“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.” ~ Peace Pilgrim
I really didn’t expect that I would have much trouble with this week’s topic because ever since my first health scare a few years ago, I have been a true believer in the power of positive thinking. Since it had worked pretty well for me during those difficult times, it seemed that it wouldn’t be too hard keeping my thoughts positive when things were actually going relatively smoothly.
As it turned out, the week for this ‘assignment’ was the same week that I was going to be down in Florida with my mom and sisters, celebrating my mom’s 84th birthday. I had been the one to organize all of the logistics for the trip – choosing the hotel, renting the car, and coordinating our flights so that we would all get there about the same time. The thing is, as those who know me will attest, I can be a bit of a worrier, especially when I’m the one in charge of something.
So to think, act and be positive this particular week was actually going to be a little more challenging than I thought.
I remembered a trick I’d been taught back when I was sick, which was to imagine a stop sign in my mind every time I caught myself thinking negatively about my situation. Somehow the image of the stop sign really helped to remind me to switch the direction of my thoughts before I ended up at the worst-case scenario.
So I decided my ‘assignment’ for the week would be to look for the stop sign whenever I started to worry that the hotel wouldn’t be nice enough, or someone’s flight would be delayed, or the weather would be bad. And, hopefully, when I saw it, I would remember to switch the direction of my thoughts before my worrying became a reality.
Happily, the trip started out incredibly smoothly. Our flights all got in on time – in fact, some were even early. And although it was pretty cloudy, the sun peaked out just as I was landing, which I took to be a really good sign. The drive to the hotel was very easy.
But when we pulled into the hotel driveway and it started to rain, it was as though every single negative thought I had kept at bay the past few days had materialized right in front of me. Everywhere I looked I noticed something wrong. The hotel was old…and small. The parking was impossible. The pool was tiny. By the time we got up to our suite I was a wreck…and even though my mom and sisters were nice about it, I felt terrible.
And what’s even worse is that I never once saw a stop sign. As soon as we drove in the driveway, the negative thoughts started piling up so fast that I don’t think I would have noticed one even if I had crashed into it. Really, I’m not exaggerating…just ask my mom and sisters!
It wasn’t until we were having dinner a little later that I even remembered it was ‘Think Positive, Act Positive, Be Positive’ week, and I honestly started to laugh out loud. How in the world had I let myself get so caught up in what was wrong that I missed everything that was right?
Because, actually, a lot of things were right. For one thing, our suite had gorgeous ocean views from every window. It was really spacious. It was clean. There was a beautiful print that reminded me of my grandparents’ house. And most important of all, I was sitting around a table with my mom and sisters, which just doesn’t happen that often.
So why couldn’t I have seen all those positive things sooner? Why was it so much easier to let myself get sucked into such a negative vortex?
Well, as it turns out, there actually is a reason. Scientists call it a ‘negativity bias’ which, according to Wikipedia, is a ‘psychological phenomenon by which human beings pay more attention to the negative things in their life than the positive’. Studies have proven that the brain actually shows more neural activity when it is reacting to negative input than positive!
Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, explains that ‘the mind is like Velcro for the negative, and Teflon for the positive.’ For instance, if someone were to give me ten compliments and one criticism for a job that I did, it would be the criticism that would stick with me, not the compliments. It seems our ancestors, in order to survive, had to be much more aware of the things that could go wrong, than the things that could go right.
I had no idea! No wonder I have to work so hard to stay positive!
But what I think I have to try to remember, and this is definitely easier said than done, is that even though I might have this ‘negativity bias’, I also have within me the incredible power to choose the way I think about something. So when I find myself spiraling out of control in a negative ‘this is the worst hotel ever’ vortex, I can reverse that spiral anytime I want. And whether it’s by putting up an imaginary stop sign, or making a shift in the way I’m looking at something, what’s important is my conscious awareness that a change is necessary.
I recently watched a video called ‘Celebrate What’s Right With The World’ about a National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones, who uses the lens of his camera to show how the seemingly ordinary subjects he’s had to photograph can be transformed into things of beauty simply by asking himself, “What’s right here?” Sometimes the answer doesn’t come immediately, so he has to be patient. And sometimes he might even have to shift the angle of his lens in order to see it. But his incredible photographs are definite proof that there is always something ‘right’ to be found…it’s just a matter of choosing to see it.
So from now on I am going to choose to look for what’s right in the world, too. Because, as Dr. Wayne Dyer has always said:
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.”