I’ve lost count of the times clients say something like ‘I know I should be thinking positively, but I can’t seem to be able to do it’.
And sometimes that’s because they have developed a habit of focusing on what’s wrong, without even realising it. They’ll say ‘I am a really positive person, I keep telling myself not to get stressed.’
Now, the issue here is that brain processes the word ‘not’ in a really weird way. Because in order to ‘not’ think about something, you have to think of the very thing you’re trying not to think about.
Don’t think of pink elephants.
See what I mean?
It’s like Googling ‘not hotels in London’. Google will come up with millions of hits for ‘hotels in London’.
So, the first thing we need to do is focus on what we do want. So instead of saying ‘I don’t want to get stressed’, we could phrase it as ‘I want to stay nicely calm’.
I talked in my blog last September about exercising our positivity muscle. We can do that with a simple exercise of finding five nice or positive things that have happened to us today.
But, like any new skill that we want to learn, we have to repeat it often. The more we repeat it, the sooner it will become a habit.
And here’s a really important point. We have to do the exercise consistently. Day in, day out.
Sometimes clients only use the exercise when they’re feeling low, hoping it will lift their spirits. But it’s harder when we’re feeling low. That’s like only painting the window frames when they’re about to fall apart. It’s better to keep the windows regularly maintained, so it’s not such a big job when they do need painting.
In other words, we have to make hay while the sun shines. We have to do the positive thinking exercise when we’re feeling upbeat, too. And the reason we need to do this is to strengthen the neural circuits in our brains associated with positivity (our positivity ‘muscle’).
That way, if we do have a down day, it will be much easier to tap into the positivity circuits.