A common misconception I’ve heard repeated over and over is that positive thinking depends on one’s ability to “fool the mind” into believing something is better than it actually is. For those who hold this belief, positive thinking may seem like a bunch of hogwash. After all, who wants to waste time with self-induced brainwashing?
If positive thinking was nothing more than a ploy to pull the wool over your own eyes, I wouldn’t bother. But it is so much more. So I want to share some facts about the value of deliberately guiding your thoughts and the best way to do so successfully.
What positive thinking is all about
Positive thinking means choosing thoughts that feel good rather than allowing outside elements to control the caliber of our thoughts.
It’s about choosing to look at life experiences from a pleasant perspective and harnessing our power to seize the best in any circumstance.
There are always flowers for those who want to see them. - Henri Matisse
What positive thinking is not
Brainwashing is defined as “a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas.”
Unlike brainwashing, having a positive outlook should never make you feel like you’re forcing yourself to believe lies or to give up ideas that are important to you. The purpose of positive thinking is not to distract you from the truth, but to refocus your attention on beautiful truths that you may often take for granted.
How to effectively apply positive thinking
Our lives are filled with a variety of experiences, circumstances, people and things. Some trigger pleasing thoughts and feelings within us while others set off a downward spiral of negativity.
You may be wondering how positive thinking can be implemented when faced with something that is undeniably negative. There are two basic options: focus elsewhere or focus differently.
1. Focus elsewhere when you’re able Focusing elsewhere means you take your attention from the troubling subject to something that feels better. There are times when this is clearly the best choice. Here’s an example:
You’re with a group of people who are discussing political hot topics. The discussion gets extremely heated as everyone defends their views on abortion, health care, prayer in schools, gay marriage, immigration and even President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win.
The tension gets high and the words get ugly. You feel yourself becoming extremely angry and frustrated with some of the outrageous comments, personal jabs, senseless views and put downs.
In such a situation, you may simply decide not to be a part of the conversation. Sure, others may take offense or respond negatively if you walk away. So what! What’s more important? Doing what others think you should or doing what you know is best for you?
Bottom line: If you can’t change the subject of discussion, just leave the room and find something else to do. Your attention to political differences is unlikely to change someone else’s mind. So, why bother with something unnecessarily distressing when you can put your focus and energy elsewhere?
2. Focus differently when you can’t escape the situation Although it’s not always possible to avoid an unpleasant experience, we can decide to bring our conscious awareness to a different aspect of it. In other words, we can focus differently.
You don’t have to focus on the clouds just because it’s a rainy day. You can focus on what the weather was like yesterday or on the day of your wedding or at some other time when you felt it was ideal. You can even focus on the benefits of the rain and all the purposes it serves. The flowers, grass and trees are surely pleased to have their thirst quenched.
If you lose your hearing, you can waste your life away feeling sad about the sounds that you’re missing out on. Or you can celebrate the heightened state of your other senses. You can appreciate and follow in the footsteps of Ludwig Beethoven, Marlee Matlin, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller and other famous hearing impaired people who achieved great success because they didn’t let their disabilities foil their outlook on the possibilities that lay before them. Neither positive nor negative thoughts will spontaneously restore your hearing, but one type of thought leads to healthy living, while the other encourages endless misery.
A real world example of positive thinking
Positive thinking is most effective when you choose thoughts that your mind easily accepts as reasonable. Hearing loss is a bit extreme, so how about a more practical example for using positive thinking in everyday life?
Let’s say your car breaks down. It is unlikely that any thought will change the fact that the car isn’t working. So while you could try to imagine that it’s running perfectly, it isn’t a very productive practice unless you have magical genie powers.
So as you put the key in the ignition and notice that the car won’t start, you can be angry, anxious and sad as you focus on how terrible it is that your car is broken. You can gripe about the money it will cost, the time it will take, the inconvenience it will cause. You can go on and on like this until you’ve taken on enough stress to raise your blood pressure to stroke level. None of these thoughts will change the situation, but they will ensure that you feel horrible.
On the other hand, you could choose to think of the sexy (or skilled or nice) mechanic who will get you back on the road. You can think of how reliable the car has been up to this point, the games you can play on your cell phone as you wait for a tow truck, or the funny hat that the lady is wearing in the car next to you. None of this changes the fact that the car is not working, but at least you’re choosing to think in a way that is likely to attract an unexpected opportunity rather than a massive coronary.
You see, positive thinking is not about fooling yourself. It’s about changing your outlook to a different side of reality. As an avid believer in the Law of Attraction, I apply positive thinking to almost everything. Notice I said almost, because I have my down-in-the-dumps moments like everyone else.
So, what about you? When you’re faced with something upsetting, do you find comfort in guiding your thoughts to a more positive outlook? If not, why not?
Nea is the author of the Self Improvement Saga, a blog where she shares her passion for writing and personal development. Her goal is to help others manifest improvements in both their daily lives and relationships. If you enjoyed this post then consider subscribing to her RSS feed.