Common Sense Science - The Positivity Series #2
Don't make a major life decision because you are afraid to go into a cave that might have a sabertooth tiger.
Fact: Humans have both positive and negative thoughts. Negatives are our survival instinct; we don't want to eliminate them completely. But, in our modern world, you will be better off if you learn to balance your negative and positive thoughts and emerge from the dark caves we make for ourselves.
The Power of Your Negative Thinking
Thoughts are the origin of everything we know, have created and can imagine. Thoughts seem to be unlimited, yet we don't know where they come from. It's a pop psychology cliché, but we have the ability to manage our thoughts, lest our thoughts manage what we do and achieve.
"What you fear, as well as what you long for, is headed your way. All your fears, all your doubts, all your failure thoughts are taking shape in your life, molding conditions to their likeness; and no matter how hard you work for the thing you want, if you constantly hold in mind negative, discouraged thoughts; if you expect failure instead of success, evil instead of good, it is what you expect that will come to you." - 1922 Orison Swett Marden
Over the past 3000 years, writers, observers, and philosophers have believed that our thoughts influence our lives and life circumstances. Marden wrote, "we make the world we live in and shape our own environment with our thoughts."
In other words, your thoughts are the creative force that molds and determines the conditions of your life.
The traditional personal change focus has been to promote positive thinking. But before you can achieve more positivity, you first have to understand the nature of the dominant force: your negative thinking.
5 Ideas About Our Negative Thinking and How to Manage Them
#1. Negative thoughts and fears are necessary to survival. But in modern times, negativity has become the dominant state of mind and threatens individual and societal survival.
Humans have a negativity bias.
Our prehistoric ancestors had to err on the side of fear and uncertainty to avoid a world full of potential catastrophe. Our predisposition to negativity still exists, but we no longer have to worry about walking into a dark cave inhabited by a dangerous animal. Today, much of our fear is based on artificial/human-created information and stimuli that we interpret as dangerous. It's still good to be cautious because choices always have a risk. But we have to modernize our instinctive skill to recognize, measure, and manage our negativity bias to make more effective decisions.
Today's excessive negativity is often an obstacle to successful living.
We often let negativity overwhelm us because of the overload and contradictions from the 24/7 information and news.
And the detrimental effects of negativity are growing despite the availability of professional recognition and treatment.
Our problem is that the stimuli of negative thoughts and emotions have changed dramatically from our caveman days. Humans used to be afraid of dark caves, wild animals, and natural disasters.
Today, much of our negativity is of our own making, created by the pervasive and mostly negative social, economic, political, and health news.
As natural causes of negativity/fear have diminished, humans have found a way to manufacture and focus on negative inputs.
Humans have maintained a level of survival negativity that is unnecessarily high compared to what our ancestors required for daily survival. Survival today requires more rational and creative thinking to survive and thrive.
It's easier to think about feeling good and positive than it is to carry out the intentions.
I can make a New Year's resolution; I can read an inspiring book; I can buy a 12 CD course on success strategies. I can psych myself up, get materials organized, but then comes the hard part – physically carrying out the practices to change my way of thinking. I might get started, but how long will I keep it up? One week? Four weeks? If you are like me, I have great intentions and do the preparation, but then I'm impatient to see results. It doesn't work that way. Patience and practice are part of the process.
What can you do?
A basic prescription to help you shift the balance of your negative thoughts versus positive thoughts. This advice is not new, but it's worth repeating. Consume less news. Of the news you do encounter, believe less of it. Use more of your commonsense observation.
Every pundit and expert can't be right, and in fact, they are usually not right. Read the work of Philip Tetlock about the flawed opinions of public pundits and talking heads. There are books and articles about the original and updated Tetlock research. Here is a short, interesting one. Why foxes are better forecasters than hedgehogs.
#2. Very Bad Habits
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Shakespeare, Hamlet
Negative thoughts are a very bad habit.
A lot of advice for breaking break habits and forming new beneficial habits is to maintain a new habit for 30 days - 90 days (varies by source). If you can maintain a new habit for an extended period, you will have established memory – emotional memory, muscle memory, attitudinal memory, etc. It's well-established in sports that you must practice your skill repeatedly to be able to do it almost automatically, with consistency, to establish muscle memory.
Think about this: If it takes up to 90 days to establish a new habit, and one of your bad habits has been a high level of negative thoughts for 10 years, 20 years or more — that's a pretty solid habit! It's not easy to break a habit that has become emotionally familiar and which you have been practicing for decades.
I had to unlearn more than I had to learn!
I thought I had to learn to use new habit practices, which is true. But my bigger task was to unlearn bad thinking habits to remove the obstacles to what I should be able to do naturally.
How big are your bad habits? Very big.
Psychological research, with an admitted lack of precision, estimates that a person has 50,000 to 80,000+ thoughts a day, and most are the same as the day before, and the great majority are in some way negative. That's a lot to learn to change.
Repeat: Thoughts are the raw ingredients of our lives.
• Every day 50,000 – 80,000+ thoughts.
• 90% of the thoughts today are the same thoughts we had yesterday.
• 80% of the thoughts are negative, fear, doubt, uncertainty, lack of confidence, disappointment etc.
There is a lot of practical advice for how to shut down negative thinking and engage in positive thinking. There are endless tips and techniques: Journaling, visualization, meditation, prayer, affirmations – these are all legitimate token activities that can engage your mind. And if they are neutral or positive, then they are changing the content of your thinking away from negative thoughts.
But changing your thought process is a duality, as every thought is not purely positive or negative; there is a lot in between. Your goal is not to be all or nothing but to create a new habit of balancing the positive and negative.
