Stress Management Consultant, Teresa Harrington, looks at the mental damage we can inflict on ourselves by allowing our thought patterns to go unchallenged, and offers a life-changing strategy.
"Negative thinking should carry a health warning."
So a past delegate informed me. Is it true? Well, yes, because negative thinking is more than a state of mind, it can have serious effects not only on our well being but also on those people around us. What's more, if unchecked, it can lead to levels of stress that are almost impossible to tolerate.
Negative thoughts can even corrupt the way we think; they affect our emotions and frame of mind in such a way that we come to believe that we alone have all of the cares of the world bearing down on us, and leave us helpless to know how to deal with them.
Cigarettes and Alcohol
Such a way of thinking can cause our behaviour patterns to change and we may find ourselves turning to stimulants to try to give us the lift that we feel we desperately need.
Think about it. How many people in 'stressful jobs' do you know that smoke? How many stop off in the pub or head straight for the demon bottle when they reach home? Modern life stimulants that many believe will offer some respite from the worries and woes of the working day.
"We're all doomed!"
Remember Private Frazer from 'Dads Army' – the gloom and doom of the outfit? Why was he so memorable? Probably because of the way he predictably thought negatively about every situation. He could only focus on the worst-case scenario, never believing that something could go well. Unfortunately, as with most comedy sketches, the worst often did happen! But that doesn't translate into our real daily lives. Good does happen: we do our jobs well, and get positive results.
However, we can probably all think of someone within our office or organisation that is a 'Private Frazer'. And it's a 'condition' that has a nasty habit of being contagious. If we are immune to such people, our response is generally to just ignore them. Unfortunately the corollary of this might be that we miss the good they have to say as well.
Turning the Negative into a Positive
There are a number of key phrases that are often heard from our 'Private Frazer' that we could easily rephrase. Using the following technique kick-starts a positive thinking process:
It's not fair -> It's the way it is
I'm useless -> I'm a fallible human being
It was awful -> It was regrettable
I'm not good enough -> I'm as good as the next person
Life's a bitch -> Life is what you make it
I'm a failure -> Just because I failed at…. doesn't mean I'm a failure
Feeling under Attack
Although it's crucial to create a positive attitude at all times, there are particular moments when it is more difficult to deter those negative thoughts from sneaking in. For example, times when we feel hurt or criticised or when talking to people who we perceive to be in positions of authority.
Such events are 'acid tests' of our ability to remain positive and it is important to be aware of our own self worth and to stick by what we believe to be right. Assertive people behave in such a way: thinking in positive terms and having the confidence to express themselves without feelings of self-doubt.
The secret to achieving this state of mind is…Preparation.
It's a Process
Positive thinking, as with many issues with the mind or body, is a process that needs to be systematically gone through to ensure it becomes a natural part of your approach to everyday life.
The start of this process is to identify the 'mind talk menaces'. These can be a series of words that imply an obligation to oneself and eventually result in self-pressure. Examples of such words are:
- "Got to…"
- "Ought to…"
Once such words and phrases have been identified we can then turn to the second part of the process: replacing such words with ones that are more motivational:
- "Would like to…"
- "Want to…"
This skill has to be transferred into everyday life. Changing words changes how we feel about the task. 'I must get that report finished' feels far more pressured than 'I will get that report finished'. Adopting this very simple process can help us to be a lot kinder to ourselves and take away the self-imposed pressure that inevitably causes us stress.
Change your Life
Having negative thoughts can be very debilitating in everyday life. By using the above process, you will start to change the way in which you think about yourself, and about others around you and the situations you find yourself in.
Taking control of situations and preparing for them, alongside a positive attitude will begin to change the way you perceive life and life itself perceives you.
Patricia Neal strongly believed that 'A strong positive mental attitude will create more miracles than any wonder drug.'
Just imagine what such thinking might have done for poor Private Frazer!