One of the topics frequently being discussed in the “Everyday” Facebook chat between Michaelle, Rachel and I is the power of the mind. As all people, we have good days and we have bad days. We also have worse days. With influences from the likes of Louise Hay, we always try to encourage each other to be aware of the fact that we are very much in charge of our lives, and most importantly, our minds.
It’s so easy to fall into the habit of thinking I am this or I am that. I am shy. I am loud. I am a failure. I am ugly. I am not a happy person. But why are you all of these things? Let me tell you – something happened to you once and your reaction was to think that you were shy. Then something else happened, which reinforced that thought. Then maybe something else. All of a sudden, shy defined you and you knew that you had always been, and probably always would be, shy. “It’s just the way I am.”
Yes and no. If you want to give random external circumstances the power to decide who you are, then yes. But you also have an opportunity here; an opportunity which only reveals itself as soon as you realise that you are not defined by what happens to you, but how you react to it. If you are wearing blue tinted glasses you will see the world in blue, but you can just as easily decide to change to red.
It is a powerful thought: your world is what you make it. You can actually change the way you think to ultimately change the way you feel. You can choose to see failure or opportunity in everything that happens to you. You can choose to put the red tinted glasses on and they don’t tell you that you’re shy, they never have and they never will.
But how do you do it? Not to be discouraging, but it will probably be the greatest challenge of your life. I saw an excellent TED Talk the other day on how science suggests that we’re more perceptive to negative thoughts than positive ones, and how we tend to get stuck in a spiral of negative thinking. Although pretty basic, it was a revelation to me as I have always felt that negativity comes way too easily.
In fact, ever since Michaelle introduced me to Louise Hay (who’s ideas I take with a kilo of salt – I find it very difficult to believe that thoughts can cure all forms of disease) mid last year, I have been on a mission to reinvent the way I think. With a rather common yet nonetheless dysfunctional belief system about who I was (not “good enough” being the most prominent idea) it seemed impossible at first. You don’t wash away 31 years of beliefs just like that. But after a year, I’m amazed by how much easier it has become. And this TED Talk was another step in the right direction, because the more aware we are of how are brains work (or don’t work), the better capable we will be to manipulate them and improve them to our advantage.
Awareness is the first and most important step. Simply realising that you can change the way you think to change the way you feel has already taken you 50% of the way. That awareness will keep on reminding you, poking you and annoying you until your unwillingness to change is the only thing standing in your way.
Michaelle and Rachel are knights and guardians of my awareness (they’ll love that). Whenever I’m sad or upset about something, they tell me that I should choose to think and feel differently. It always frustrates me because it’s really not what you want to hear when you’re having a bad day – you want some pity, comfort and a truckload of chocolate, not someone telling you it’s actually your own fault you’re feeling this way. Even if it is.
One caveat here, it’s important to be self-aware enough to know when you’re being silly (and as long as you’re aware, why not have a pity party for a few hours, they’re fun!) and when things are serious. Because even if I do believe in the power of changing the way you think, I also believe that you should give your emotional intelligence some credit. If you feel sad, mistreated or unhappy, your feelings are probably trying to tell you that there is something you need to change in life. Ultimately, change in thinking also needs to be combined with action, because at the end of the day, you can’t think your way out of an unstable financial situation, an unhealthy lifestyle or a dysfunctional relationship.
How to sum this up? Use the awareness. Use your self-awareness. Use your emotional intelligence. Figure out what it is you need to change, both physically and mentally, and see it as an opportunity to create a better life for yourself. You don’t have to wear blue tinted glasses if you don’t want to, and the first step – really not as easy as it might sound – is to realise that they’re not attached to your face.