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5 Ways to Achieve Peace Through Positive Thinking
Why should you change your thinking?
Changing the way you think changes your entire perspective; changing your perspective changes how you view the world. When you view the world in a positive light, it breeds more positivity. And pretty soon, positive things start happening in your life. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let me give you a little story of how I found all of this out, almost by accident. In our house we celebrate Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter in which people generally "give up" a vice or bad habit. My oldest son decided we should give up sweets for Lent and I agreed, but I still had a nagging thought in the back of my mind that it somehow wasn't enough. That same week, my horoscope said that there was something I had been resisting that I needed to let go of in order for "what is to be to truly manifest". It occurred to me that I had a bad habit of negative thinking and that negative thinking was holding me back!
So I decided that for 37 days, I would make a conscious effort to identify negative thought patterns and then replace them with positive thoughts, words and actions. It sounds easy, but trust me, it was hard to put into practice every day for 37 days.
However, in that relatively short span of time, I learned so much about myself, how I interact with people, and ways that my depression was getting the best of me. I kept a journal, and from keeping that journal, have come up with a system for pinpointing negative thoughts and changing them into positive thoughts.
I want to share what I've learned because I feel that anyone can benefit. Let me tell you a little about my journey over the past year and how changing my thinking has landed me in a good place in my life.
I was married for nine years, and it was nine years full of stress, multiple moves, loneliness, depression, anxiety, multiple jobs, financial strain and disappointment. In a nutshell, it wasn't exactly a bed of roses and definitely not what I pictured my life to be when I was a young bride. I finally got up the courage to end the marriage and strike out on my own, but I worked on commission and had two little boys in tow. I was constantly stressed about having enough money to pay my bills and experiencing a wide range of emotions over the divorce- anger, resentment, bitterness, a resolve to be utterly independent, loneliness, depression, anxiety- you name it, it was all there. But I was tired of living that way, and after spending many months letting go of all of those bad memories, decided that my heart needed- and deserved- peace.
We all need peace in our lives, and I firmly believe that changing your way of thinking will help you achieve the peace you need and deserve as well.
"Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching?"— Dennis and Wendy Mannering
So what is involved in changing your way of thinking?
Changing the way you think and perceive the world does take a fair amount of commitment. With anything else, you'll get out of it what you put into it. It doesn't have to be difficult or overly involved; it can simply be a reflection at the end of the day, or in the moment. It might involve keeping a journal (which I highly recommend!). Changing your way of thinking does involve re-training your mind though, and for that you will need three things- a desire to change, a commitment to change, and a desire to keep changing. This isn't an overnight process; just like breaking yourself of a bad habit, it takes time. However, I can absolutely guarantee that you will like the results and at any time you feel yourself sliding back into that negative thinking pattern, you can always go back and retrain yourself. I am going to give you 5 assignments to help you identify your negative thought patterns, as well as ways to overcome each negative thought, word, action or reaction with positive ones.
# 1- Be Grateful
Gratitude sounds like such a simple idea, but it's a great place to start. What are you thankful for? Your spouse and kids? Your friends? Your house or car? Your job? If you take the time to really think about the things you're thankful for (and not just on Thanksgiving Day!), you will see how much your life is already abundantly blessed.
The negative thought pattern here is ungratefulness, which makes you take for granted all the things you already have and perceive them to not be enough.
Let's look at an example. If you own your home, think about how much work it took for you to get that home- the mortgage application, the house hunting process, inspections and closings, painting, decorating and moving in, mowing the yard, paying property taxes, maintenance, cleaning. That house didn't just appear overnight; you had to work for it. Think about the time before you owned that house and were living in a cramped little apartment, dreaming of the day when you could attain your goal of being a homeowner, and then think about how you felt the day you were handed the keys to your brand new home.
Over the years you may have started taking that house for granted because it has become such a part of you; you may have even started to resent how much work is involved with keeping it up. Now think about this: somewhere in the United States there is a family of 5 who live in a flea-ridden motel room because it's the only shelter they can afford. Somewhere in Malaysia there's a family that includes parents, children and grandparents who live in a hut with a thatched roof that leaks during the monsoons. Somewhere in Honduras, there's a family that lives in a house made of junk pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard. And anywhere in the world you go, at any given moment, people are homeless, living on the streets or in a car, or under a bridge, or in an old tent. Don't you think that any one of them would give anything to have the luxury of having a house with a solid roof, electricity, and running water?
Gratitude is all about perception.
So for today's assignment, write in your journal one thing you are grateful for and why you are grateful. What would your life be like without that thing? What kind of work did you have to put in to achieving that thing? How are people who don't have that thing affected?
What are you most thankful for?
# 2- Recognizing Your Value
Ask yourself this question: How much do I value myself? That might be a tough question to answer. On the one hand it might make you feel conceited if you place too high a value on yourself; on the other hand, not placing enough value on yourself might make you feel like you aren't worth anything.
Every person, every life has value.
