I have had to learn to think positively – and you can too.
It’s not every day that your life is turned upside down like mine has been this last month. I have gained a grandson – my first, and in the same week I gained a new father and six new siblings.
I got DNA results done and discovered a woman who was a stranger to me, but looks remarkably similar, is my half sister.
I have had to rewrite my history. It is a time when your mind can go down a very positive path (like mine) or a negative path.
I have had a wide range of reactions from people as I tell my new story, from: “I wish my mother had been flirtatious” and “Wow – I wish I got some new brothers and sisters” through to “Surely you are angry that your mother didn’t tell you after your dad died and took this secret to her grave”, or “Aren’t you upset that your mother was cheating on your father?”.
But I am a positive person – invariably the optimist who sees things in a positive light.
Optimists and pessimists
Generally, there are two types of thinkers: optimists and pessimists. An optimistic person usually has a very “glowy” outlook on life. When something good happens to them, they will say things to themselves like, “Well I’m a terrific person and this happened because I deserve it…” If something bad happens they’ll say, “It’s just bad luck.”
On the other hand, when something bad happens to a pessimistic person, they might say “Bad things always happen to me, I made a mistake and it’s awful, I just can’t get anything right.” If something good happens, they might say “Well that was just good luck.” A pessimist will most often think the worst.
Learning to think positively
People can learn to think positively, it just takes some effort, perseverance and determination in order to learn to be positive:
A person needs to RECOGNISE that the way they think directly affects the way they feel and how they react in certain situations.
Often people think that an event causes a feeling they have; for example, the boss yells at them and they feel angry and upset. The reality is that there is a step in between an event and a feeling, and that is what you think about the event. If you hold negative beliefs and think negative thoughts, the event will cause you to react with anger or become upset. Thinking plays an important part in how you react, influencing your behaviour and how you think about the world.
Your manager yells at you and you hold beliefs like “I should be perfect, I’m not allowed to make mistakes, I can’t do anything right…” It is no wonder you feel angry and upset when it happens.
The main skill in learning to think positively is to identify and recognise negative thinking – negative scripts – and CHALLENGE it. Challenge a negative thought by saying “Everyone makes mistakes and it’s not the end of the world.” Learn from the mistake, so as not to do it again.
Types of negative thinking
There are a number of different types of negative thinking, but the main ones are those that involve negative thinking scripts like:
Shoulds: For example “I should be perfect, people shouldn’t yell at me, I should have…”. Rationally, more appropriate thinking would be, “I don’t like it when this happens, but it’s OK and nobody is perfect.”
- Musts: Similar to shoulds, and can also lead to stress and need to be challenged.
- Generalising: For example a person may have to deal with a rude customer, after which they generalise to “All customers are rude and horrible…”. The person must learn to recognise this faulty thinking – and take a reality check.
Steps to overcoming negative thinking
STEP 1 – Ask yourself “How am I reacting negatively?” or “What do I feel bad about?”
STEP 2 – Find out the cause of the negativity, and identify the negative thoughts.
STEP 3 – Change the negative thinking or negative scripts into positive scripts and positive thinking by saying, “I don’t like this, but it’s OK and I will cope.”
Finally, positive thinking needs practice. The more practice, the better you will become at thinking positively. Catch yourself out and ask, “What am I telling myself that is causing me to react like this?” With enough practice, positive thinking will almost become second nature.
I am very excited about my new extended family. There are some very funny aspects to the whole situation. I have had to alter half my parentage from a Polish Jewish background to an atheist family dating back to the 1800s in Tasmania.
My parents died many years ago and now I have a living healthy new father who is still working full time at 83.
And mostly I am very proud of my own gut intuition – no facts – but a feeling that has resulted in this whole wonderful discovery.
By Eve Ash, psychologist and Managing Director, Seven Dimensions, is the co-author of Rewrite Your Life! (Penguin) and co-producer with Peter Quarry of the Ash.Quarry production – Positive Thinking from the TAKE AWAY TRAINING SERIES www.7dimensions.com.au