How Hard is it to Think Positively

This past Thursday, my blog received 48 views in one day – 3 away from the most ever – from 17 visitors (2.82 views per visitor). That can be taken as good news or slightly disappointing news. At this point, I could bring up the pessimist versus optimist topic. It reminds me of Voltaire, whose work “Candide or Optimism” was a counter to Leibniz’s statement that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”. Rather than go into some philosophical discussion about this (as I’m so inclined to do), let’s skip all that and focus on the straightforward fact:

You think negatively.

I’m making an assumption here that you’re reading this article because you have trouble thinking positively (although you could be reading it because you just want to see the mindset of someone who struggles thinking positively). I’m not talking about just pessimism, although no doubt that is included in the batter.

Now let’s ask, how hard is it to think positively? It’s not easy. The first thing you need is something positive to think about.

Take something on your mind, for instance. Perhaps it’s taxes. The first positive thought to your mind might be a bit dreamy. With taxes, for example, someone might come along and pay them for you. But then, you start thinking negatively because obviously that’s not going to happen. The next positive thought might be that you might actually have the money to pay for taxes this time around. STOP! Oh good. I wouldn’t want you to reach the next thought: What about next month? DOH! Shouldn’t have said anything.

Let’s try another thought. How about a relationship? Perhaps there’s someone in your family with whom you don’t get along. Or perhaps you would like to improve that relationship. Dwell on that thought. You’re first reaction might be all of the things wrong with them and not with you. Psychologists might tell you to refocus on your problems, but I’m not a psychologist; we’re going to skip a step. Think about how nice your relationship could be. Don’t stop that thought about how it could be worse – that’s too hard. It’s too hard to NOT think of something. Rather, turn your mind to the positive thought. Think about what you would do in that relationship if it were better. Dwell on those thoughts. Would you make their coffee? That’s metaphorical for doing something little for them. Be kind in all of the littlest ways – this means not laughing at them when a joke is made on them; this means taking out the trash when it was their turn; this means doing those things you wouldn’t normally think of doing for them. “Oh, but then I’ll spoil them.” – There you go on that negative thought streak again!

At this point, you’re probably thinking I’m either naive or some kind of an optimist. Neither is true, I assure you. (If you doubt my depth of thought, go read my philosophy blog. If you think I’m an optimist, read the rest of this blog. XP) Optimist is blindly thinking everything is a positive. There are without a doubt negatives in this world. The point I’m driving at is this: don’t pursue them. Seems like a “duh” but people do it all of the time.

What are some reasons we think negatively?

People want security. This is one of the biggest reasons. For example, you must think about your taxes if you want to keep your house. You can’t avoid thinking about your relationships with the people in your house, so you think that by thinking about it, you can prepare for the worst. Have fun with that mindset. People aren’t motivated to build bridges by thinking about how they are going to fall down in the next storm. They build bridges because they think about the benefits from building those bridges. So there’s my advice to you in an analogy: think about the benefits of building (or rebuilding) the bridge.

So far I’ve given you a couple of exercises, but rather than leave you to do your own (since you are probably like me and will forget to do it later), let’s have another couple.

Let’s think about going to work. People seem to hate Monday, but they go back to work time and time again. Why? They would rather have the money and keep their house and lifestyle than be lazy and on the street. People are driven by self-imposed fear to work. Now that’s not very good motivation to work. On the other hand, if someone loves their job, then, as I’ve said before, they should be in the corner office – they are the kind of people who can drive the company. But never mind them; what about you? You’re not really motivated to go to work are you? Rather than talk about the fact that you took the job or how you should have been in another line of work, we dismiss those thoughts because they are negative. Let’s think about the positive things here. Isn’t it nice to be capable of doing work? Is it nice to be wanted to serve? Is it nice to be in a position where you can be on a team and make a difference in the world? Is it nice to be able to go back to your home or house or apartment knowing that you can at least sleep their that night. Never mind tomorrow; tomorrow brings enough troubles of its own.

It’s interesting to me that as I sit here and write this, these things normally bring worries to my mind. But everything will be alright. Everything will be fine. These things usually drive me to the point of worry where I wouldn’t mind living on the street alone with no constant job. I can see in this the advantages of what we religious call “holy poverty”.

Ah! I’ve only touched on security! What other reasons are their for thinking negatively? Also part of the relationships example mentioned above, there is the issue of peace. People want peace and order.

Suppose your neighbor does something repeated that irritates you. Perhaps he lets his dogs out and into your yard. Now, at this point I could try to offer solutions to the problem, but that’s too specific and misses the point of this article. The point here is that, when the appointed time comes and your neighbor performs this irritating act, whether it be to annoy you or for some other reason, you’re going to think negatively, and we want to change this. If you don’t like dogs or cats or whatever it is that is part of the irritation, don’t think about that. Don’t kill it either. Think instead about the peace. Your situation really isn’t that bad. It’s not like you’re being tortured with whips and clubs (No, you couldn’t take it). Psychological torture is rough and can be worse than physical, but in most cases it is also controllable. You don’t have to let something bother you, although, yes, it can be very difficult to put yourself in a frame of mind where the irritant does not bother you. But that’s what we’re doing.

In conclusion, in most cases, your thoughts will be turned towards something negative. I repeat myself: don’t try to get rid of the negative thought by thinking about getting rid of it. Think about the positive thought. In fact, just think about the positive thought. It’s hard to explain until you’re in the situation. Advice only goes so far – practical experience is how you have to understand it. *sigh*

I can see why Buddhists, Christians, and other religious people meditate. That works if you can focus on a thought, but I can say from experience, you have to do it alot to get anywhere. Training the mind is no walk in the park, but it is possible. And hey, you could always walk in the park while you’re at it.


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