Unfortunately, there’s a lot of negativity in the world. If we’re not careful, our thoughts can easily become fixated on everything that’s going wrong — our own mistakes and those of others, things that haven’t gone as planned, and all that might go wrong in the future. But when we focus our attention on the negatives, they become magnified and it’s harder to see what’s good and all that we’re doing “right”. My colleague the Rev. Connie Habash, LMFT wrote the following article based on positive psychology, which helps us establish a simple but powerful practice of noticing the good things in our lives.
Focus on Your Positive Thoughts and They Will Grow
by Rev. Connie L. Habash
There it goes again. Aarrrrgh. You know, that voice that gets after you for yelling at your kids, or leaving the laundry piled on the couch for a week, or wonders if you offended someone – weeks after you did it. Yeah, that voice.
When it arises, it seems to get front and center, doesn’t it? It just takes over whatever you were thinking about, and suddenly, like bad news on TV, it makes headlines in your thoughts. On CNN they play the disaster over and over again on the screen, and you play out what you did “wrong” just as relentlessly.
It’s as if nothing else matters at that moment except feeling guilt or shame about whatever it was you think you did wrong or didn’t do good enough. A negative thought comes up, and for some reason, it’s much more compelling than the positive ones.
Negative thoughts stem from our fears
The other night, my daughter was talking with me before bed. She said that sometimes she feels unhappy. I asked her about the unhappiness. She said she felt pressure from school. But as we talked, she realized it wasn’t really her teachers or anyone at school that made her feel unhappy. She became aware that she was thinking about what she hadn’t finished or didn’t do well that day. And then she felt bad – as any of us would.
Why do these thoughts get the worst of us? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. It triggers fear centers in our brains. Worrying about insulting someone causes us to fear their rejection or anger, or telling other people what we did. Worrying about not getting enough done at school makes us feel like we’re not good enough, which makes us fear that we’ll fail or be admonished and embarrassed.
We imagine the worst, and it blows up into something that, unconsciously, we perceive as life-threatening. You bet I’d pay attention if a tiger were chasing me down! That’s the level that these little negative thoughts swell to when we’re unconscious of them.
Unless we notice them and shift our attention to something else.
What thoughts are you focusing on?
I asked her, what could she do differently? And she realized that instead of focusing her thoughts on what she didn’t do well (yes, you can acknowledge what you can improve upon, but I’m talking about obsessive negative self-talk), she could reflect on what she did do well. She could listen to the good thoughts inside of her!
It was like a light bulb flipped on in her mind. She asked for me to write this down, so we did – we wrote down the plan that every night, she’d think of 3 things she did well or “good” that day, and put them in her journal. She’d let those thoughts be what got her off to sleep that night. A big smile spread across her face, and after she named those three for the day, she said: “I feel much better!”
Choose to focus on what’s going “right”
What my daughter discovered was right out of the playbook of Positive Psychology, a current trend in psychotherapy that focuses on strengths and cultivating happiness, rather than previous decades of focus on pathology and fixing “what’s wrong”. Sometimes “what’s wrong” –and the cause of our suffering – is mostly what we choose to put our attention on.
Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, states that “The aim of Positive Psychology is to catalyze a change in psychology from a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in life.” It’s not sufficient to just improve what we feel is lacking in us. We all long to feel deep satisfaction, joy, and happiness – and we deserve that.
Focusing on the positives helps us feel better
By focusing more of our attention on what we have done well and the positive actions we took on a given day, the more likely we will feel uplifted and fulfilled. In essence, we increase our happiness (as my daughter discovered) by developing a habit of attending to the good in us. “The good life,“ says Seligman, “is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.”
Are you ready to try it out? Then get out a notebook and pen and put them by your bed tonight. Contemplate what went well, what you feel proud of, what you did that was fulfilling. What 3 things were “good” today? Write them down. Take time to acknowledge your positive qualities, actions, and experiences and you’ll take a step towards a happier, more satisfying life.
About the author:
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, yoga and meditation teacher, ordained Interfaith minister, and writer. For over 24 years, Rev. Connie has inspired her students and clients to live more joyful, empowered, fulfilling lives. Discover more about awakening your greatest potential and the Divine within you at her website, https://www.AwakeningSelf.com.