As often as possible, I’m a look-on-the-bright-side kind of boy. I choose to be grateful for whatever I have, instead of focusing on the have-nots. I view life’s challenges as blessings-in-disguise because of the lessons attached to them. I have not always viewed life through this lens, but as a result of shining the light on my own negative thought patterns over the years, I’ve learned to keep a positive outlook and have gained more happiness and inner peace. I love to share my optimism with others and it is usually well-received. But, this type of a disposition is not for everyone. As a matter of fact, some even find positivity to be annoying. I know! I was surprised too. I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? And who doesn’t want to be surrounded by other happy people? People who are having a rough time, that’s who.
You see, happiness is a choice, but we sometimes forget. There are plenty of things in life that are less than perfect and we could just as easily choose to be happy or unhappy about them. A trait that many happy people share is the ability to accept things as they are. While we don’t have control over everything that happens in the outside world, we can control what happens inside of us: how we choose to think, feel and react to those outside situations. The quality of our lives is determined by those very thoughts and actions. So, why do some deny the truth that we all can have and deserve peace and happiness? Because, flipping the switch can actually be difficult at first, especially when no other way is known.
The way we are conditioned to think is a culmination of events, circumstances and learning experienced throughout our lives known as limiting beliefs. This belief system has taught us to compare ourselves to others, to be competitive, to doubt ourselves, and to choose fear over love in many situations. Chronically unhappy people tend to share the inability to see the world outside of their own foggy lens. They have a perceived tough life or circumstances. And by some measures, this perception may be based in truth. But, in reality, nobody has a perfect life, and we are much too hard on ourselves. It’s only in our own minds that this suffering exists. We must move forward from our past challenges because they don’t define us nor determine our future. For somebody trapped in a negative thinking cycle, however, the optimism, certainty and fearlessness of a positive-thinker can seem unbelievable and, yes, even downright annoying. They don’t realize that they too can reverse their limiting beliefs and shake off their negative energy field.
One of the engrained beliefs that many have is that there is a limited supply of wealth, health, happiness — you name it. So, when they see somebody else exuding one of these traits, instead of being inspired thinking, “I can have this too” they instead go to a place of, “oh great, he/she got all the fill-in-the-blank, and there’s none left for me,” which stirs up negative feelings like resentment, jealousy and self-loathing. These feelings, in turn, tend to manifest into negative actions such as gossiping, self-victimizing or belittling what others have worked for. Unfortunately, exuding this type of negative energy tells the Universe, “I don’t want or deserve to be happy,” and further blocks positive energy and happiness from coming in. We don’t get what we want, we get what we are. The cycle repeats and one becomes trapped with a proverbial grey cloud over their head. But, it doesn’t have to be this way!
For me, it has taken much practice and commitment to unlearn many of my own limiting beliefs, and I, of course, still have bad days and grumpy moods just like everybody else. But, in practicing mindfulness, I’m able to notice these negative thoughts more quickly, give myself an attitude adjustment, and am much better off because of it!
If you are finding yourself trapped in negative thinking patterns and want out, here are some tips to help break the cycle:
Embrace a willingness to change. Be open to a different way of thinking. This is a must and can only come from within. “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” — Buddha
Be able to face the truth. Nobody likes coming to terms with their own fears and negativity, but the only way to chase out darkness is to shine light on it. Free writing is a good way to get to the heart of these blocks. Be open and honest. Ask yourself: What is the negative story I’ve created for myself? How have I abused myself with my own thoughts? In your writing, you will find that, in our own minds, we can be downright nasty to ourselves sometimes!
Forgive yourself and others. Beating yourself up about past negative thoughts and behavior is a negative thought and behavior, and a counter-productive one at that. The same goes for holding grudges against others — you are only hurting yourself by holding onto that negative energy. It’s never too late to start again. Focus on letting go and being joyful in this present moment while embracing the endless possibilities of the future that lies ahead.
Choose an attitude of gratitude. We all have so much to be grateful for if we just take the time to look around and soak it all in. From the sun that rises each morning, to the ability to get out of bed and breathe in the air another day, and to being fortunate enough to have all of our basic needs met, we are surrounded by miracles. We, ourselves, are one. Appreciate!
Practice mindfulness. Become aware of your negative thoughts as they come. A meditation practice will help greatly in mindfulness training. You can also try this: Wear a special bracelet on your wrist. Each time you notice yourself having a negative thought, switch the bracelet to the other arm. At first, you might find yourself constantly switching the bracelet back and forth throughout the day. Those little negative buggers creep in constantly, from being stuck in traffic to experiencing a business deal that doesn’t go as expected. But, over time, you will switch the bracelet less and less as you develop an increased awareness. By noticing these negative thoughts as they come, you can stop them from occurring as often and adopt a more positive mindset.
Be of service to others. Being able to help someone else in need is rewarding in itself, but it’s also an incredibly humbling way to shift our own perceptions on life. We are more blessed than we know, and helping others who are struggling helps to put things into perspective.
Accept. There is only so much we can control in our daily lives. The act of accepting reality as it is dealt to us is completely liberating. Save your energy for what you actually have control over.
The good news: Those who are open to it and willing to put in the work can change negative thinking patterns and have a life beyond their wildest dreams! Just work on it one day at a time and you will begin to see the beautiful shift.