I needed help to change my thinking habits, and I created a process, The Thoughts Scorecard. I recognized that I needed to measure how I thought about my goals and how much I had to change. How do you fill your thinking time? You have a finite number of minutes and hours a day to think about the routine daily activities and the creative success-oriented plans. You can fill your discretionary thinking with positive thoughts or negative thoughts.
#3 Life is not a hobby. Life interferes.
Trying to make a major change in life, attract financial success, or change behaviors is hard to do in everyday life. We have priorities of work, family, health, and trying to have a few quality moments. We often try a self-help practice to make a full-time change in life, but we approach it more as a part-time hobby than a full-time job. We are trying to dramatically alter our psychology or way of life that's formed over many years. A 10, 20 or 30-year way of doing things can't be changed in a few weeks. And we are in a hurry; we want to enjoy the changes we seek as soon as possible. Our typical frustrations include:
· It's not working.
· It's taking too long.
· I'm not sure what they mean.
· Am I doing this right?
Changing your life is not a hobby.
Personal change is the most important activity you will ever do. But it's hard, and you often feel you don't know how to do it and won't succeed. I'll never lose weight. I'll never get that job. I'll never get out of debt. I'll never have a good game.
Research has shown that most of us spend more time thinking about or researching relatively trivial things, like planning a vacation, where to shop, what color to paint the walls, etc., than the bigger decisions. We want to know and control. We have a lot more experience making dinner reservations than buying a new home and certainty less experience in changing a lifestyle habit.
We often spend more time on a single event, where we think we have some control over the information than we do in creating a serious practice to make a significant in our life or achieve a major goal.
Establish a thought-changing practice. Treat personal transformation as a full-time life routine, not-a part-time hobby.
True, many people have obsessive, think-about it every minute hobbies and that style can be useful if you transfer it to your bigger life goals.
Try to use the same passion you have for a hobby for a least one new goal you want to achieve. It might be more difficult than your hobby, but the more you engage it, the easier and more productive it will become.
Basic to-do: start with changing how you are thinking -less negative and more positive. There are endless tips to think positive, but you need a disciplined practice, measurement and a way to track your thinking practice, which I found possible with my Scorecard.
#4 Probability of Positivity
Every thought does not become a reality. To be successful, do you have to be 100% positive or 100% negative? Or is there a tipping point when your thoughts become your reality?
You increase the probability of success by increasing your level of Positive Thoughts. Physicists to metaphysics indicate that we have a built-in detector to help transform thoughts into choices and actions. The familiar Deja vu, instincts, visions, gut feel, hunches, "luck," and dreams might be our ability to experience our natural ability to tune into messages about what to do.
There are many psychological and philosophical concepts about how and when to listen to your head vs. your heart. Your logical consciousness vs. subconscious instincts. Your thoughts, positive and negative, are in your head. Your heart understands the pure essence of your thoughts and feelings.
The heart does not have negative thoughts.
But we are not taught to listen to our heart; we are taught to be too logical too often. Back to the caveman/woman- we are here today because they listened to their heart, their instinct, to survive.
How to change the balance of negative vs. positive thoughts. You can't change what you don't know.
It's not all or nothing; it's not 100% or 0%. The wisdom of the universe has given us the formula.
When we think about our goal, we need to maintain our positive attitudes and feelings about that goal at least 68% of the time to have a high probability of success. Any number higher than 68% will likely further increase the chances of your success. If your positive/negative balance is less than 68%, you might still succeed; it's still a statistical possibility, but not very high.
The positive thought goal of 68% is the probability threshold where most outcomes occur.
Maintain your positive thoughts about your goal at least 68% of the time, and you've entered the successful manifestation zone. The universal laws of probability are where I discovered my approach to shifting my thoughts. Most things occur in the vast middle of our possible experiences.
As I discovered, "thinking" positively about my goal at least 68% of the time was not as easy as I expected, and I had no way to know how well I was doing. So, I created a way to measure that matches how I thought and how those thoughts changed over time.
#5. I can't change what I don't know.
There are too many rules! There are lots of do's and don'ts.
Don't have negative thoughts.
Don't keep changing your mind about your intentions.
Do be detached from the outcome.
Don't think about the details or the how.
Do feel gratitude.
Be positive "most of the time."
My basic reaction to most of the advice was, "that's easy for you to say, but hard to do." Which do's and don'ts are the most important and make the biggest difference? And how is each step connected and to be used? How do we keep the inevitable positives and negatives in a balance that still lets the principles do their work?
My research focus was to accept the premise of being positive most of the time and find out what "most" meant in real life.
What I discovered, which satisfied me, was that 68% is the critical level of "most of the time." This led to the creation of the Thoughts Scorecard.
I can't know if I'm thinking positive thoughts most of the time unless I actually record and track the level of positive versus negative thoughts.
From the discussion about how long it takes to establish a new habit, I found that I needed about six months of monitoring my thoughts and learning how to substitute negatives with positives while actively working on my goals. But once I achieved my goal - publishing my first book, then a second book - I also recognized that achieving a goal is not the same as sustaining the outcome.
I established a new habit, recognizing when negativity was getting out of control, which was necessary to maintain my practice of monitoring my thoughts.
I followed my own advice.
I still use my Thoughts Scorecard as a hobby. Not an all-consuming hobby, not something I've been able to maintain religiously every week. But I have it on my desk; I regularly update it. It's a constant reminder and support of my intent to change and sustain my positive thoughts to help achieve my goals.
In fact, maintaining my Thoughts Scorecard is the one hobby I have the takes the least amount of time and costs no money. That's a pretty good hobby.