firstly that we have to have all these unbidden and unhelpful thoughts and secondly that we cannot direct them.
Stop being a victim of your own mind.
How To Have Positive Thoughts
Easier said than done, huh?
Maybe, but let’s get to it.
Looking at the situations above, where you might have concocted outlandish scenarios turning the commonplace into the catastrophic, I’ll illustrate the sorts of things you can think to keep yourself:
Happy instead of angry
Productive instead of fretful and wasteful
Grateful instead of bitter
- A loved one is late. They probably just lost track of time. Their timekeeping abilities aren’t high on the list of reasons I love them so I’ll give it half an hour before drawing any conclusions whatsoever. If they don’t respond to my text messages, it’s probably because they are driving. I’ll think back to the times that I’ve been late and appreciated that they understood and didn’t question me or meet me disapprovingly at the front door when I returned home. It probably means that they’ve had a great time and I’m happy for them.
- Your significant other is out with his/her friends and tells you they’ll be home by midnight and it’s ten past. I’m not a jealous person so the thought that they might be with someone else is simply preposterous. This also normally indicates that they’ve had a great time, so good for them. This also gives me a pass when I’m late to return which isn’t super uncommon.
- You cook a nice meal, you don’t get the response you were expecting. Did I cook the meal for the praise? If so, I should look at my motivation more closely; what am I lacking that I’m trying to get? Cook for someone if you want, but never give anyone that much power over your feelings. If they weren’t grateful, ask them, but be prepared for an honest answer. If it’s something they normally love, maybe it’s an opportunity for them to open up to you.
- You get a new haircut, wear a new suit/new cologne. Geez, do you need attention this badly that you’ll react negatively if you don’t get the type of attention you desire? Look good for yourself first of all, but if you’re not getting the type of attention you’re used to, ask why. Getting mad or sulking will only put you in a non-productive place. Maybe you didn’t look that great or it doesn’t look any different or it’s too subtle to notice. Maybe your intended victim is distracted or they need something other than you attempting to impress. This can open up avenues of communication that can benefit you.
- Your other half works long hours because he or she wants to succeed which benefits you. End of. Unless they’ve got a history of deceitfulness, and if they have reconsider your choices, examine your own mind for the reasons your mind jumps into the gutter.
Growth opportunities are helpful.
Finding out about yourself and your loved ones is beneficial.
Discomfort is the currency of success, embrace it. When you understand this, you can understand why a lot of things you viewed as negative are in fact positive.
There are numerous other things that will enable you to be a positive thinker:
- Meditation, as mentioned above, is an excellent first step to examining and guiding your thoughts
The list could go on. Having an optimistic mindset and reacting positively to external events is an incredibly empowering experience, don’t pass by the opportunity to assume control of your life.