It happened. I was twenty-five, long out of college and stuck in a job that I hated. There were no opportunities coming my way and there was no end in sight. I was stuck, and it made me hate myself and my life.
I got stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and they reinforced a whole slew of negative behaviors that I thought were okay (you have to survive, right?). I was depressed — though I didn’t seem to know it — and I was stuck in a place where everything was just drenched in pessimism.
It didn’t take a genius or a therapist for me to identify that something had to change.
I wanted a different life, but I had no idea how to get it. I had this vague notion that I needed to change myself but I was a 25 year old woman… I had tried that already.
Hours were spent slogging through the internet articles and experimenting with e-books, methods, tricks and hacks. I read what was probably thousands of articles on thinking positive. Each one promised me results if I just changed the way I thought. Sadly, these simple methods produced only temporary methods and it never took me very long to find myself stuck right back in my negative patterns with my negative emotions ruling my life.
I was suffocating. I couldn’t take it anymore. There was more needed than some Reddit browsing. I needed to get radical about changing my life.
When things are bad on the outside, the best place to look first when trying to identify solutions is within.
I looked into some spiritual retreats and decided that I needed to focus on my inner self if I wanted to get happier. There had never been any particular relationship between myself and whatever that “other” was out there in the big cosmic beyond. Maybe that was where my answers would be.
I took some time away from all the things that saturated my day to day and focused on myself and on where I wanted to go in my life. I stripped back the material things and got down to the core of me. No tv, no news, no pinging iPhone. I was completely unplugged and it allowed me to reconnect and focus on that little flame that is the universe inside of me.
While I was finding my spirit in my self, I also got into some personal counseling sessions. This immensely helped me to see my situation and myself in a new light, giving me the support I needed to realized that my thinking was way out of what with who I was at the core of my being.
This reconnection to spirit was the first step in my journey to change my thinking and it was a critical first step indeed.
Learning to understand optimism and pessimism
There’s a Chinese proverb I came across as I tried to change my thinking and my life that really made me wonder.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars…”
Optimistic people are different from pessimistic people in only 3 viewpoints.
- When negative events occur, they believe that the events are temporary.
- Bad things only have a limited scope.
- Most negative events and behaviors have internal causes.
On the flip side of that coin, pessimistic people — when negative events occur — believe that the event is forever and that it will pervade into every other aspect of their life (they most often allow it to, so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy).
Changing yourself from a pessimist to an optimist is a matter of changing your awareness of the situations around you that inspire negative thoughts. When you catch yourself having a negative thought, stop and take a deep breath. Ask yourself a few questions and see if you can’t reset your perspective.
- What was the cause of the event (really)? Was it caused by something that you did or was it caused by external factors like a family member or work colleague?
- How long will the event last? Is it temporary or will it last for a long time?
- How much of your life does the negative event actually affect? Will just your work be impacted by the event, or will it spread into the personal parts of your life as well?
If the problem has internal causes then there’s good news. It can be changed. If the issue is caused by external factors, then there is nothing you can do to control it no matter how hard you try. When you realize this, acceptance follows, and by repeating this process you soon discover that you can cultivate positive thinking in your own mind.
I couldn’t find the job I wanted or a job I loved. This was not because there were no opportunities for me, but simply because it wasn’t the right time and I hadn’t been looking in the right places.
Working for a company I was less than enthused about was a temporary thing which I was able to change by putting my mind to the grindstone and coming up with solutions for the issues that I could control and change. Instead of letting my bad job define my life, I realized that I was just passing between one chapter to the next and I immediately was able to focus on the things that actually mattered to me.
Learning how to take a step back and identify my thinking patterns was a real eye opener, and it made me appreciate the moments of happiness in my life that were buried there for me to see all along.
Cut the negative self talk
Negative self-talk is a horrible habit and one that all of us are guilty of.
Having negative internal dialogue can make you see fewer possibilities and opportunities in life, according to a study conducted by Barbara Frederickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina.
