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Pitfalls of positive thinking

I decided to take up this topic because I have (again) recently heard a lot of discussion on positive thinking. It seems to be present almost everywhere, looking at any self-development book or coaching program.

It seems that there are two assumptions behind the concept of positive thinking: 1) There is something wrong with our thinking as it needs to be more positive and 2) We can turn our thinking into a more positive one. But is either of these true? Let’s consider.

Let’s start with the latter. Can you really influence and change what thoughts come to your mind? You can’t. Thoughts come and go, we do not consciously “produce” them. We often assume that we can control our thinking. If you try to focus your thinking for a moment, you can probably do that for a short while. But it does not take long when your head already picks up something else. So even if you would like to keep your thoughts in a certain thing, you will very quickly find yourself thinking something completely different. And trying to control your thinking is so pretty hard!

Positive thinking is also based on the assumption that negative thinking is somehow wrong or should be avoided (as it needs to be changed). What if there is nothing wrong with it? All thinking comes from the same source, from the same intelligence behind all life. So why do we judge it? Our mind is filled with all kinds of thoughts, so negative thoughts must also be accepted and understood as a natural part of life.

All thoughts are in fact completely neutral; they just “run” through us until we give them a meaning. We often judge them, and then we have a hurry to change them. And this in fact only gives more energy to the original thought, this is the classic “Do not think of a pink elephant”. So, in fact, thoughts cannot, in themselves, lead us to trouble, but our thinking about our own thinking is doing it: “Oh no, there’s something wrong with me as I think negatively, I have to stop this and think positively.” But once the thought has arrived, why would you try to change it, you cannot even do that anymore!

All the feelings are ok, as well as all the thoughts. When the thought changes, the feeling changes. If there is a bad day or a moment, let it be. We are designed so that when we do not intervene in the thinking process, new, more positive thoughts and emotions will surface again. So I do not have to force myself to think positive, it comes by itself when I give it space to come. I do not have to do anything about the emergence of a new thought. It’s just like the next breath. Problems will come when we block the flow of thoughts, start to dwell on certain thoughts and build a dam.

What then to replace positive thinking? You just need to know the nature of thinking, learn to observe your own thinking and understand that you are so much more than your thinking. There is no reason to take your own thinking so seriously. When you understand that the content of your thinking can be anything and the thoughts come and go, it starts to feel unnecessary to pay so much attention to individual thoughts. Of course, we are still doing it (because we are humans), but it is much easier to get out of thought circles. The key here is that you do not think that thinking is telling the truth about life. As Sydney Banks said, all mental suffering is due to thinking that has been taken too seriously.

Positive thinking backfires on this same issue: it assumes that the content of the thoughts are wrong, though the content of thinking is not a problem. The problems stem from our belief in the content of thinking. And therefore, focusing on the content only reinforces the idea that content is relevant when the real secret lies in understanding the process of thinking.

Lastly: I’m not saying that thinking about positive things, such as writing a gratitude journal, would be a bad thing. On the contrary, changing your own viewership is a good thing, especially if your own world feels very dark and negative and it feels difficult to get up. But this is different because then we will not try to change our thinking (which is not possible). In that case, we focus on thinking things that are good in our lives and do not judge the thinking that already came. Do you notice the difference?

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Stress has nothing to do with the circumstances. Whaaat??

Chronic stress has become an epidemic; it affects almost everyone in the western societies. We are taught that stress is given and we just need to manage it and try to change those circumstances or “stressors” we can somehow influence. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, for some it is exercise, for some alcohol, shopping, eating, meditation, etc. We want to escape stressful thinking and everyone finds their own way. Unfortunately, although we might experience a temporary relief, something usually triggers the stress again. Relief can only be temporary because stress is not caused by the circumstances and thus fixing those or getting relief outside is not going to help. Overwhelm and stress is coming from our thinking. As long as we don’t see it, we are trying to fix the wrong target.

Stress is one of my favorite subjects as I’ve experienced it so much myself and in my former job as HR Manager I saw it daily, leading sometimes to more severe outcomes such as burnouts. As I was also living in a misunderstanding about stress and the source of my feelings for over 40 years of my life, the moment I realized how the psychological system really operates, was a mind-blowing one.

