Thoughts both positive and negative affect our expectations, choices, actions and ultimately our results.
At the very least, when you are thinking negatively about something you are not thinking about solutions or planning for success. But more likely is the case that negative thoughts lead to a spiral of other negative thoughts. You may not even recognize them as negative because they are only marginally unpleasant and don’t cause a strong reaction for you.
Any thought that makes you feel bad can be considered negative. Some that jump to mind include fear, threat, exclusion, nervousness, apprehension, sadness, being misunderstood, confusion, timidness, jealousy, inadequacy, self doubt, denial, hatred, dishonesty, boredom etc.
What if you could take a pill that would cause an alarm bell to ring in your head every time you formulate a negative thought? It would allow you to recognize when you have negative thoughts and stop them instinctively. You would likely change the things you spend your time thinking about and ultimately guide yourself to more productive actions and achieve better results.
Obviously this pill doesn’t really exist but as a thought experiment you can imagine that it does and as you go through your day, every time you feel unpleasant, ring an alarm in your head as loud as you can. I have been holding this idea for a few days and noticed that it has stuck with me and has some measurable results so far. You should give it a try too.
This will do several things for you:
- Firstly it will stop you from continuing to draw out negative thoughts preventing you from spending your time on them.
- It will also show you the situations, places and activities in your life that are triggers for negativity and you could recognize when they happen and make changes to your environment to avoid them.
- Most significantly it will force you to shift your life direction towards getting the things, people and experiences in your life that would be completely fulfilling. Can you imagine what those things would be and what that would feel like? If you’re not already there now It should feel exhilarating and possibly uncomfortable if it’s far outside of your comfort zone and you can visualize it with enough detail.
Now Imagine that this pill is real and you just took two. Try visualizing it working for you and every time you have a thought that is negative, fear, boredom, sadness, futility, jealousy, discomfort, pain, ring the bell and focus on changing your thoughts. For the next seven days this pill will ring after each negative thought.
Use the prospect of a much more fulfilling life inspire you to put in the extra energy it takes to be consistent with this thought experiment over one week. If it can become something that you want to have in your life then thinking about the outcome you want to achieve will give you the motivation to follow through. If you can’t hold the idea one hundred percent of the time thats ok just pick it back up when you remember. Make post-it notes or make a reminder with pen on your hand where you will see it.
How would you rate the things in your life? Use a scale of one to ten, where ten is the maximum happiness you can feel about something and one is the worst imaginable. Some categories to think about: health and physical well being, career satisfaction, wealth and finances, relationships and friendships, contributions, experiences etc. If you rate anything less than ten think about what would have to change and how it would feel to actually have those things in your life that you would rate tens.
After visualizing this pill affecting your life for a few days you might notice that as you imagine experiencing the things you initially rated as ten are actually not the best that you can achieve. Though the repeated process of seeing a new goal and achieving it often a new even better goal for you will appear. If you fully applied this to your life you could end up stepping outside of your current comfort zone. You might find yourself quitting your job, starting a business, moving to a new city, finding new friends and enjoy new relationships. You could end up living a completely new and totally different life.
If the pill was real It might have such a drastic effect on your life that if you were to look at your future self you might feel discomfort or shock. If you had an outside source pushing you to overcome blocks in all areas of your life twenty four seven, you might feel like you’re riding the top of a rocket ship going faster than you can handle. You might end up giving up the things in your life you currently consider important and have an attachment to. These things may not be a part of the life of the version of you that is fully satisfied. You might lose some of your friends, your job, your relationship partner and find yourself in a completely different city, have a different career or life purpose. It’s good to put this into perspective and balance it with with the alternative of going with your current course and continuing to get what you have now.
With this pill would you continue to plug away at a job you don’t love all the while an alarm is going off in your head? What if instead you thought about getting a new job that makes you fully happy or transforming the one you have now into something new. Can you imagine what it would feel like to be completely satisfied in every area of your life? The idea is something I hadn’t ever fully imagined in vivid detail up to this point. What realistically is stopping you from making that life real?
