Our thoughts shape our entire experience. Consider this—you can’t escape from your thoughts. Seemingly unimportant thoughts shape our overarching views and beliefs. If your thoughts and vocabulary consist mostly of negativity, how do you expect to have a constructive viewpoint? Awareness, journaling, meditation, and exercise can all help contribute to better word choices, positive thoughts, and ultimately a beneficial worldview.
It is actually easier for our brains to default to negativity. Benjamin Hardy, PhD explains, “The National Science Foundation published an article in 2005, showing that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before” (2018). Eighty percent negative! So how do we change our default settings?
The basis for our thoughts is words. Therefore, it makes sense that the words we choose to use have the power to shift our defaults. For example, instead of speaking in the negative by saying, “I’m so lazy, I really need to get to the gym because my gut is disgusting”, try instead phrasing the sentence as, “I need to start going to the gym because I’d like to take better care of my body so I have more energy and feel proud of how I look”. Which of these sentences feels motivating and which one feels defeating? The way sentences and thoughts are structured by word choice has an impact on the feeling we experience by saying or thinking the words.
Beyond word choice, themes of the stories running in our heads can also be positive or
negative. The stories in our heads truly shape our worldviews. A person might tell themselves, “My family is full of fat, unhealthy, people with bad backs so I don’t have a choice but to be fat, unhealthy, and in pain because of my genetics”. This same person could instead say to themselves, “My family has passed on unhealthy eating habits and hasn’t learned how to exercise to strengthen their bodies. I will learn how to eat a better diet to prevent being overweight and strength train to minimize pain in my back”. This is a small example, but the same principle applies to every running belief we possess. Choose to interpret from a perspective of positivity and ownership.
Sometimes we do get hit with overwhelmingly negative experiences or circumstances. In these instances, it is important to learn how to acknowledge the negative and then find “the silver lining”. There are always at least some positive takeaways from every situation.
Let’s say a person discovers their significant other cheated. That person should take some time to sit with and accept reality—yes, their partner’s actions were hurtful and the situation sucks! However, at this point they can choose to blame themselves and look for negatives or tell themselves to find the positive in and take ownership of the situation.
A positive perspective on cheating could be, “We both had faults in the relationship, but I stayed committed to working on our issues. My partner showed me they were not willing to communicate to fix the issue but would rather cheat than solve our problems. Now I have a chance to treat myself with the respect I deserve and can find someone else who is also willing to communicate, work together, and commit to loyalty”. A negative perspective might be, “They cheated on me because I’m not good enough. The person they cheated with must be so much better. I will never find someone else like them”. See the difference? In the end, it almost doesn’t even matter what the real story was. But how we interpret the situation DOES matter. How we feel and the next actions we take as a result of our interpretations matter too.
It makes sense that words, thoughts, and stories should be positive but how exactly does a person start shifting from negative to positive? Awareness, journaling, meditation, and exercise can all help build mental strength. The first step is to take notice of thoughts running in your head. Next time your first reaction to something is negative, take notice! You might then consider instead what a neutral or positive interpretation would be. The same principle applies to stories we hold and our reactions to major events, but those constructs run deeper and will take more practice to notice and shift.
Journaling, the act of writing thoughts and feelings down, can help raise awareness of thoughts and words. We can more easily take a step back and look at words or thoughts from an objective position if they are on paper. Meditation and exercise can serve to help clear the mind. Sometimes we need to get better at making space in our mind, so we can proactively fill that space with thoughts and words we choose.
All in all, thinking about thinking is a pretty odd phenomenon! There are many layers to our words, thoughts, belief patterns, and worldviews. Take notice and try to work on each piece little by little. While it won’t necessarily be quick or easy, making an effort to shift words and thoughts to be more positive can immeasurably improve life experience.
Hardy, B. (2018, June 9). To Have What You Want, You Must Give-Up What’s Holding
You Back. Retrieved from Mission.org: https://medium.com/the-mission/to-have-
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