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Dont Stress Yourself Out Trying to Think Positively


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Dont Stress Yourself Out Trying to Think Positively

john graham

This article was published in the May edition of Sligo Now magazine.

This article was published in the May edition of Sligo Now magazine.

In the last few months Ive worked with a real variety of clients.  From GP’s to leaving cert students.  From punters at Electric Picnic to pallitive care nurses.  I work with people wanting more happiness in their lives and people looking to let go of crippling anxiety problems.  Simply put I’m working with the relationship they have with their thoughts and emotions.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, we all have them.

A common mistake I come across a lot is that a positive approach to well being is confused with positive thinking.   To be positive you have to think positive.  It is certainly a misconception  I was living my life through before I moved to Ireland, around 14 years ago. 

I was working as both a business trainer for a large financial company & a life coach in my spare time.  However, my ideas of what constituted a positive life were all wrong.  In fact, it was causing me to lead a double life & was becoming exhausting.

The thing that got me back in the day, was that I felt because I wanted to help other people have a positive life, I had to be positive all the time.   I’d been taught that living a positive life meant I had to think positive as much as possible.  Positive thinking is what was required in the business and there was no room for negativity.  So if negative thoughts came up I tried to cancel them out by thinking positive.  However, living like this meant my mind would be in a constant battle.  As I was in constant battle I then started to feel a bit of a fraud (more thoughts!).   It really tired me out.

Who was I to be helping other people feel better when I was living in a regular mind made struggle!

Now I say regular but it wasn’t constant.  Some days I was flying along getting stuff done, going great and life was easy.   Other days I was all over the place & trying to put up a front, back to battling with my thoughts. 

Taking a step back and looking at things now the only time I felt low & started to struggle was when I was engaged in thought about it.    When I was just engaged with what I was doing, life was a breeze (well it was a lot easier anyway).

I hear this from a lot of my clients.  When I ask if whatever they have come to see me about is a 24/7 thing. The answer I generally get is “No, it’s only a problem when I’m thinking about it”.  I’m guessing there’s not many of you reading this who haven’t had the same experience.

Its all very well knowing this but generally the next question I get is “OK so if its my thinking that’s creating this, how do I stop thinking about it?”

It’s a fair point & one that without trying to be flippant my answer is “Stop trying to stop thinking it.  Do nothing”.

 It was only when I learnt and understood more about the general nature of thought did life get way easier for me.  The quickest way to try & show you is to try & play a little game.

Some of you will have worked with me already.  If you have, you will probably have had a go at the thought counting game I do with most clients.   It helps highlight some key things around how our thinking works.  So let's give it a go.

For the next 30 seconds all I want you do is just count your thoughts.  What I mean by thought is anything that pops into your awareness.  You might notice a feeling, you might hear a noise, you might even notice a little voice saying something like “Am I doing this counting thing right?!?”  For the purposes of this game it doesn’t matter what pops into your awareness, just count it.

On you go for 30 seconds.

All done? Good!  So what you may have noticed are some of the following things:

·      That thoughts are always happening.  Having thought’s are just a natural part of being alive.   

·      That the thoughts that pop into our heads can be pretty random. It could be the most abstract thing it might even be a negative thought.  We can’t control what pops into our heads.  Just knowing this can allow some people to relax a bit about what shows up from time to time.

·      I’d imagine you all had more than one thought.  This shows that if we don’t actually engage with the thought (no matter positive, negative, abstract or crazy) that it moves on & is probably replaced pretty quickly with another thought.   Without having to do anything, without having to try, it just happens naturally”.

Just do nothing & new thought will show up.

It may sound a bit strange to you but the thoughts we have are pretty neutral when they pop up.  Neither good or bad.  They only start to become good or bad thoughts when we apply meaning to them (more thought).  If we don’t pay any attention to them, or are just comfortable with what they are (just a thought, nothing more nothing less) they just spend their days coming and going  In flow, so to speak.

You mind is constantly throwing up ideas, options & insights.  I’m not saying just ignore every thought, of course not.  Some  are going to be very useful to you in keeping you safe or helping you flourish.  I am saying the more we are aware of how our thinking works the more we can pick and choose what’s helping us and what’s holding us back.