What would your life look like in a week, month or a year from now. You might have to work through it slowly because it’s hard to anticipate how changes now will affect your decisions later on.
What interactions in your relationships now are not congruent with complete fulfilment? What would it look like if you made decisions that were motivated by positivity and excitement rather than fear or compromise.
Would you work to become more financially independent and secure for your future.
Would you start public speaking, or performances at work or for fun?
Do you have a fear of speaking in public? What if all of the thoughts in your life that lead you to the decisions that keep you from being more bold and free in front of large groups could be turned off?
Would you change your living conditions by moving to a new home? Would it be cleaner, or have a new colour, furniture, lights or artwork?
Would you pick up new hobbies like sky diving, base jumping, motorcycle racing?
Would you spend more time in nature, walking or other recreational activities. Or would you travel the world to see new sights and experiencing other cultures?
Self sabotage can prevent us from fully realizing the changes we work towards. I recall a few personal experiences of involuntary discomfort when good things have happened to me. They were totally irrational responses and not at all what I would have expected my reaction to be.
Many years ago on a Christmas morning my girlfriend at the time gave me a freaking iMac computer. She knew I wanted one to start a small business. The business was my big passion and the old computer I had at the time wasn’t cutting it. When I opened the box and saw the computer I literally felt a surge of panic and adrenaline, in that order. That thing was expensive and money was tight, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought to myself I really have to make this business work to return the favor. It was nice to know someone trusted in me enough to make that investment though. I recall reflecting on my reaction and appreciating that if I was to achieve every other goal in my life then I would probably feel very different about it in reality from how I imagine it.
The second instance was when I was younger, a very beautiful girl passing on the street smiled and waved at me. I was so taken back that I couldn’t even respond. Now that I think back on it I can say to myself as it smack my forehead: stupid, stupid, stupid. I want relationships with new people and I realized that there are mental blocks in social situations that jump up unless I work through them.
What I find interesting about these two situations is that my reaction was something I wouldn’t have expected, it was involuntary and occurred in a split second. These types of reactions are based on a large set of collective memories, beliefs and habits. While the reaction was only momentary I recognize that the reasons for it occurring are also affecting my thoughts and decisions through the day all of the time. Subconsciously they affect what I think about, and decide to pursue at a very low level.
Become comfortable with the idea of living a congruent life with positive thoughts. This will help prevent situations where split second reactions work against you and allow you to seize the moment. Become comfortable holding the mindset you imagine the most successful version of yourself would have.
This will help in many situations. Maybe it’s a business relationship and your natural reactions give other parties confidence in you. Maybe it’s a social setting and the only way you meet an important new connection is by recognizing the opportunity and acting before it’s gone.
In some situations we can find ourselves stuck in negative behaviour because of bad habits. Habits can be tricky to change but there are some strategies that can make it easier.
Change things up and make automatic actions require conscious control so you can more easily evaluate if you want to continue. Smokers quitting will do this by using the opposite hand. All of the automatic motions of pulling out a cigarette, lighting, holding it now require conscious effort because it’s an uncommon set of motions like writing a letter with your non dormant hand. While that is happening you have the opportunity to say to yourself, do I really want to be smoking this?
You may need to remove certain actors from your environment. If it’s tv you can move it to another room or get rid of it entirely. If it’s a person you may need to set up boundaries. If it’s your living environment you may need to rearrange furniture or paint to make it feel different.
Another approach is to use overwhelming force far beyond what you expect is reasonable. Then even if you fall short there is enough leftover effort to still get the job done.
After holding onto this thought experiment for the past few days I found that it actually had a surprising effect. Because it’s not a real pill I missed a lot of negative thoughts and my behaviour isn’t always one hundred percent affected by this. The excitement from the possibility that everything in my life could be changed if I had the courage to act makes it easy to retain the experiment. The first tangible result is this blog. I have been thinking about writing it for years but only now have I started.
If you spend your life thinking and feeling negatively it doesn’t really matter how many goals you achieve, great friends you have or millions of dollars you have in a bank account. None of that can change the enjoyment of your life. The only way to do that is to decide in each moment what thoughts you want to hold.