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positive thinking

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Step 11 - Positive Thinking

Picture credit: Tim Green Think of a snow-covered mountain. You're standing on top about to ski (or snowboard, whichever you prefer) to make your way down. Perhaps as a kid you sledded down wintry hills in your neighborhood. Over and over again. Did you always take the same routes down?

Our brain maps function in a similar fashion. If we keep taking the same route down the hill (i.e. think the same thought) we'll make deeper and deeper grooves. Eventually we'll become rigid and limited to those paths. If you've been thinking negatively for a long time, it'll take a lot of practice getting yourself out of those grooves.

But first of all, it takes awareness.

When was the last time you took a step back to observe your thoughts?

We're generally not aware of what is happening in our bodies, our minds, or our surroundings unless we start paying attention to it. For example, until I ask you how the ground feels under the soles of your feet, you probably weren't aware that indeed there is ground under your feet. Or maybe you're sitting down, so try shifting your awareness into how comfortable your seat is.

Same with negative thoughts. Until you start paying attention to the small moments where you're talking down to yourself, or calling yourself names, you won't be able to change them. Pay attention when your mind wanders, especially into the garden variety of "Can't believe I did that, I'm so stupid" or "this looks awful, I'm so fat". These moments are probably linked to your shame triggers.

Take a breath, and reframe. What else could explain that situation? Do a reality check. You're not stupid, maybe you were distracted from trying to do too many things at the same time. You may in fact carry a few extra pounds, but you can buy clothes in your size that fit and flatter your body type.

Most of all, you can choose what you think and how you talk to yourself. Putting yourself down is only feeding into the shame triggers (in these examples, intelligence and body image), and you'll be less inclined to change something about it. Believe in yourself and your ability to do better next time, and you'll be on the road to more positive thinking.

Mind your thoughts, as they become words. Mind your words, as they become actions. Mind your actions, as they become habits. Mind your habits, as they become your character.Mind your character, as it becomes your destiny.

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Positive Thinking

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Positive Thinking

This is a speech I gave at my last Toastmasters meeting that was very well received (a tad longer than other articles I've written, but presenting it only took 5 minutes 30 secs). Remember Toastmasters International is an organization that helps everyone improve their presentation and public speaking skills in a fun and relaxed environment. If you have a talk or presentation coming up that you'd like to prepare for, check out a meeting near you!

Positive thinking is one surefire way to happiness. Are you happy?

There’s a saying that loosely translated from German goes like this:

Mind your thoughts, as they become words. Mind your words, as they become actions. Mind your actions, as they become habits. Mind your habits, as they become your character. Mind your character as it becomes your destiny.

I’m not sure who came up with it, but they had a point. And you’ll notice that they explained a causal relationship between your thoughts and your destiny and thus your level of happiness.

Let me give you a quick overview of what’s ahead. I’ll start by quoting a philosopher and taking his message one step further. Then, I want to share a little information on three points: one, your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. Two: you can control the messages that you send it, and three: I’ll share some tips on how to make those messages more positive.

Renee Descartes, the famous French Philosopher coined the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” At a time where other philosophers were questioning everything, “is this really a table?”, “will the sun rise again tomorrow?”, “what is real?”, Descartes took apart his house of beliefs brick by brick and came to the conclusion that the mere fact that he was thinking about thinking meant that he must, indeed, exist.

This is where I (and many others before me) go a step further and say “we exist the way we do, meaning: our lives are what they are, because of what we think”.

Thinking occurs in your brain, and your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

Who here has ever had a dream that seemed very real, or woke up screaming or sweating from a horrific nightmare? Because your brain cannot differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t, it sent the message to your adrenal glands to pour out the hormone and prepare you for fight or flight even though there was no real threat present. (Your brain also doesn’t register the word “no”, e.g. if I tell you now NOT to think of a red balloon, what do you think of? ...which is why it's so important to make your goals out as positively worded statements, but that's another story.)

