The last several years have seen a proliferation of books on how to think positive, and be happy so that you can become successful and fulfilled. The only problem is that more often than not our brains prefer to choose negative thoughts. John Milton said that “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” He certainly knew what he was talking about. On any given day we average about 60,000 thoughts. Many of them are focused on what’s wrong, or what could go wrong. This made a lot of sense thousands of years ago when there was a huge possibility that your village could be obliterated by your enemies or that you might be attacked by a behemoth while taking a morning walk. Unfortunately the brain has taken it’s time catching up with modern-day society. We are still struggling to rid ourselves of a lot of our fears, which often come from negative thoughts, even though we are living in modern times. Researchers have proven that our brain patterns are defined in part by how we think. Optimists take credit for their successes and see bad events as flukes. Pessimists, on the other hand, blame themselves for anything that happens and often discount success. Dr. Martin Seligman has dubbed the dialogue of pessimism and optimism as explanatory style. He points to the fact that pessimists use the three P’s to explain themselves: personalization (“It always happens to me!”), pervasiveness (“it happens to me every day in every way!”), and permanence (“It will never end!)”. This practically guarantees a life that contains a feeling of hopelessness and suffering. It also contributes to a sense of inner worthlessness and a lack of self-control. The more we think we are a certain way, the more we become that way. Learning to change our inner dialogue can be very difficult for those whose biology predisposes them to depression and or anxiety. So learning to parrot positive statements may prove to be an act of futility for them. They may need a combination of medications and a cognitive behavioral therapist. For those of us who have simply become habituated to thinking that the universe is not a friendly place, I suggest spending some time everyday thinking about what you feel good about. There is always something we can extrapolate from our day-to-day that can help to buffer our fears. If you can engage in this practice you will find yourself more able to handle difficult situations and there’s a good possibility you may even live longer.
Over the years I have found that the best way for me to enter the day is to sit quietly with my coffee and simply be with the silence. This has not always been possible due to a career that has taken me on the road for over thirty years. Some of the individuals I traveled with loved to start their day by flicking on the TV so they could be informed about the latest happenings around the globe, or they would start chatting on the phone. After all they might be missing an announcement about the end of the world. I would try desperately not to have a rise in blood pressure, but it was very difficult. I desperately needed to give myself time to get ready for the day which was often filled with lots of talking, book signing and more travel, all of which can be very stressful. Yes, I believe in different strokes for different folks, but the latest greatest research on how we can navigate our lives without feeling crazy by the end of the day, states that getting your brain in the right zone starts by how you greet the day. I know this can be very difficult when you have kids and they begin their “woodpecker drills” as soon as they open their eyes. But it is possible to set your alarm to go off a few minutes early so you can lie awake in bed and allow your thoughts to focus on how grateful you are for what you have and not what you need to do. In fact I believe this could be a great lesson to teach your children. Today’s kids are suffering from stress overload. If you allow yourself to be led by the incessant inner chatter you will leave your house feeling like a whirling dervish and your body will be in a vigilant state ready to slay a dragon. There was a time when we could put things off and get away with it. But with the advent of e-mail, texting and cell phones, you are pretty much at the mercy of ASAP. It doesn’t matter where you are, you can’t hide from the technology that demands immediacy. Your only defense is to learn to create good mental habits that allow your brain to have mini-vacations from the cacophony of daily life. The ultimate irony is that productivity increases when we take time out to refresh ourselves. Lily Tomlin said it best” The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat”.