Who can forget Alice’s sudden tumble down the rabbit hole, deep down into Wonderland where she meets very odd characters and nothing is really as it seems. So it is with negative thinking. Once we decide to peer into that dark cave of thought, we can quickly be pulled down into deeper, darker thoughts, and as we near the bottom we can often lose all hope of ever climbing out to a safer, more reasonable ground. On the other hand, positive thinking is being able to take control and notice what is actually happening around you instead of fearing something that might happen. It is the ability to not let negative thoughts pull you under and take control of your life.
Easier said than done, eh?
The fact is, it’s a lot easier to run with the negative. Positive thinking is hard work! It’s like climbing a steep rocky mountain without a safety net; it’s less tedious, albeit more damaging, to just free fall off to the stony bottom. We always hear how much happier and at peace we will be when we focus on the good and remove our thoughts from the harmful depths of negativity. But how do we do that? I hope some of the following suggestions will steer you in the right direction:
- Write down everything that is worrying you and rate the likelihood of that problem happening. Play the worst case scenario game for a few minutes and then close the box on it. Michael J. Fox says “If you fixate on the worst case scenario, and it actually happens, you’ve lived it twice.” I say, accept that there is a such thing as a worst case scenario, make yourself as comfortable as possible with it, and then toss it to the wind. If it comes back to you-actually happens in real life-then at least it won’t take you by surprise. Just don’t weigh yourself down with things that may or may not happen. There’s being prepared, and then there’s being a basket case. There’s a fine line between these two, so learn to recognize and file them in appropriate boxes.
- Do your most unpleasant tasks at the start of the day rather than leaving it for later and stressing about it. Procrastination is your worst enemy, so stop hanging out with her. She’s a mean old bitch and she’s only out to harm you. Don’t answer her calls, and certainly don’t let her in the door.
- Keep a positive attitude about things, because if you allow your attitude to be negative your mood will be negative. Yes, this is common sense. No, it is not a built-in trait. It must be learned, processed, and practiced. Positivity is not some blind “everything is wonderful and even cow poop smells like fresh linen” line of thinking. I would like to throw in the word “realism” here. Often considered the merging bridge between the best and the worst, realism is ruling out the cumbersome fluff of “it’s all lovely” while refining the “oh crap, everything is going wrong and the world is a vampire sent here to drain me dry”. Remaining positive in any given situation means you look the truth of the situation in the eye, size up the damage, and choose to say “you may break my plans, but you will not break my spirit.” Tell that to your next flat tire. Tell it to your paycheck. Tell it to your mental illness.
- Keep yourself occupied, as this won’t give you the time to dwell on negative thoughts.I don’t understand the word “bored”. There is always, always, always something to do. Being bored and idle welcomes in bad thoughts faster than a dead animal welcomes the vultures. Find some hobbies. Start an exercise program. Tackle that scary closet. Do something. This is the way I was able to successfully quit smoking three years ago. I kept myself busy. It didn’t matter how silly or mundane the task was, it kept my hands full and my head focused on something besides how much I wanted to light one up. It is the same with negative thinking. If you don’t give it walking space in your head, then it can’t take up camp in your life.
- Set aside a time of the day to focus on things that are worrying you, and once that time is up walk away from it and do something else.This is much like the suggestion about writing things down. If you have a particular problem worrying you to death, set the timer and worry to your heart’s content. Think about every possible bad thing about it, and maybe even try to come up with some solutions to it if it is a fixable boo-boo in your life. When the timer goes off, it’s done. You’ve met your worrying quota for the day and it’s time to spend your efforts elsewhere.
- Find something funny about a situation rather than dwelling on the negatives. Humor truly is the best medicine. You don’t have to be a professional comedian to appreciate the lighter side of life. If we can’t laugh at ourselves and our troubles, then those troubles will kill us. Besides, laughing reduces stress, relaxes the muscles, eases pain, and improves the immune system. A hearty belly laugh offers nearly the same benefits to your heart as a jogging session, and it can actually improve hypertension (more so in women than in men). This is why, when I am depressed or worried about something, the best thing I can do is watch a comedy. Who says mindless television can’t come in handy every once in a while!
- Above all else, remember to breathe, and to know that these worrisome times will pass. Breathe it in, breathe it out. We all have difficulties to work with in our lives. We all have varying levels of self-esteem issues, and some of those issues are very severe and damaging. But your beliefs about yourself are not always accurate, and it is helpful to evaluate the core of your being to recognize untruthful thoughts, as well as rediscover neglected positives about yourself. I will write more on this topic in my next post. In the mean time, give yourself a pat on the back, a self-hug or whatnot, and decide that from this moment on you will not be a slave to the rabbit hole. Stay on level ground and resist that downward pull with every ounce of strength you have! Positive thinking doesn’t mean you block out reality or ignore issues that must be dealt with. Rather, it helps you keep on a clearer path so that you can see things as they really are, and appreciate the good stuff despite the bad.