Twice this week I have been asked about positive and negative thought patterns. “How do I think more positive thoughts?” “Why do I perseverate on the bad, annoying and negative things?” (BTW ‘perseverate’= her word, not mine. I thought it was an autocorrect situation until I received a follow-up text with the dictionary.com screen shot. Thank you. Always learning.)
Although this is a very broad question it is important and valid. While I think the best suggestions and recommendations on this topic can be individualized, the following is my attempt at some one-size-fits-most potential solutions. But first, some housekeeping:
Housekeeping item #1: It is so natural to have negative thoughts! Unfortunately, it’s as if our culture demands it. In my humble opinion (and this is all just that – my opinion) there is nothing wrong with you for having negative thoughts! Let me repeat: There is nothing wrong with you.
This is important to grasp this because if you’re dipping a toe into the pool of ‘maybe I want to consciously try to shift my thoughts to the positive’, things are going to get uglier before they get clearer. So make sure you’re not beating yourself up for having thoughts that do not serve your highest good. We all have them! Thinking this is a ‘problem’ will only give us an additional thought to shift later – so please, be kind to yourself!
Housekeeping item #2: Every thought holds an energy and there are only two choices – love, and fear. There is no neutral. What you perceive to be neutral is probably fear just ‘doin it’s thang’ to trick you into keeping it around.
In saying this I do not mean to suggest you’re always thinking about “romance” or “things that frighten you”. On the contrary “fear” thoughts come in the shape of: Worry, Jealousy, Lack, Anger, Bitterness, Resentment, Frustration, Stress, Anxiety, Desire, Gossip, Judgment – and so forth. Thoughts that are rooted in “love” present themselves as: Joy, Peace, Gratitude, Serenity, Service, Creativity, Courage, Tolerance, Abundance, Health, Vitality, Freedom, Oneness, Faith, Hope, etc.
Love or fear. That’s it. Keep that in mind for later.
Housekeeping item #3: BRAVO for asking the question of how to shift thoughts from negative/neutral to positive (from fear to love) because your thoughts shape the way you experience your life! So this subject has major implications and fantastic potential upside! This is work worth doing! Whatever you focus on (think about) EXPANDS and MANIFESTS – so let’s get rocking and make sure that you’re expanding, manifesting, and experiencing as much love & positivity as possible!
Before we can shift we must DISTINGUISH.
Distinction is powerful. Once you can distinguish something you are in the driver’s seat. If we want to control our thoughts we must first learn to really notice them. (I find creating a meditation or mindfulness practice the best way to equip yourself to do this – you can start with as little as 3 minutes per day and I have several posts on how to do this – but if that’s not your jam, I understand.)
To shift your thoughts you must develop enough self-disciple and self-awareness to be able to metaphorically stop a thought in its tracks, pick it up, examine it, and label it (honestly) as fear or love.
You’ll want to slip on your sleuth shoes and look for patterns. Are the negative thoughts/self-talk surrounding the same subject or subjects? Are they occurring at a particular time each day? If you’re serious about improving your state of mind I would carry a small notebook and jot down your observations. In business as in life, I am a steadfast proponent of “whatever we measure always improves.”
Once you’ve brought awareness to your patterns we can begin to try on some potential solutions.
3 Strategies to Consider for Shifting Self-Talk: Eliminate, Restructure, Override
It is possible that you’ll notice that your negative self-talk or thought patterns derive from a particular subject. If that’s the case you may want to put some serious thought into eliminating that subject matter from your life altogether.
Here’s an example from my own discovery: In developing a mindfulness practice and tuning into my thoughts I noticed that I had a lot of negative noise surrounding alcohol. If I woke up after a night of drinking my morning self-talk would be absolutely consumed with this conversation: “OK so I had two beers at that first bar… but we were there for at least two hours… so that was spaced out well… and then we had that bottle of wine at dinner which we probably split equally. How much did that bottle of wine cost? Oh and that shot. Right. Why do we ever take shots? But I think I feel fine. Right? Or am a little foggy? I wish I could tell. I really shouldn’t drink on weeknights…” This would go on for hours. Literally. Sometimes days. So finally I did the only thing I knew would stop that conversation for good – I eliminated alcohol.
I am NOT suggesting you stop drinking alcohol to produce more positive thoughts! I know plenty of people who can go to happy hour and NOT engage in this conversation with themselves the next morning. I am not one of them. All I am suggesting here is that by eliminating the subject matter of the energy draining conversation, the energy draining conversation seizes to exist.
Unfortunately, elimination may not always be possible. If your negative noise is produced by work or school (for example) and you’re not in the position to quit or make significant changes, you’ll need an alternative solution.
