by Annie Lawler
Becoming a positive thinker isn’t (as some people imagine) sticking your head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge anything negative. The true positive thinker can see both negative and positive and looks for opportunity and learning to be gained from even challenging situations and is more resilient as a result.
Research has shown that a positive mental attitude and putting our positive thoughts into action boosts the immune system – and in any case, it’s much more fun than being negative and miserable!
How we look at things and what we focus on affects our entire wellbeing and colours how we experience life. If we’re always looking to find fault with things and waiting for the worst to happen, we tend to experience things in a negative way and conversely, if we make a habit of looking for the good things in life, our experiences are more likely to be positive.
The very nature of matter is, that for every negative particle there is a positive. Life is a balance and every situation has its positives and negatives, so it stands to reason that what we focus on is what we get. What we need to work out is how we’d like to
experience life. It’s easy to be critical but what you have to ask yourself is whether a constantly critical mindset supports you.
If you have had a few knocks in life, it’s easy to play the blame game, feel like a victim and form habits of a rather negative nature. I know that may sound a bit harsh, but think about this. Everyone goes through challenging periods of life – some more extreme than
others – but to each of us, it’s of vital importance to us at that time. How we deal with these situations is what makes the difference to how we continue.
Some people rise to challenges and make their lives count BECAUSE of their situation, rather than in spite of it. Take, for example, Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years for his political views and who went on to lead his country through huge reforms and Christopher Reeve who went from playing Superman to being paralysed from the neck down and yet spent his remaining years raising funds and awareness to make the situation better for future generations. If these people (and many like them) felt victimised and negative, they wouldn’t have achieved all that they did with their lives and wouldn’t have made such a massive difference to millions of people around them.
So what is the difference between these inspirational people and those who fall into depression and negativity? These people are not superhuman or special. In fact there are many examples in everyday life – they’re just determined to maintain a positive view and to use their situation to bring about something positive.
Of course, our genetic make-up, the behaviours and beliefs we are brought up with, alongside the images we are exposed to, have a huge impact on the way we view the world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change them in at least some respects if we choose to and if it is more productive and supportive of our happiness and wellbeing.
Talking of the images and repeated messages we are exposed to, we’re fed an almost constant diet of negative images through the media. Not many happy stories cover the front pages or hit ‘News at Ten’ do they?, reality TV shows encourage people to behave in an extreme fashion which is often rude and arrogant, a lot of the films, video games and television shows we see as entertainment contain increasing amounts of violence, bad language, abusive behaviour and so on and even the posters that advertise them often show scary or threatening images.
It’s not to say that we should never watch any of these things, but it is important to be aware of two things:
1) Constant repetition of messages gets into the subconscious and affects our behaviour. That’s why marketers and politicians repeat the same messages through as many different media as possible. It works and people earn millions from it. Of course, the same methods can also be used to produce some very positive results.
2) The key is to recognise the effect our entertainment – what we read, the music we listen to, the people we see and so on – have on us. If you find yourself feeling dragged down by the people and things around you, perhaps it would be helpful to limit your exposure or to change your perspective about them and/or your behaviour towards them.
Of course whatever outside influences affect our behaviour, we are ultimately responsible for our actions. Our current culture often encourages us to devolve responsibility onto others. If we’ve behaved badly, we’re encouraged to blame someone or something else. If we have an accident we’re encouraged to place blame and go to court. If someone does something we don’t like or we split up with someone, we’re encouraged to feel bitter and spend time berating that person and trying to seek vengeance. Whilst the short term effect of this might be somewhat satisfying, aren’t there more dignified and mature ways of dealing with these situations?
When you think about it, however badly we feel we’ve been treated, how does it help you to learn from the situation or to recover and how does it support your happiness and wellbeing if you engage in this negative behaviour? Generally speaking, it just lands you up in some very stressful and unhappy situations where, in the end, the person who suffers most is you and where’s the sense in that?
Think about it this way, your world starts with YOU and if the world outside doesn’t look too good, then perhaps it would be helpful to think about what you need to change to make your world a better place.
The following proven techniques are amongst the most effective and are there to get you started on a more positive and supportive path:
1. Mind Your Thoughts and Language
Become aware of your thought and speech patterns and practice turning negative thoughts and statements into positive. For example, “Oh God. I look really fat in this. I’m so rubbish at exercise! I have to go to the gym and I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate bar…” try “There are other things in my wardrobe I look better in and which emphasise my good points, so I’ll change. If I really want to look good in the original outfit I tried, I can put on some underwear that would make me look better in it or, if I get some physical exercise and take more care about what I eat, I can enjoy what I wear more. I’ll start that today”. See the difference?
Let’s try another example. “I’m really rubbish at finances (for example) so I can’t do it” could be changed to “ Finances aren’t my strong point. I’m better at creative stuff. So I’ll find someone who can help me with figures, so I can spend more time being creative”
Watch your thoughts and language and practice changing negatives into positives every day. Notice too how different you feel when you engage in more positive behaviour and log what you observe in a diary. It only needs to be bullet points so it can be done quickly.
2. Use music to lift your spirits
Music is an enormously powerful mood enhancer. Think about it. How it sets the scene as the background to films or creates an atmosphere in restaurants, clubs etc. Think about how great it is when you hear music at a party that you really enjoy which just makes you want to dance and how other pieces maybe associated with a sad event in your life and may make you want to cry. Music can trigger emotions and memories and we can connect with it very quickly indeed as a spirit lifter.
I often advise clients who come into my practice to create a collection of music which they find inspiring, uplifting and generally makes them feel good, happy and makes them want to dance. Then I ask them to put it on a CD or Mp3 player. Whenever they feel down, angry or upset, they play it! It’s hugely effective in changing moods and lifting spirits.
It’s really very difficult to remain in a negative mood when you have music playing which really appeals to you in a positive way. It doesn’t matter what music it is as long as it makes you feel good and uplifted.
3. Visualise Your Happiest Moment
Your imagination is one of your most powerful tools. If you’re feeling down in the mouth, take a few minutes out, close your eyes, breathe deeply and let your mind wander to a really great moment in your life when everything is just as you hoped it would be. This can be something that really happened for you or can be an imagined event. Visualise it in the greatest detail. Notice the images you associate with this event, notice who and what is there in the minutest detail. Notice also the smells, tastes, sounds and feelings you associate with this event and breathe them into every cell of your body so you remember how great you felt at that time.
You can keep these great feelings with you as you return your awareness to the current moment and notice how your mood has changed completely. The
great thing is, you can go back to this scene of great happiness anytime you choose. There are various recordings available which guide you through this kind of meditation, including my own “Calm in a Box”.
Developing a more positive attitude to yourself and those around you is not only more fun than being constantly critical and negative, it also boosts your immune system, makes challenging periods easier to deal with, improves relationships and relieves stress.
Becoming aware of your current behaviour helps you to change any habits which do not support you in leading a happy and healthy life. There are numerous techniques to help you develop a more positive to attitude to life so that you make it count, no matter what your circumstances. If you need the help of a coach or therapist to take you through some life-changing techniques, go for it. It’s not weak. It just makes sense.
About the Author:
Annie Lawler is founder of Breathing Space. Annie empowers clients to get back in the driving seat & to restore calm, clarity & confidence to their lives. Qualified in Stress Management, Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy & NLP, she also had a successful corporate career, working at Board Level appointments in the advertising industry.
Visit www.breathingspaceforbusiness.com or call on 0772 581 8884.