Shape your thoughts, shape your life
If you’ve just stumbled on this post, I urge you to read Part One of this two part article here.
If you’re feeling lazy, here’s a watered-down recap:
- Jim Rohn’s famous saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with is probably true, but misses the mark when homing in on the crux of the issue.
- The real issue is how we think, because how we think dictates who we become. Having successful people around us merely facilitates the formation of successful thinking and behavior.
For this piece, I’m going to be talking about the different thoughts that we should be giving more than a passing thought to (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Positive Thinking Is Not The Cure For Everyone
If I had a penny for every instance someone tells me to think positive, I’d have enough money to buy a PlayStation 4. Self-help gurus are quick to expound the virtues of positive thinking, extolling it as a simple tweak to cure all of life’s problems.
Heck, even us non-gurus are guilty of it on a regular basis.
Every time you say “look on the bright side”, “don’t worry” or “think positive” as a way of comforting someone undergoing a difficult time, you might be in danger of downplaying whatever’s bothering the individual.
As a consequence, you leave that person feeling more frustrated because he or she feels there is something seriously wrong with them for not being able to get themselves out of their mental funk.
Trust me, I found this out the hard way when I was trying to drag the missus out of post-natal depression by calling for her to be more ‘positive’.
I found out again when I advised her to solve her self-esteem issues by focusing on her many ‘positive’ traits.
Yet again (because men don’t learn when it comes to women do they), I found that out after telling her to start her days off on a ‘positive’ note by tuning out the psychological impact of our two kids’ bloodcurdling screams for attention on most mornings.
You know what the real irony is? Positive thinking harms the very people who actually need it. That is, those of us with low self-esteem.
According to research, repeated positive self-statements may benefit individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for those who already maintain poor views of themselves.
Why? As researchers found, a positive statement such as “I am a successful person” is fundamentally at odds with the mindsets of those with low self-esteem, leading them to feel worse because of such incongruity.
So, if you already think you’re the bomb, go ahead and leverage positive thinking to the hilt. Otherwise, I’d recommend you take it down a notch. We’ll come back to that later.
The 5 Thoughts You Should Really Be Paying Attention To
Human beings are infinitely complex because of the way we are wired. We don’t live life on autopilot led solely by natural instinct as is common with wild animals.
There are various shades and degrees to the way we feel, expressed in such terms as happy, sad, excited, angry, pleased or stressed.
Given our complex makeup, why are we then quick to conclude that one-dimensional positive thinking is the panacea to the unhappiness that cuts across the many facets of our modern lives?
“It’s funny to think that just because you’re successful you’re now immune to the full range of the human experience.”— Chester Bennington, the late frontman of Linkin Park
That being the case, and even if you have no self-esteem issues, here are what I would recommend as the 5 types of thoughts that all of us should exercise some form of mindfulness over.
They are all-encompassing of the way we feel, act and think. Just as we cannot separate our thoughts from our actions, we cannot disregard any one of these 5 thoughts in coming up with a complete picture of ourselves.
- Physical — What you think about your body. Are you happy with the way you look, your weight and the state of your current health?
- Spiritual — What you think about your relationship with God. If you’re areligious or even atheistic, you might think about your purpose in life instead. Are you happy with life, with where you’re headed in your life’s journey?
- Mental — What you think about your mental state. Are you in a good place mentally? Or are you depressed? Are you stressed out about the fact you’re depressed?
- Relational — What you think about the state of your existing relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Are you having relationship issues with your spouse? Have you recently been betrayed by a friend or co-worker? Did you recently hook up with the person of your dreams?
- Emotional — What you think about your emotional well-being. Are you happy with the way you’re attending to your feelings? Are you in touch with your deepest desires and fears? Do you feel as though your emotions are in check?
Why is important to think holistically about these 5 thoughts? For one, it forces you to examine if there any areas in your life you’ve overlooked that finally deserve some attention.
For instance, let’s just assume that you’ve got most things going for you — a hot body, great confidence, fantastic relationships and emotional stability. Yet despite all of that, you feel that there is something missing deep down inside, a spiritual void. You know that you can’t get to the next level without knowing if there’s something bigger worth living for, a higher purpose if you will.
Ditto a situation where you’ve got everything going for you apart from good mental health, arguably one of the more unfortunate positions to be in.
Take the case of Linkin Park’s late frontman Chester Bennington, whose suicide rocked the music world and shone the spotlight on mental illness among the world’s upper echelons.
In a statement that makes so much sense to me now, he said “It’s funny to think that just because you’re successful you’re now immune to the full range of the human experience.”
This just goes to show that success does not automatically render you immune to unhappiness and a whole host of associated negative emotions. In Chester’s case, the fact that he seemingly had everything else going for him, including a great family, makes this even more of a stark realization for us.
Start with small incremental thoughts
Some self-help gurus implore you to go big and think ‘world-class thoughts’, but if you’ve only just ceased thinking you’re a loser, then making the leap to “I’m the best entrepreneur the world has even seen” too soon is sure to backfire, no matter how well-placed the thought is.
Recall that we said positive thinking might harm individuals with low self-esteem.
Go neutral before you go positive.
Take yourself as you are — flaws, warts and all. Tell yourself that you are OK just being you. Once you acknowledge and accept yourself despite your inadequacies, any incremental positive thinking from that point forward no longer feels incongruent, but realistic.
Once you’re comfortable with the way you view yourself, you can start diving deeper into the 5 thoughts mentioned above, taking stock of each of those thoughts through honest self-reflection.
And after you’ve identified how you feel in each department, you can then plan to optimize your environment to allow you to achieve a high level of positivity for each of those thoughts — which could now include surrounding yourself with the 5 people that would allow you to function at your physical, spiritual, mental, relational and emotional best.
Notice that I omitted ‘Financial’ from the list of 5 thoughts. We often hear the words ‘health, wealth and happiness’ together in the same sentence as though wealth is something that all human beings were born to naturally seek after.
But the truth is that we were not born into the world with money as part of our natural state.
Money is a human construct that exists outside the realm of the body and mind. To give it too much significance is to be beholden to it as a master. We all know how dangerous it is when we allow the single pursuit of money to consume us.
Why else do many people struggle to find happiness even after they’ve amassed fortunes of a lifetime? Gary Vaynerchuk for one, has observed that it is often the people that work regular, nine-to-five jobs earning average wages that are the happiest as compared to his multi-millionaire businessmen friends.