Positive Thinking

Positive Thinking

For much of the time our thoughts let us down. They are confused, disjointed and reactive. They don’t have to be. Through training our thoughts to be positive, focused and assertive, we can at a stroke improve the quality of our thinking.

For much of the time our thoughts let us down. They are confused, disjointed and reactive. They don’t have to be. Through training our thoughts to be positive, focused and assertive, we can at a stroke improve the quality of our thinking.

Positive Thinking2.1 Untrained Thinking

When we treat the brain as an unknown quantity that we cannot manage, then our untrained thinking is likely to consist of all or some of the following:

1. doubts, fears and catastrophising: the phenomenon of letting one bad thought colour the rest of our thinking

2. fantasising: imagining the worst is likely to happen and directing all our thoughts to planning for it

3. self-deprecating: letting mistakes and failures lead us to believe we’re not good enough

4. remembering the worst: worrying about something we did in the past that we can’t change

5. confusion: having no clear goals or plans

6. reactive thinking: thinking in habitual or limiting ways

7. distraction: the inability to concentrate and direct our thoughts at will.

2.2 Distorted Thinking

There are many common types of distorted thinking. Here are four. First, there is lazy thinking where we think in habitual ways rather than in questioning our thoughts. Second, there is compulsive and obsessive thinking where the same thoughts reverberate in our heads again and again. Third, we continually think in musts, should, and oughts when we use our brains to judge what we do and how we think. Fourth, there is black-and-white thinking, where we swing from believing that things are wholly good one minute and wholly bad the next. All of these are negative and limiting types of thinking.

2.3 Catastrophising

In an untrained person, doubts and fears can form a large part of what passes for thinking. Doubts and fears start small bt can feed on themselves until they take over. It’s what happens when having left home, the thought occurs that we left the gas or electric on:very soon all our thinking is swamped by this one fear of catastrophe. Here is an anecdote that shows what can happen in the untrained thinking mind.

A woman is driving along the motorway at night. Her thoughts start to race:

“What if I get a puncture on the motorway? I’ll have to stop and walk through the dark to the nearest garage. Then I’ll have to ask someone to come out and fix the tyre. They’re bound to charge the earth at this time of night. They’re bound to look down their nose at me as well. What a nerve!”

Just then she arrives at the garage, still thinking these thoughts, fills up her tank, and as she goes to pay her bill, blurts out to the astonished cashier: “…and you can keep your bloody jack as well.”

2.4 Confusion

A good exercise to find out what you habitually think about is to take time out to sit and relax and jot down the kind of thoughts you automatically get. A series of such “soil sampling” usually produces a mixture of thoughts: we have thoughts about things on our mind, thoughts about pressing needs such as “I’m hungry” and thoughts coming in because of external interference. For many people the content of what normally goes on in their heads is jumbled and confused. “Life does not consist mainly – or even largely – of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.” (Mark Twain)

2.5 Distraction

The human brain connects to 24,000 ear fibres, 500,000 touch detectors, 200,000 temperature sensors and 4 million pain sensors. It is no wonder that with this capacity to absorb information, we find it hard to concentrate on just one thing at a time. So, instead of focusing, we let our minds wander. Instead of thinking what we need t say, we say the first thing that comes into our heads. Instead of getting to the point, we let our minds go walk about.

2.6 Yo-Yo Thinking

As well as being distracted, many of us have a tendency to swing from a positive mood to a negative one in what we might call “yo-yo thinking”: one minute up, the next minute down.

The story is told of the farmer whose ox died and, in panic, went to the wise man of the village and wailed: “I will be ruined. Isn’t this the worst thing that has ever happened to me?” The wise man replied: “Maybe so, maybe not”. A few days later, the farmer caught a stray horse on his land and used it to plough the fields in half the time he would have taken with the ox. He returned to the wise man and said: “Isn’t this the best thing that has ever happened to me?” Again, the wise man replied: “Maybe so, maybe not”. Three days later, while still overjoyed with his good fortune, the horse threw the farmer’s son into a ditch and broke his leg.

Moral: Things are rarely as good – or as bad – as we think.

2.7 The Self-Image

The self-image is the key player in our thoughts. To understand its importance we need to turn Rene Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore I am”, back-to-front into: I AM WHAT I THINK.

Whatever we think we are, we are. Our self-talk creates our self-image. This is because our thoughts are always directed to proving what we want to believe. So, if we think we are stupid at maths, our thoughts will automatically seek evidence that proves it and ignore evidence to the contrary. Similarly, if we think we are quite clever at maths, we will seek evidence to prove it. So, the key to releasing the potential of our thinking is to build a confident self-image in which our thinking is a partner in describing who we see ourselves to be.

“Life consists of what a man is thinking about all day.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

2.8 Positive Re-Framing

The reason why a positive self-image and positive thinking succeeds isn’t only mental. It is also physical. Studies have demonstrated that the neurons in the hippocampus (a part of the brain responsible for day-to-day memory and new learning) can shrink when we are stressed. Dendrites, the connecting wires between brain cells, have been known to permanently shrivel in response to negative thinking. On the other hand, love, affection and happy moods can strengthen these dendrites and enhance our ability to solve intellectual and practical problems. The negative thinker’s answer to: “Can you play the piano as well as Barenboim?” is probably, “No, I never could.” The positive thinker’s answer is “Not yet.”

2.9 Expecting the Best

Most of us find it easy to worry, but we invariably worry about the worst that might happen to us. By changing our thought direction, we can replace worrying about the worst into worrying about the best.

Worrying positively has the same characteristics as negative worrying: nagging thought patterns; visualising ourselves in the situation; playing and replaying every possible angle; hearing what we will say, feeling what we will feel, saying to ourselves what we will say.

Olympic javelin thrower Steve Backleypractised positive worry when he sprained his ankle four weeks before a major competition. Instead of giving up, he mentally practised his throws from his armchair until he had made over a thousand throws. When the competition came, Backley made the throws he had mentally made and won.

2.10 Your Brain Wants Success

For much of the 20th century, it was thought that the brain was a trial and error mechanism: we tried something and if it worked, fine. If it didn’t work, too bad. End of story. We now know differently. The brain is not a trial and error mechanism but a trial and success mechanism. When set a clear goal, it actually seeks out not error but success. Error is not incorrect or faulty programming but simply deviation from the correct course. We set our goals. We try, succeed, succeed, succeed, succeed, succeed, make an error, check, adjust, succeed, succeed. Your brain actually wants you to succeed and it lets you know that you can succeed through training your brain to think in constructive, creative, and positive ways.

2.11 Key Points

1. Untrained thinking is often confusing, distracted and negative.

2. Trained thinking is usually focused, confident and positive.

3. The human brain believes what we let it believe rather than what it knows to be true.

4. Worrying negatively is the same process as worrying positively so just change your focus.

5. “Yo-yo thinking” is alternately thinking things are very good or things are very bad.

6. The key to making the best use of our thoughts is to build a positive and confident self-image.

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