While you’re sleeping, your subconscious is in charge, but while you’re awake, you can directly influence what messages you send to your brain, so you better make them positive. Actually, let me precede the following example with this little nugget: your brain also likes things to be true and make sense.

So, if you bump your leg on the coffee table and tell yourself “I'm such a clutz!”, your brain will go looking for ways to make that statement make sense. That means it’ll remember past instances where you’ve fallen down or bumped your leg or dropped something, and in future it’ll apply the same label, and the more evidence it can come up with, the more it becomes true that you really are a clutz. That is the self-fulfilling prophecy everybody's talking about. The alternative here is to turn that negative thought around and look at the event through a different lens, a less judgmental one. For example, you could recognize that the coffee table wasn’t in its usual position because you had cleaned and moved it earlier, or that you were preoccupied with thinking about the speech you have to give at the next Toastmasters meeting and hence weren’t paying attention to where you were going. That makes you many things - a dedicated toastmaster, a clean housekeeper, but not a clutz.

Now, how can you improve the level of your positive thoughts? With these following tips:

Be nice to yourself. What does your inner voice usually say? How do you talk to yourself? Are your thoughts helpful and supportive? Or - the test of all tests - would you speak to your best friend the way that you speak to yourself?

Furthermore, try and notice when you’re not being nice and simply stop those negative thoughts, and turn them around into something positive, like with the housekeeping or dedicated Toastmaster mentioned earlier. As with speech-making, continued practice will make perfect, so give yourself some time and patience. Last but not least, focus on the positive things that are already in your life. Every evening write down, relive or simply remember in all its glorious detail at least three things that went well that day, that you were proud of, that made you happy. This exercise will put you in a positive state of mind, and once you’re in a positive state of mind, you know your brain will do the rest and find more positive things to make sense of and perpetuate that positive and happy state you’re in.

At the end of the day, your thoughts are your business, I just wanted to make sure you're aware that every single one of your thoughts contributes to you shaping your own destiny, and that you can take control and decide what you are prepared to do for your own happiness, whichever form that may take, by being nice to yourself, turning bad thoughts around and focusing on positive things.

Til next time, good thoughts!

Image by Li-Ji, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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Step 11 - Think positively

Until next week, I'll be basing my articles on this "12 Steps to Happiness" post.This is going to be a short post, because to me, it's an absolute no-brainer. On the premise of "DON'T THINK OF A RED BALLOON NOW" and assuming you are, here's an example of what positive thinking can do for you. For instance, say you want to lose weight and you tell yourself "this time is going to be no different, I'm going to fail like all the other times before." Does this thought make you want to chop up fresh fruit for a healthy snack? Didn't think so. What about "this time I'm going to follow the guidelines of a healthy diet, stick with it even if I get bored and see what happens." No pressure, yet a much more positive vibe and a can-do attitude, right?
If your best friend is in trouble, or you child needs encouragement, are you telling them "Honey, realistically? You'll never achieve your goals, so you may as well not even try." Do you? Then never mind. But if you don't - do the same for yourself that you do for your friends and your kids - be kind and encouraging. Don't be afraid to have discussions with that inner critic of yours, and if he or she keeps nagging and saying "this ain't gonna happen anyways". You can shut 'em up by thinking, "I can this, I want this, I do this."There is scientific proof that we can programme our minds by the very thoughts we think. Imagine a map, if you will, with all the roads on it, many of which you know because you drive on them every day. Well, your mind is like that map - there are hundreds of roads you haven't tried yet, so why not give them a go? Instead of going through Guiltville, take a detour through Patiencetown. Bad names, great concept - by not getting yourself down, you will find that you get to where you want to be much faster and certainly in a much better mood. You can choose what you think, you know, so why not make that choice a positive one?

If you're interested in further information on positive thinking and its proof, there are many resources out there on the web. Looking up Martin Seligman and his works is as good a start as any.

I'd like to leave you with a saying that I'm not sure where it's from -

Mind your thoughts, as they become your words. Mind your words, as they become your actions. Mind your actions, as they become your habits. Mind your habits, as they become your destiny.

Have a good week, see you next time.

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