(Originally published in About Face Magazine, issue 08)
When a patient comes in to see me, I get a brief opportunity to facilitate a shift toward the positive. I might overhaul their diet, give them exercises, insert acupuncture needles, or prescribe some medicine. It’s clear that these interventions help. But when I look back at the treatments that were major turning points for people, about half the time what made the difference was something I said.
Most of what I say is pretty simple stuff. The more simple, the bigger the potential impact. All the essential truths of the great spiritual traditions are simple. But they’re under-appreciated and easily forgotten. There’s so much other stuff vying for priority real estate in our minds. And in a time when we put so much value on complexity – like science, for instance – simple concepts don’t get taken seriously. Someone once said, The truth is simple. If it were complicated, everyone would get it.
The nice part about profound truths being simple is that you don’t have to work so hard. Stop trying to have all the answers; just listen and remember what you already know. The simple truth I want to share with you today is one you are undoubtedly familiar with: positive thinking makes good things happen. If someone said to you, “I have the solution to most of your problems: think positive,” you might say, “I have the solution to why nobody likes you: unsolicited, crappy advice.” But I urge you to reconsider.
If you consistently had positive thoughts about your life, do you know what would happen? You would feel consistently positive about your life. And that pretty much constitutes a good life, doesn’t it? Regardless of whether or not your life is exactly the way you want it to be, if you cultivate positive thoughts, your consciousness – your experience of life – will be more positive. Isn’t that what really matters? Your perspective is more important than your circumstances. Wouldn’t you rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable? If you’re happy, you’re happy.
But it’s not just a mind trick where you fool yourself into being thrilled by a pathetic life. As you make a habit of forging positive thoughts, you become a more positive person, and then the objective circumstances of your life change. Have you ever met someone who was really successful and also super positive? Which do you think came first? I would venture to guess it was the positive part.
The tricky aspect – or so it seems to a mind that loves complication– is actually remembering to think positively. Many people feel it’s not their innate nature to be positive, or that life circumstances have made it difficult to be an optimist. But they have just made a habit of focusing on and emphasizing negative viewpoints. It’s true that the glass is both half empty and half full. Both perspectives are valid, but they are not equally meaningful observations. The optimist focuses on what is and the pessimist on what isn’t.
Like the song goes, accentuate the positive. Here’s how:
(1) Look and listen for good signs, positive news, beauty, and fascinating things, and then latch onto them, talk about them, share them, savor them, amplify them, run with them. Imagine you just tapped into a vein of gold in the earth, and now you want to follow that vein. Jump from one good thing to the next. Make a game out of it.
(2) Create more positivity in the world. This is especially important if you find it hard to arouse your own optimism. Instigate positivity in people around you, even if you feel dark inside. Create the vein of gold that you can then follow, by asking people about their lives, their kids, their dreams. You will ignite a light in someone else that will lead you in the right direction. Then keep doing it. Deliver genuine compliments. Help others to see the positive side of whatever they’re grappling with. It’s often easier to do for others than for yourself.
(3) Get out of the dirt. Following the gold vein is as much a matter of not choosing to veer into the dirt as it is a choice to follow the gold. Catch yourself choosing to indulge in negativity and be disciplined about shifting your attention to something else. It’s like breaking an addiction. Notice which of your acquaintances have a “this sucks” mentality and (a) hang out with them less (b) laugh internally at everything negative they say – lightly, not disparagingly (c) don’t let them throw you off your gold vein. Also, stop watching Breaking Bad. Choose your media consumption consciously.
(4) Tweet/post/comment responsibly. The stories and opinions you choose to share shape who you are in the world – plus who and what you attract. Are you a positive influence on your environment or a negative one? Before you click “Post,” look at what you’ve written. If it’s snarky or amounts to “Doesn’t this suck?” just delete it. You won’t feel any regret.
(5) Respond with humor to situations that would otherwise make you angry, irritated, or anxious. I know it’s hard, but if your habit is to relinquish the whole gold vein just because of some stupid situation, you simply cannot engage with it in an adversarial way. Be imperturbable. Go on a drama fast. Stay committed to your positivity.
(6) Lose the belief that finding problems and errors makes you smart or likeable. People who enjoy finding what’s wrong with everything rarely care as much about looking for solutions.
(7) Know what you want. Most of us spend so much time thinking about our current problems and the undesired future situations we hope to avoid that we have a clearer sense of what we don’t want than what we do want. Know with laser-like precision what kind of life you want and replace the habit of dwelling on what you don’t want with savoring the anticipation of getting what you do want.
Once you’re in the zone, let’s go have some tea together. Positive people are fun to be around.
I wonder what cool thing you’ll do next.
Copyright 2012 by Peter Borten. No reproduction in any form without permission.