The thing with the human mind is that our thinking wants eagerly take us away from the present moment. Personal thinking loves to take us to the future or to the past. Stress is very often caused by thinking about the future. All the things we need to do, deadlines, overwhelm of what still needs to be done, the anticipation of the coming difficult conversation, worry about failing etc. We all have our own personal thinking that causes us anxiety and worry. We project something to the future that will not even take place. And that consumes us completely. So we really think that it is the world that makes us stressed and tired when it’s our thinking that does that.

Because we tend to spend so much time in our heads, we don’t see the world as it is at the moment. If we would not spend our time thinking about past occurrences or future scenarios, what to do or what can happen, we would have full capacity at this moment. When a man is present in the moment, he normally does really well. When the mind is clear, fresh thinking can arise and new solutions can be found. This is the state that we often call flow.

We cannot usually see our own thinking or where it has taken us, especially because approx. 95 % of it is subconscious. But we can be aware of our thinking as we have a beautiful feedback mechanism in our body: we can notice our feelings and emotions. We can notice e.g. anxiety as it brings us an uncomfortable feeling and often many bodily symptoms such as insomnia, feeling of compression, an accelerated pulse, and breathing, etc. The feeling of stress is therefore only a symptom coming from our stressful thinking, and the correct diagnosis would be a misuse of mind, escaping from this moment.

And we have to understand that stressful thoughts will continue coming. Thoughts ebb and flow and we have no control over what will come up next. But after seeing the logic of the mind and how there’s no need to believe our thoughts, we can let them go more easily. We don’t have to stick with anxious thoughts as something new will pop up when we let the system operate how it is designed for. And that is what caused my chronic stress to disappear. It feels so silly to continue thinking about something that causes me to feel anxious. It really isn’t the circumstance that I’m experiencing.  How cool is that?? And to take one step further, the true freedom follows when you start to see that you are not only the one thinking but also the one observing your thinking. Or how else could you do that?

If you want to know more, drop me a message <3


What if your mind could stay on holiday?

You know the feeling: the holiday season is approaching, you are running like a maniac to get things done, waiting for that moment when you are finally FREE from work. But it takes some time to get into the holiday mode, all that work related thinking still spinning in your head. And then, finally, you can let go of work for some time (if you’re lucky) but when the holiday is coming to an end, you cannot enjoy it anymore. You are just thinking of all the stuff that is waiting for you when you go back to your desk.

What if I told you that it is completely possible (and it is your default setting) to have your mind continue its holiday? It’s not necessary for you to experience all that work related thinking, stress, and pressure. And guess why? This is the big revelation: because it is not coming from your work at all! You can feel clear, relaxed and peaceful, even when you are at work. And the best part: it does not require any methods or practices!

We live our lives inside of our own psychological system. Life is an inside job, 100 % of the time. That means that your stress, anxiety and burdening thinking is coming from YOU. Not from your circumstances. You feel your thinking. Period. There isn’t anything outside of you that can cause you to feel a certain way. The missing link we have not seen is the power of thought and how it guides our perception and creates our feelings.

‘Yes, I know that’ you are possibly thinking. Yes, you might intellectually understand that your thinking is creating your feelings. You have seen it at times, I think most of us have. It is easier to see that when you drag some old memory in your head and realize that it is creating that old horrible feeling again. But we don’t see it so much when it comes to the future. Many of us live in the future, inside of our heads, with anxious, stressful thinking about the things we must do, where we need to be, what we must accomplish. And yet, if we would stay present (and not run into the unknown future with our thinking), we would be so much more efficient and innovative.

You need to see it for yourself (intellectual understanding and realization are completely different things!) how you cannot blame your circumstances or other people for your feelings. Your thinking will ebb and flow and so will your feelings. The principle of thought is creating your feelings and then you innocently attach the feeling to the circumstance or person in front of you. A thought is invisible and so quick that it gets us tricked. So it is not your work that is causing you to feel anxious when your holiday is ending. Can you see it?

Enjoy your holiday!