I love the parable about the two wolves constantly fighting in our mind. One wolf is fear, anger, resentment, and self-doubt. The other wolf is love, grace, optimism, and hope. It’s not the wolf who is stronger or more powerful that wins, it’s the one you feed the most. The more you give into your negative thoughts, the stronger they become. What I’ve experienced in my life is that one small negative thought turns into a big unstoppable force that holds us back from reaching our true potential. However, one positive thought has the power to change everything and grow into an unstoppable force of good.
Often times how we view a situation or even ourselves comes from our perception. Depending on your self-talk, your perception can be accurate or way off. I used to be unreasonably harsh on myself (in sports, academics, and pretty much everything else) and would jump to the wrong conclusions based on past failures or at times when I didn’t perform at an unrealistic standard that I had set for myself. I feared future outcomes because I would allow my mind to relive past mistakes and spent my time worrying about people’s reaction or opinion of me.
I was at a football camp my junior year of high school and during practice, dropped THREE deep balls in a row. Not only was it frustrating & embarrassing, but it shaped the way I would play football for the next 6 years. Every time I thought about going deep for a pass, that image of dropping that ball would flash in my mind. My fear of failing again (entirely based on a fluke practice, years in the past) was so much deeper than my belief in my abilities. It wasn’t until after my college career that I felt confident enough to attempt a deep catch without reservation. This was entirely based on my negative thoughts invading my mind – I had no idea how much these thoughts controlled my mind & my body.
After spending time reading about & practicing positive thinking, I learned that it takes practice, self awareness, and is actually a learned skill. Just like I mentioned earlier that being grateful is a choice, having a positive outlook is also a choice.
Try to avoid these ways of thinking:
- “Black and white thinking” – no shades of gray or believing that you have to be perfect or not at all.
- Avoid “personalizing” – making assumptions that you are personally to blame for anything that goes wrong and that every move you make will disappoint someone.
- Avoid “catastrophizing” – this is when you assume the worse possible outcome will happen.
Use these techniques instead:
- Give yourself time to practice positive thinking – Rome wasn’t built in a day and these habits take time and effort
- Do activities that make you happy (listen to an uplifting song, talk to a friend, think of a loved one, wear clothes that make you feel good, and my favorite – work out!)
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Set meaningful goals
- Create a “mantra” word that helps you remember to get your mind back on track to positive thoughts.
Identify your automatic negative thoughts and intentionally shift those thoughts to positive ones. For example: “I have a presentation tomorrow, I’m going to be horrible.” Instead, pull from positive past experiences and times that you were successful. Hold onto those memories and visualize yourself doing well. I learned to create a “mantra” word that triggers my brain to refocus and think positively when an automatic negative thought pops into my mind. It can be an acronym or a phrase you like that motivates you to be your best and helps you remember that “you can do it!” Below are some examples of mantra words I’ve used:
- A.C.E. (Attitude, Concentration, Effort)
- Go Deep!
- I.T.M. (I’m The Man!)
- BE GREAT (Believe, Elevate others…Goals, Resilience, Effort, Attitude, Thankful)
Also, try to minimize external influences that stimulate your negativity. Eliminate negative people, music, television, movies, or things that put you into a negative frame of mind.
Take a look at this Thought Diagram I created. Our thought life is made up of 4 quadrants (think back to when you used to play 4-Square at recess).
The upper half of this diagram represents positive thoughts and the lower half are negative thoughts. The left half represents the past, while the right side represents the future. Try to focus your thoughts on the upper half of the diagram. When you feel an automated negative thought come on, revert to past experiences of success and times of joy to get you out of that rut (a good best practice is to have several on the ready for when negative thoughts attack). Make sure that you are consistently recognizing what you are grateful for, while expecting good things to come and visualizing success. These thoughts are found in the upper right quadrant. We should be spending 20% of our thought life in the upper left and 80% in the upper right section. If you can practice these thought habits, you’ll be well on your way to a better you!
TIP: Look into the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath. All too often, our natural talents go untapped and we devote more time fixing our shortcomings than developing our strengths. To help you uncover your talents, this book and online assessment will help you discover your top 5 talents and focus on those gifts to the fullest. This book might change the way you look at yourself and the world around you.
Happy Friday! Hope you enjoy your weekend and begin to improve your thoughts to positive ones. My next post will focus on the power of goal setting. Talk to you soon!