Chances are your negative thoughts are in one of two formats – either statements or leading questions.
I am going to take a page straight from Tony Robbins’ playbook here and suggest that if you cannot eliminate the thoughts you restructure them.
Negative statements are garbage. They are declarations that “This is the way life is. I have no control. I am a victim. I am a martyr.” Statements are a dead end. I picture your subconscious hearing them and, with a hopeless and deflated shrug, thinking ‘she wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true’. A negative declaration is like our sign to the subconscious that it’s cool to just roll over and play dead – and we can’t have that if we’re trying to build a positive life! We need our subconscious out there on the hunt for solutions on our behalf! And for this to occur we need to restructure and ask quality QUESTIONS!
Tony Robbins teaches that you only have a “problem” because you haven’t found a way to turn it into a quality question. Problems (and the negative self-talk associated with them) GO AWAY when you learn to reframe them.
“Quality” means that the question is structured without negative presuppositions. A negative declaration such as “this job totally sucks” does not get any better by reframing it as “why does this job totally suck?” – There’s a bit more heavy lifting involved.
Here are some of the questions that Tony suggests you ask:
- What’s great about this?
- What can I learn from this?
- What’s not perfect yet? (An example of a question with a positive presupposition)
- What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
- How can I make this enjoyable in the meantime?
Again, if you’re truly committed to doing the work and shifting your thoughts, I recommend pulling out that little notebook, copying down these suggested questions, and writing out as many answers to each as possible. Something powerful happens when you physically put pen to paper. It’s worth a shot!
In short: Restructure negative statements into quality questions because complaining will just bring you more stuff to complain about whereas asking the right questions will inevitably bring you SOLUTIONS.
This final recommendation requires little to no effort on your part aside from just doing it (and doing it consistently if you hope to experience results).
It is impossible to hold a fear-based thought and a love-based thought at the same time so if you recognize the time of day or circumstances that bring on your most fear-based thoughts, simply employ a system to override them. A good defense is the best offense.
Here’s another personal example: I am a morning person. I wake up 1.5-2 hours on average before I actually “have to”. Since I live alone this means I am usually awake 3-3.5 hours before I am engaging in dialogue with other humans. This also means that I expose myself to 3-3.5 hours of internal dialogue each and every morning. Luckily, through the strategies above and the one I am about to explain I have turned this time in a serious competitive advantage for myself – but it wasn’t always this way.
When I began this work for myself I noticed that the influx of my negative thoughts happened first thing in the morning – literally starting when I opened my eyes. I noticed I would start my day in a very reactive state of “What time is it? Did I sleep too late? Do I have enough time to get ready?” and that stressed-out chatter would accompany me right into the shower, shifting form to mental to-do lists and worry. Finally, my dialogue took an even nastier tone when I was doing all those girly morning things like blow-drying my hair, putting on make-up, etc. Welcome to the scene insecurity, vanity, jealousy – yuck, yuck and more yuck.
I made the life changing decision to override it all!
For me, this starts with very intentional thoughts first thing in the morning. I do not allow myself to worry about sleeping too much or too little or any of that. I wake up and firmly tell myself that “I am grateful. I have plenty of time. There is nothing to worry about.”
(Then I write in my 5MJ to further ingrain the feelings of gratitude but I’m not going to get into my entire morning routine here – remember, it’s a 2-hour ordeal.)
When it’s time to get ready I turn on my shower speaker and play a positive podcast* while I shower and get ready. (*I will include a list of my favorite podcasts at the conclusion of this post.)
This may sound simple (well, good, it is simple) but it’s been a game changer for me.
If I am feeding my mind with positive and productive information I simply do not have the time or opportunity to entertain fear-based thoughts. (OK, we can be real – can my mind slip and wander? Sure. But with positive content flowing in the background, it is so simple to course-correct. I would wager that 90% of my thoughts are positive and love-based while listening to valuable content.)
Notice where your negative thoughts congregate. Is it in the morning? On your ride to work? On your commute home? Fear-based thoughts tend to creep in when we’re alone which is an opportune time to put on valuable audio, feed your brain with productive content and start your ‘override’.
Your thoughts create your life so I believe there is no work more worthwhile than this! Distinguish, Eliminate, Restructure, Override, rinse & repeat.
PEACE, LOVE & POSITIVE THOUGHTS!
*My favorite positive podcasts are: The Tim Ferris Show, Wanderlust Speakeasy, Revisionist History, Action Catalyst Podcast, Beautiful Writers Podcast, & Smart People Podcast. When it comes to podcasts the options are endless but these are my personal faves. I have never heard any complaining or negativity on any of these shows which is what you need to adamantly avoid if you’re using a podcast for the purposes listed above!