We’re continually told to focus on the positive and fill our minds with gratitude, even in difficult or challenging situations. I encourage others to do this and I’ve tried hard to follow my own advice, but to be honest, it is often a struggle. At times, no matter how hard I’ve tried to be positive, my thoughts have immediately swung back to what is missing. I couldn’t seem to help myself. I’d tell myself to let go of the negative and exhort myself to focus on the positive, but it was easier said than done.
I began to think something was the matter with me and wondered whether I should just accept that I was a negative person. I asked myself whether I could change the habit of a lifetime.
That question changed my life because I realised my negative way of viewing the world had become a habit.
I knew from experience that every habit could be changed so why not this one?
Over the years I’d replaced unhealthy habits such as not getting exercise or eating unhealthy food with new healthier habits. I decided to treat my thoughts as a bad habit I wanted to change. I applied the five steps I’ve used to change other habits and adapted them to fit my thinking. These steps changed my life.
I believe you can change your thought habits, by following these five steps:
Pay attention to what you think. Don’t try to change your thoughts at this stage, just take note of the times you focus on what is missing or your thoughts become negative. Look for any patterns in your thoughts and pay attention to what triggers negative thinking. What specific situations cause you to focus on what is missing and which individuals send your thinking into a downward tailspin? Identify emotions such as jealousy, anger, disappointment or fear that trigger a torrent of negative thinking. Pay attention.
How do you talk to yourself when things are tough? Are you encouraging or critical of yourself? I was shocked to discover that when I felt inadequate, I’d often harshly blame and criticise myself for being a failure, whether or not I had done anything to cause the situation.
You have to know what you are thinking and what causes it before you can choose to think differently.
So what benefits do you get from your negative thinking?
I was shocked when I understood the benefits I got from my negative thinking. For example, I discovered that blaming others for something I didn’t like, allowed me to shift responsibility for fixing it from myself to the other person.
Constantly focusing on not having enough time, gives you an excuse for not doing the things you really want to. And why would you do that? Because if your dream is to become an artist but you have no time to paint, you can never fail as an artist. If you tell yourself you don’t have time to watch your children play in the school sports team each week, you give yourself an excuse for not making changes in your lifestyle. Focusing on not having enough money for a holiday, or having a difficult boss puts you in the role of victim and this usually generates sympathy and attention from others.
Focusing on what was missing in my life allowed me to opt out of responsibility for making changes in my life. It allowed me to be a victim.
If you don’t understand the benefits you get from your negative thinking, you will struggle to change your thoughts, because you will not want to let those benefits go, even if you are not consciously aware of them.
Take some time to imagine having the things you want in your life that are currently missing. Imagine standing on the sideline of the sports field watching your son play football or imagine spending time each week painting. Imagine your boss acknowledging your hard work to others or imagine feeling confident in a crowded room of strangers. Imagine having enough money for a holiday in Bali. Imagine feeling empowered in your life so you can go after your dreams.
I’ve discovered that this step makes enables me to let go of the old benefits of negative thinking because these benefits are far more valuable to me. You can only create a new habits when we truly want the benefits that come from them more than you want the benefits of your old habit.
The changes you make in your outer world will flow into your inner thought world.
Sometimes you cannot change your situation, but you can always change how you respond and behave in any situation. Let’s look at some examples. If I’m in a relationship in which my needs aren’t being met because I never ask for anything, I change the relationship by telling my partner what I need. Or if I don’t have enough money for the holiday in Bali I want, I can choose a cheaper holiday destination or I can start saving a few dollars each week by not buying a morning coffee and taking my lunch to work. If I struggle socially with strangers, I can join Toastmasters, or I can stretch myself by inviting a colleague I don’t know, to have a drink with me. If I don’t have time, I can create that time for painting by cutting my TV watching hours by one to two hours a night. No matter what situation you find yourself in, you can always create change.
Every time I challenge a negative thought, I take a few minutes to list all that things in my life right now that I have to be thankful for. Because I’m taking more control of my life, this feels more genuine and not as if I’m trying to talk myself into something.
If you follow these five steps, you will create new thought habits. This won’t happen overnight because you created your habits over a long period of time – perhaps a lifetime. However, you will succeed if you are committed.
Start small by choosing one thought habit you want to change and work only on that. Expect to fail often, especially at the start, but every time you find your mind filled with negativity, go back to Step 1 and start again.
Remember that changing habits is about consciously choosing a different path. I can guarantee that if you honestly apply these five steps you will replace thinking focused on what is missing with thinking that supports and uplifts you.
What do you find the hardest part of changing habits? What success have you had in the past changing any habit? I’d love to hear from you – why don’t you leave a message below.
Feel free to share this post with anyone you think it might help.
Image by Alexey Dushutin