by Dawn Billings, founder of RelationshipHelp.com
What would be in your life if you woke up tomorrow with ONLY what you were grateful for today?
Thinking positively, like love, is a choice. It is not a feeling. You don’t think positively because you feel positive, you think positively because you choose to think positively, just as you choose to behave in a loving way, even when you don’t FEEL like it. Thinking positively is a consciously chosen mental attitude that expects good and favorable outcomes, and with those expectations, comes inner peace, success, improved relationships, better health, happiness and satisfaction.
When we face disappointing situations and challenges which are inherent in all relationships, we have a choice about how we will choose to interpret them. There are basically two ways to interpret experiences. We can tell ourselves stories about whatever the situation might be that will generate negative thoughts and feelings, or we can frame the experience of a situation so that it generates positive thoughts and feelings.
Why do some people choose to interpret their situations from a negative perspective rather than to interpret them from a positive one? It could be that they do not understand the seriousness of the consequences of positive and negative thoughts. Each of us will face challenges and disappointment that is a fact, but the stories we build around those challenges and feelings of disappointment are completely up to us. Negative OR Positive thoughts begin to rule our minds the moment we choose to believe them.
Many people do not want to believe they have the power to create happiness or misery in their lives. They want to believe their lives and their feelings are out of their control. But in reality, our thoughts and our feelings are the only things in our control, although it is not easy to manage them. Thought management takes work, dedication and discipline. So what are the basic steps to thought management? Consider eleven actions that can change the way you think about your relationship:
1. Examine what you think.
The first step in successful thought management is that you must become aware of your thoughts. This is a process. Most of us stumble through our lives without taking the time to listen to our own thoughts. Human beings have a great ability. It is the ability to choose our thoughts, which determine our perspectives. It is not circumstances or events that make us react, think or behave. It is the way we choose to think about those circumstances and the meaning we give those events that influence us.
If your car has a flat tire, you run out of gas, your water heater explodes or your toilette overflows you can of course, choose to “feel” horribly inconvenienced, frustrated and ticked off. Having those feelings and reactions even seems appropriate and rational to many people. But you must ask yourself, “What does choosing to feel ticked off actually accomplish for me?” Does it fix my tire, water heater, or toilette? Our thoughts are really the only thing we have complete control over and yet, they are the things over which people choose to have the least control.
Research tells us the people who choose to imagine that an inconvenience is occurring for a reason that is ultimately for their benefit or protection, handled life’s inconveniences in a much calmer, more appreciative way. There were people who were inconvenienced and delayed the morning of 9/11 and most of those people were not happy or appreciative of their delays until they realized that same frustrating inconvenience saved their lives. If we imagine that what happens to us, always happens for our benefit, every normally frustrating inconvenience shifts into an appreciation.
2. Filter your thoughts.
Does this require effort of you? YES. You actually have to choose to be responsible and accountable for what you allow yourself to think and ultimately feel. Some people don't believe they can stop thinking a negative thought. Really the act is simple. When a negative thought enters your mind, pretend you are reaching in and taking that thought out, write it down. Now either throw it away, tear it up, or flush it down the toilette. That deliberate action makes a huge difference but you cannot stop there. Now write down a positive thought to replace the one you removed because nature abhors a vacuum. Selecting a positive thought to replace any negative thought is a very critical piece of the thought management exercise. Although it might feel difficult at first, with persistence and dedication, it will become a habit, and once it becomes a habit, you will find that choosing positive thoughts becomes almost automatic.
3. Begin to understand automatic negative thoughts.
Sometimes we simply do not want to feel positively about something. It is important to reflect on these times so that you can begin to understand yourself and examine, why. These moments of self-reflection aid us in understanding ourselves, and with this understanding comes greater compassion for ourselves and others.
4. In the beginning keep a thought diary.
Write your thoughts down. Most people are completely unaware of how often negative thoughts fill their minds. They don't pay attention to them because many times they are automatic. This is when thoughts can be most dangerous because you cannot change what you don't even realize it there. It is helpful to keep a diary of your thoughts, attitudes, actions and reactions. Now that most people carry smart phones, it is very easy to write down your thoughts. Later, this list will give you a chance to reflect upon your thoughts, analyze them and determine those you most want to change.
