As humans, we have a tendency to mainly see the negatives in life. This is a trait that dates back to the Stone Age, when a carefree approach (and a saber-toothed tiger lurking behind a bush) could cost you your life. In other words: Always expecting the worst-case scenario to materialize was key to human survival. However, this no longer needs to be the case because we can learn to positively influence our thoughts.
Did you know that human beings have around 60,000 thoughts a day? What percentage of them do you think are positive? You may be shocked to learn that only approximately 3% are positive, constructive thoughts. Around 22% are negative or destructive. You are probably now wondering about the remaining 75%. They consist of pointless and, to a large extent, unconscious thoughts. This is due to the fact that less than 1% of our thoughts are conscious, more than 99% are unconscious.
Don’t be at the mercy of your subconscious
Try to picture it this way: Every day, these tens of thousands of thoughts circulate in your mind without you even being aware of them. Importantly, these thoughts nevertheless have an influence on you and your actions! Your subconscious (or your ‘unconscious mind’, to use the technical term) controls you to a significant extent.
The good news is that we are not entirely at the mercy of our subconscious: we can actually influence it (to a certain degree). We can try to find out which basic patterns and tendencies guide us and we can then work on them. This means that if you can bring your patterns of behavior to the surface and alter them, this can have a significant influence on your thoughts and subsequently also on your actions. Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Gratitude in a jar
A very simple but helpful means of guiding your thoughts is gratitude. When I give presentations and workshops, I hand out post-its on this topic. The words ‘I am grateful for…’ are written on the post-its. The idea behind this is to get participants to focus on all the good in their lives. And since I want to practice what I preach, I also regularly write down all the things that I am grateful for in my own life. This includes the big things like having a fantastic husband who loves me unconditionally and two healthy and lively daughters, as well as the dream house that we recently moved into – not to mention the fact that I have found my calling in life and, as a self-employed professional, can manage my own schedule of work. I also write down that I am grateful for the fact that I am healthy, have wonderful friends and still have both of my parents.
I note down all of these wonderful things on my post-its and place them in the jar that you can see in the photo on my blog. This provides me with a constant visual reminder of all the amazing things in my life that I am grateful for. The jar also contains references to all the small things in life that give me pleasure time and again – such as a positive encounter with someone in the tram, an inspiring book I have read or acquiring a new mandate at work.
From the negative to the positive
Why not also spend some time thinking about all the things you are grateful for: the big things and the small things. And most important of all: Once you become aware of all the positive things in your life, you will start to see more and more things in a positive light. This is because – fortunately – our brains can adapt. This is what is known as ‘neuroplasticity’. Hence, gratitude is not about artificial positive thinking but rather about changing our focus from the negative to the positive.
Give it a try and spend time every evening writing down all of the things that you were fundamentally grateful for during that day. Do this for at least three weeks. Your brain will need some time and, above all, practice in order to adjust. However, with time it will focus more and more on the positive. If you would like some of my post-its to help you with this task, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you some for free. Good luck!
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this blog entry, you may be interested in a related article about how to escape from the ‘victim trap’ that I wrote around a year ago: http://www.stressandbalance.ch/en/2016/03/01/you-decide-which-direction-to-take/
© Claudia Kraaz