The trouble is, there is an inherent contradiction in the term positive thinking. We think thoughts. And once that thought comes to your concisous mind, you label it positive or negative.
So, it’s not the thoughts that are the problem, they are just thoughts. Our brain generates thoughts and associations in the same way that our gall bladder produces bile. What most people have difficulty with is unwanted thought patterns which repeat again and again like an old fashioned record stuck in a groove.
These unwanted thought patterns are sometimes a symptom of tension or maybe illness in your body. And sometimes, the thoughts we label as negative are just things that we have difficulty with in our lives. I’ve noticed again and again that if I release tension in my body, my thought patterns change. So just doing some yoga and relaxing a bit might sort out the problem.
But that doesn’t always get to the source of the problem. Desikachar in ‘The Heart of Yoga’ talks about samskara (roughly translated as habit or conditioning) and getting to the root of the habit. With unwanted and persistent thoughts that are not generated by tension in your body or unresolved issues from your past, you need to stop the thought just as it arises and choose another thought before the negative thought begins. Since our brain generates associations very quickly, we need some way of becoming aware.
The best ways to break a habit are:
- A meditative practice which allows us to observe thoughts and stop them before it all begins.
- A form of mantra which is repeated again and again with the intention of replacing a bad habit or attitude with a better one.
It’s possible with practice but isn’t easy. Most of us are trying to deal with the thoughts after the fact. So some techniques which might be useful.
- Acknowledging the positives can rebalance our thinking. A standard technique is taking time to acknowledge the good things in your life, the things you feel grateful for.
- Find the context, the big picture. Telling yourself not to take it personally if someone rubs you up the wrong way, that they do it to everyone is an example.
- Break out of any isolation that you might feel. Take time to acknowledge that other people are in the same position and also struggling with the same problems.
- Have compassion for yourself. You are human and that means that you are imperfect and that’s still OK.
- Find ways of dealing with stress, lack of sleep or improper nutrition in ways which suit your body and your personality.
- Take time to reflect on the things that trigger the thoughts. Gradually learning to disable the triggers will give your mind a breathing space and allow you to meditate clearly on the causes of the thought in the first place.
There are many forms of meditation which allow you to see the root of the habits and choose different pathways. If you want to explore this, I can recommend getting hold of ‘A Path with Heart’ by Jack Kornfield. It’s beautifully written and gives many practical meditations.
If you want a very entertaining talk on happiness and positive thinking at work (a place a lot of people have difficulty being positive about), check out http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html
This blog post arose out of some conversations in my intermediate yoga class, so thanks to Jo for bringing it up.