5. Counter your negative thoughts.
Human beings are not fond of change so you will catch yourself resisting altering your negative thoughts and stories. The best and easiest way to interrupt or counter negative thoughts is by thinking of those things you are grateful for. Ask yourself, "What if I woke tomorrow only with what I was grateful for today?" How busy would your mind be today if you lived your life believing that tomorrow you will wake up with ONLY what you were grateful for today? If you do this very simple exchange of thoughts, you will discover that not only do your thoughts change, but your feelings shift from frustration caused by entitlement to joy caused by your appreciation of those things you value most in life.
6. Play the ‘positive change’ game.
Viewing the world through positive lenses causes you to develop positive thoughts. Play the positive change game. Ask yourself, “If I were going to look at this situation through positive lenses, how would that change how I feel about the experience?” I know, usually when you are frustrated, angry or feeling miserable, the last thing you 'feel' like doing is playing some positive mind game. I get it. I understand your feeling, But we are talking about you developing the skill to completely change your life, your relationships and your success level. So make yourself stop behaving like a child and take responsibility. It is not a complex or difficult game, it just takes discipline to make yourself change your frustration into something positive. Just playing this game will help you develop a positive habit of looking at the world. Once thinking more positively and gratefully is a habit, you will discover your life changes greatly for the better.
7. Be careful of the company you keep.
Make sure that you surround yourself with people who believe in you, and your dreams, and are excited to make their dreams come true as well. Everyone needs encouragement. No great man or woman does anything alone. We are only truly great when we allow ourselves to make the difference in the world we are here to make. When we live our dreams we find we also benefit the lives of others. Surround yourself with like-minded, positive, focused people who want to help you achieve success.
8. Stay away from negative people.
Stop hanging around negative people. Great thinkers say, “You are a combination of the five people you spend the most time with.” If that is true, what five people do you want helping to determine your future? Now again, this is easier said than done. What if you are married to a negative person? How do you stop hanging around them? Great question. You don't. However what you do is consciously and actively take responsibility for changing the meaning of what your partner says. When he complains about money, tell yourself you are fortunate to have a husband you cares about the finances. It will not be easy, but it is simple.
9. Have a scale of preference that allows you to focus on important things.
Focus only on what is truly important in your life? Don’t sweat the small stuff or allow it to throw you off course. Don’t get sidetracked by which way the toilette paper is on the roll, or who did or did not use the squeegee on the shower door. Keep the outcome that is most important (like I want to love and support my partner in the best way possible) in the forefront of your mind. You will find that the small frustrations disappear when what is really important is given priority in your relationship.
10. Prioritize your thoughts and actions.
Before you set important relationship and life goals, allow yourself to visualize your ultimate outcome. I did not say, allow yourself to escape life by living in a fantasy world, but make sure you know what your greatest relationship dream is built on. Before you start any plan or action, clearly focus your mind on a successful outcome. Allow your dreams to guide you forward. Ask yourself, “Will this feeling, thought or action bring me closer to my beloved, or push me from them?” “Will this negative action or thought pull me off the direct path to the kind of relationship I desire?” Knowing the end goal helps us prioritize our thoughts and actions.
11. Be determined to develop new habits.
Our present automatic attitudes, whether negative or positive are already existing habits, built from our experiences, our stories, the feedback of parents, friends, society and self, all together they form our self-image and our world-view. Keep in mind, old habits die hard, especially the bad ones. Really take the time to choose what relationship habits are going to best serve to strengthen your love and bond. Be honest with yourself about what already existing habits are creating havoc and destruction in your relationship. You cannot change someone else, but you can change your thoughts, attitudes and actions and in the process, model, encourage and inspire others to choose to do the same.
Dawn L. Billings is an author and personality expert. Dawn is the founder of RelationshipHelp.com and the executive director of the luxury Relationship Help Resort in Arizona. Dawn is creator of OverJOYed Life, a powerful, positive work culture initiative.
Dawn is the author and architect of the Primary Colors Personality Tests and Insight Tools.