Sometimes we all have thoughts such as, "I'm not important", "I'm just a nobody", "What I do doesn't make a difference". These are negative thought traps! Pretend for a second that you're Indiana Jones slashing your way through a jungle and you come upon an ancient Indonesian booby trap; if you trip the wire, you would be instantly shot with an arrow. Would you purposely trip the wire and make yourself get shot by an arrow? Of course not! You would find a way around the trap. Negative thought traps are no different; they are meant to entangle you, weaken you and defeat you.
What is the most lowly position at your job? Is it the janitor? The mail sorter? The receptionist? All of those positions might seem like the bottom rung, but each of those functions is important to keep the business running. If there was no janitor, who would keep the place clean? And if the place weren't clean, how would the customers react? If you had no one to collect, sort, and deliver mail, how would your letters reach your customers? If there was no one there to answer the phones, how would you receive incoming calls? Every one of those "lowly" jobs is essential to making sure that the business can keep its door open, and is every bit as important as the CEO's job.
Everything you do is important to someone. It doesn't matter if it's something big, like being the boss of the company, or something small, like feeding your neighbor's cat. You have value on any given day at any given time. Your position in life has no bearing on how much value you have. Think of it like this: a clock depends just as much on the small gears as it does the big gears. Without any one of those gears, the clock won't work. Every gear is equally important.
Today's assignment: Write in your journal one thing you do that matters to someone else- whether it's at work, at home, at school, in traffic, etc. If you didn't perform that one function, how would it affect those around you? How does that one function make a difference and how does it make you feel? Also write in your journal another thing you are grateful for, and why.
# 3- Forgive
Nothing kills a relationship faster than a grudge. We've all been there- that argument you had with a friend that you can never forget, that time your spouse forgot your birthday, that driver that cut you off in rush hour traffic and made you miss your exit- everybody holds a grudge about something. Not forgiving someone is a negative thought pattern.
My mother is a champion at holding grudges. FOREVER. It doesn't matter if what someone said or did happened yesterday or twenty years ago, she won't ever forget the negative feelings associated with that event. But who does it hurt? Mainly her, but sometimes the people around her. When I was a kid, I had two friends that were sisters. Our dads grew up together and were friends and some of my best childhood memories are of playing at their house. But then one day, their mom said something that made my mom angry, and to this day, my mom still holds a grudge about it. I was able to stay friends with those two sisters, but it was never the same; no more sleepovers, no more closeness like we once had. Holding a grudge doesn't benefit anyone, and it certainly doesn't contribute to having peace in your life.
It's definitely ok to get mad at someone when they've wronged you, but only you can decide whether to forgive that person and move on, or stay angry and cut ties. Forgiveness is hard. We want to feel justified and validated that we have a reason to be angry; we want to make someone suffer for making us suffer. However, 9 times out of 10, that person doesn't even know that we're holding a grudge. Is that person suffering because you can't "let it go"? Probably not. You're only hurting yourself.
When I was going through my divorce, I had years of resentment, anger and grudges built up. I could have chosen to leave in anger, but I knew it wasn't the right thing to do because it would've made things a lot more difficult for the kids and for our families. So in the time that we were separated, I worked very hard on letting go of all those negative emotions. Sometimes something would trigger a bad memory and I had to process it. Let me give you an example. When we bought our house, there was a beautiful dogwood tree in the front yard. Since our house was at the corner of two streets, it was a real showpiece when it bloomed in the spring. I really loved that tree and my boys enjoyed climbing on its lower branches. My husband said it made the yard too shady and was killing the grass; I disagreed. He wanted to cut it down and I said no, giving him my reasons why. I came home from work one day to find that he had chopped down my beautiful dogwood tree anyway, despite my protestations. To say that I was angry was an understatement; I was enraged. Not only was my favorite tree gone, but it also meant (to me) that he cared more about the grass than about my feelings. That stump was left behind and served as a constant reminder of how bad I felt in that moment. A year or two went by and my anger subsided. Seeing the stump every day was so normal that I didn't even think about it anymore. But then one day in the early spring while we were separated, I saw a dogwood tree, loaded down with perfect white blooms and all those feelings came flooding back. Instead of refreshing the grudge, I decided to work through my feelings and let it go. I wrote in my journal about why that action made me feel so bad and poured out all of those emotions onto the page and left them there. What was done was done; there was no getting the tree back and he understood why his actions hurt me. There was nothing left to do but let it go.
Today's assignment: Write in your journal- what one grudge are you holding onto? What do you need to let go of? How is holding onto this negativity affecting your present happiness? This will probably be one of your hardest assignments, and there may even be some things that you are not prepared to let go of yet. But if you want peace in your life, eventually you will need to release that anger and its hold over you. Also write in your journal another thing you are grateful for and another thing you do that is important to those around you.
#4- Surround Yourself with Positivity
How many times have you heard the phrase, "you are what you eat"? Well, the reason it's a cliché is because it is so true. You eat garbage, you feel like garbage. Your environment is no different. If all you see and hear is bad news, then guess what? You'll feel bad too.
How many times on a dreary, rainy day does your attitude reflect the weather outside? How does your attitude change when you are in a bright, cozy, welcoming place, as opposed to some place dark and sterile? How many times have you looked through magazines and felt bad about yourself because they portray an unattainable level of perfection?