In her experiment, participants were divided into 5 groups. Each group was show different film clips. Two of the groups were given clips dealing with positive emotions like joy, happiness and contentment. Two of the other groups were shown clips that dealt with negative emotions like anger, jealousy and fear.
The fifth group was a control group and watched a clip that signified no specific emotions. After the study, the participants were asked to envision themselves in a situation like the one they had viewed in their respective clips. They were asked to write down what they would do and how they would respond in those situations.
The group that watched the positive clips had the most responses, far more than even the neutral group. The group that was shown the negative clips had the fewest responses and struggled in some instances to respond at all.
When we internalize negativity it manifests itself in our outer life.
Negative events have a funny way of forcing us to focus on them. When these situations occur it can drown out the important people and things around us as well as the positive aspects we try so hard to stay focused on.
The only thing you can do in these moments is to stop and take a deep breath. Take hold of your thoughts and become fully, brutally conscious of them.
Optimism is a learnable quality.
After taking hold of your thoughts and learning how to assess the events you can and cannot control, adopt a more positive mindset by consciously thinking more positively.
Find some good in the world and find happy people with viewpoints you can apply and emulate in your own life.
Keep your mind on what you want and keep looking for ways to get it. Be clear about your goals and break them down into manageable (and SMART) chunks. Be confident about what you want and how you will accomplish your goals. Understand that the pressure is temporary and you will get there — sooner or later.
Try to look for the good in every problem, especially those that you cannot control. When things go wrong (as they often do) try saying “time to learn” instead of “ugh, I give up”. If you look for good, chances are you’ll find it. If you go looking for the bad you’ll find that too.
Decide to be happy. By becoming grateful for the good things in my life, I was able to stop dwelling on the things I hated (like my job and the direction my social life was taking) which resulted in massive changes to my overall mood and emotions.
Assume the best of intentions in the people around you. Expect them to be honest and decent until they give you a reason to think otherwise. When you look for the good, you’ll find the good, but you’ve got to commit.
How positive thinking changed my life (and how it can change yours)
Thinking positively isn’t just good in making you feel better inside, it will do wonders to transform your external reality as well.
When we think positive thoughts we don’t allow our minds to dwell in the low spaces where negative thoughts, behaviors and patterns dwell. Learning to be positive allows you to take an active hand in the changes that life throws at you.
Your brain will begin to operate in a more free-flowing state and you’ll even notice a boost in those feel-good hormones called endorphins which make you feel physically lighter and happier.
Positivity helps to boost your confidence and your resilience as well, making it easier for you to handle stress effectively. When I was able to change the way I viewed situations (and my part in them) I was able to take on new challenges and assignments in a way that I never had before. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and I was reward with a new world of opportunities — a new job included.
When we reduce our self-limiting beliefs, we release the baggage that holds us back. That then allows us to experience growth like we’ve never imagined and allows us to push ourselves forward into a new future we couldn’t imagine when we were stuck back in the Negativity Marsh.
Putting it all together…
We all have dreams and goals and things that we want to accomplish in this life. By learning to harness the power of our thinking we can accomplish those goals with just a little extra effort and planning.
It’s easy to say “I’ll be happy when I get that next job” or “I’ll be happy when I’m skinny enough to fit into that dress” but remember — there’s always going to be new goals around the corner and plenty of setbacks along the way to discourage you.
Learn to be happy where you and learn how to take a step back and assess your thoughts. When you find yourself falling back into a pattern of negative thoughts and emotions, stop and assess whether or not you have any actual internal or external control over the situation.
When I changed my pattern of thinking, I was able to generate more success in my life by attracting the kinds of things and people into it that helped me succeed.
Remember: where you are is not an accident. It’s where you are meant to be and it is (more than likely) a result of the behaviors and thoughts you harbor. Learn to be happy where you are and only take responsibility for the things and the thoughts you can chance.
The only person preventing you from having the future you want is you.