Our thoughts are some of our most powerful tools
The way we think guides our feelings, our behaviours and our responses to the world. These thoughts can be of varying kinds, some of which support us and lead us to great places, and some which take us on negative spirals and cause us all sorts of problems.
Popular psychology often tells us to think positively, but what I find curious is that we never get told how, or even what thinking positively actually means. I was speaking to a group recently and one audience member said she thought that it was quite unrealistic to all go bounding around like Pollyanna saying how glad we are of everything in our day. I agreed with her. To me, thinking positively is something quite different, and today I’d like to share my thoughts on that.
So what is thinking positively? It is thinking in a way that makes us feel good. It is thinking in a way that makes us feel motivated, and helps us respond to the world in a positive way. It is thinking in a way that helps us to interact with others well, and it is thinking about things that are enjoyable for us to think about. The exact structure of these thoughts is going to be different for everyone. Some people love to nut out problems and figure out ways to solve them, whereas others love thinking about their families and some of the fun things that have been happening with them. Some people love to relive past experiences that they really enjoyed and others love to make plans for the future.
There are common elements though to really positive thoughts, which we can all start to tap in to. For example, instead of thinking “Can I?”, think “How can I?”. You can also use questions to guide your thinking about future events in positive ways, for example, “What needs to happen so that…?” or “How good is it going to feel when...?”. When you need to feel resourceful in a given situation, thinking of past experiences that were really positive and considering the ways you can use those resources in this situation will help you tap into that resourcefulness. Similarly, thinking about things you’re looking forward to is something that makes us feel good, and considering what needs to happen to get us there helps keep us on track and take the action necessary to get there.
So what do we do when we catch ourselves thinking about unpleasant things? The trick there is to take your mind somewhere useful instead. We can do this in the same way we would distract a child: by asking them questions that take them somewhere completely different. I recall working with someone who was very nervous about earthquakes. I asked her what she’d enjoy thinking about instead, and it turned out she loved gardening, and was landscaping her new garden at the time. Together we developed a question to take her mind there instead, a question that could keep her mind occupied in a way that was really enjoyable for her for quite some time: “What could I plant in that corner?” A simple question, but one that was really effective for her.
So all in all, positive thinking is a very individual thing. It’s all about what you want, what you enjoy and how you can think in way that’s most likely to get you there.