If you're constantly surrounded by negativity, then your attitude will reflect it. Why would you want to be living under a cloud all the time? Could your environment and what you see/hear/smell/eat be keeping you from thinking positively and achieving peace?
Let me give you some examples. I know someone who constantly listens to political talk shows. And when I say constantly, I mean he listens to talk shows on AM radio in the car, watches political TV shows, reads political opinion books, listens to podcasts while he's running- every single day. I get that he's interested in politics and world affairs and that's noble; however, what he's really feeding himself is all the backbiting, insults, doom and gloom, disaster-ridden content behind all those political messages. And the result? He's a complete pessimist. He constantly feels like the world is on the brink of apocalypse and that by swimming in that quagmire of negativity, he's somehow going to anticipate disaster and then sit back and tell everyone, "I told you so". What good does that do?
I know girls that constantly engage in gossip and worry over other people's trite affairs. They're always moaning and groaning about their lives as compared to those around them. They choose to dwell on the negative rather than celebrate the positive; they choose to compare themselves to others rather than live up to their own standards; they choose to whine and complain rather than take a positive course of action. And you know what? They end up being selfish and pessimistic, with a victim mentality. What good does that do?
I know someone who almost always wears nothing but black (and not in a fashionable way), keeps the lights in her office dimmed, the blinds closed and works through lunch instead of taking a break to relax. She is glued to her computer screen all day long and stresses over her laundry list of to-do items and can't keep herself from constantly checking her email. She's been told that she works too hard. She's a good worker and excels at what she does, but at what cost? She is plagued with frequent headaches, is always in a state of stress and has a very negative outlook on the world. What good does that do?
Todays assignment: Take a long, hard look at your surroundings. Write down what you observe and how it makes you feel. Is your space adequately lit? Are you getting enough sunlight? Is your space orderly or is a disaster area? Does it smell pleasant, or like yesterday's garbage? Is there too much noise, and if so, what is the source? Are you eating healthy foods or are you eating junk? What are you feeding your mind? Do you surround yourself with music, TV, videos and games that are grotesque, violent and negative, or do you watch and listen to things that are uplifting and upbeat? Do you fill your mind with images that make you feel like you are less than you are (i.e., not skinny enough, not muscular enough, not pretty or handsome enough, etc.)? It may be time for an environmental overhaul. It could be as simple as cleaning up your space and throwing in some fresh colors or houseplants, or changing the radio station, or tossing out magazines. Write down what you observe, and if you find sources of negativity, write down simple ways that you can make a change. Then write in your journal another thing for which you are grateful, another way you make a difference to others, and something else you need to forgive.
If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. ~Roald Dahl
#5- Face Your Fears
Facing your fears is difficult. Very difficult. There are a lot of things to be afraid of and plenty of logical reasons to fear them. People are afraid of snakes because snakes bite and have the potential to be deadly. It makes sense. People fear the unknown because they're afraid of what might happen, and what might happen has the potential to be bad. But it also has the potential to be good. So why would we be afraid of something that possibly would have a good outcome?
Fear holds us back from so many great opportunities. I spent many more years in a toxic, negative marriage that I should have because I was afraid of what life would be like on my own. I was scared that I wouldn't be able to support myself and my kids financially, I was scared that I would be alone the rest of my life, and many other things that even now I have trouble putting into words. Slowly but surely though, I began to realize those fears had no basis. When my husband got laid off from his job and I became the sole provider for the family, I realized that I had the means to support myself and my kids if I kept my current job and lived frugally. When I started looking around at dating websites and met new people, I realized that there were still men who found me interesting and attractive. I'm now living and thriving in a positive environment that I created for myself, and my life is filled with peace and happiness. The point is, most of our fears are baseless if we look hard enough within ourselves for the courage to put one foot in front of the other.
Today's assignment: Write in your journal the one fear you have that you feel is holding you back from something great. Is it a fear of failure? Of inadequacy? Of rejection? Then write down the worst possible outcome that could happen if you were to face that fear. Afterwards, write down the best possible outcome that could happen. Which of these do you want to happen and why? What steps can you take to make that best possible outcome achievable? Then write in your journal another thing you are grateful for, another way in which you matter to others, another thing you need to forgive, and another way you can surround yourself with positivity.
Will This Work?
Of course it will work! Any time you are consciously making an effort to shift your focus from the negative to the positive, you are doing a good thing. Any time you are trying to improve yourself by being thankful for what you have, recognizing how much value you bring to those around you, forgiving others (and yourself), surrounding yourself with uplifting things and facing your fears, you are doing a very good thing.
I would highly recommend repeating these steps as often as necessary to achieve your goal of living a more peaceful life. Read back through your journal to remind yourself of the things that are most important to you and how much you appreciate them; when you feel like you don't matter, remind yourself that you play a vital role in the world; when something triggers an unhappy memory, use your writing to move past it; when you feel stressed and chaotic, see if there's something in your environment that needs to be changed; and when you think you can't, reread your journal and see that you can.
Believe in yourself, have patience with yourself, and find your own path to peace.