If it were possible, I’d have titled this piece “The power of
positive negative thinking” – with the strikethrough. Or vice versa.
If I called it “The power of positive thinking” – a good number would switch off. There’s a lot of that stuff about these days, positive psychology, Law of Attraction, etc. A lot of people swear by it. And even more swear at it. About it. It can’t be that easy – I hear – to turn our minds and lives around and find success and happiness just by thinking about it. Of course it can’t. Thinking on its own can’t do much. Can it? Though didn’t someone say “I think, therefore I am”?
More to the point I think (there I go again) – “I am, therefore I think, therefore I do.” And somewhere in there is “I feel” too. And how “I feel” will have a huge impact on what I do. And vice versa.
People are quick to diminish the possibility of positive thinking having a demonstrable impact upon our lives. But the power of negative thinking is acknowledged. When we become depressed, we become more prone to negative though patterns, which eat away at us. We ruminate, we blame ourselves, we jump to conclusions. Which comes first, the negative thoughts or the depression? Why do some of us suffer poor self esteem, lack of confidence, self loathing, mistrust, anger etc? The events and experiences of our lives sometimes don’t give us what we need for positive self worth in adulthood. Sometimes trauma, abuse or neglect might actively undermine those things. We can fall into patterns which reinforce this and every time those thoughts go through our head they get underlined and emboldened and emphasised until we find it impossible to see past them.
Whether those thoughts are true or not – they have power. We believe them, and let them shape our world. Our beliefs about events and interactions and what other people think and feel about us influence our emotions and actions. We can believe quite negative and unhelpful things with no evidence at all. If I think someone hasn’t called me because they hate me, that will make me feel quite differently than if I think they haven’t called me because they are really busy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works on helping us to recognise when we are jumping to these negative conclusions or responses and gets us to question the evidence, think if there is another way of looking at something which does not have negative emotional consequences for us. If we have no evidence of the negative, we can choose to reach a neutral, or even positive conclusion if we want. Not easy, but we can learn.
So if we recognise that repeated negative thoughts can have a serious impact on our mental health, our behaviours, and therefore our lives – why are we so quick to reject the possibility that positive thinking might also have a power to it?
How we explain that power to ourselves is irrelevant. I know that decades of subconsciously repeating negative things to myself had the impact of making me believe those things. Whether they were true or not. So if instead I repeat positive things, to counteract that negativity – again, whether I really believe those things to begin with is irrelevant. Perhaps it will take hold.
I bought a calendar of affirmations a few years ago. I will admit it was a bit “American” for my cynical British self. But it made me smile each morning as I read the cheesy positivity. “Look in the mirror and say “Hi there beautiful, it’s going to be a great day”. Sometimes it made me laugh. When I’m feeling nervous about something, I try some affirmations in my head – “I am confident, capable, competent. I can do this. ” I don’t know why they all have to begin with c. And I repeat. Because at the very least while I am doing that I am not allowing the negative thoughts space in my head to undermine what little confidence I have at the beginning.
Sometimes when I am feeling low, and like hiding away from everything, but I have an engagement I don’t feel able to cancel – I drag myself out and I pretend. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes it does. Sometimes half way through pretending to enjoy myself, I actually do.
Some say if you ask the universe she will provide. I say if you ask the universe, it means you know what you want, and that’s a big first step. Knowing what our goals are, is setting intent, picking a destination. When we have that goal we are more likely to think about it, think about what we need to do to get there, what’s stopping us. And when we think about these things, and think about that goal with a positive mindset and belief in the possibility of reaching it, then we are more likely to start planning how to get there, to start trying to find solutions to our problems, people who can help us – and therefore inevitably more likely to reach that goal.
Maybe that’s how the Universe (or God, or Santa) provides. We are the universe. We need to believe in ourselves.
Anyway. Positive thinking is certainly less unpleasant than negative thinking. So I will persist, evidence or no. Every time the trolls in my brain throw a negative thought about what I can’t do my way, I’m going to keep trying to bat it away with a positive counteracting thought. The lower I am, the harder it is. So it’s even more important when I’m well to remember. To take note of the good, the things I’m grateful for. The things I achieve. The positive feedback. The small glimmers of hope. Gather them up and keep them in my bag to bring out when the clouds are darkest.