The other day I finished reading ‘STOP Thinking START Living’* (originally published back in 1993 as ‘You Can Feel Good Again) by Richard Carlson (whose books include ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ and ‘Slowing Down to the Speed of Life’).
I hadn’t realised that the book is aimed at people who are depressed – not just temporarily unhappy, in a bad mood or so on, but actually depressed. And I don’t know how it came to be on my bookshelf but, a slim volume that looked interesting appealed, so I picked up and started reading it over the weekend. The entire 182 pages are devoted to dinning into the reader that s/he is the thinker and originator of every single thought that enters into her or his head and is therefore responsible for them all.
Now I’d have thought that, if you’re depressed to start with, it’s a reasonable assumption that the majority of thoughts visiting you are going to be negative, yes? And they’ll surely have an accumulative effect, won’t they? So isn’t he just adding insult to injury?
None of us should be a victim of our thoughts
Well, no, as he also points out (time and again) that we also have a choice whether to hang on to each thought, thoroughly immerse ourselves in it and analyse the living daylights out of it until we’re thoroughly miserable or just decide to let it go… Each and every time, with each and every thought, it’s our choice whether to hold onto it or let it go and each choice will colour and form our reality. And that applies to everyone. Carlson even says, whilst not necessarily overtly criticising them, that therapists who encourage their patients to relive and/ or analyse their negative thoughts and feelings aren’t doing them any favours or helping them to function healthily and happily.
But is it really that simple? Let’s move away from depressed folks for a few moments and look at the general populace.
The big picture for the ‘average’ person
Take a look at pre-school children and you’ll see that most of the time they’re very much ‘in the present’. They get totally immersed in what’s going on right now: Who and what they’re playing with, talking with, even fighting with. And two minutes later, they’ve moved on. They may have a tantrum because you took a toy away from them but they won’t stay in a bad mood with you for days after as a result. But what about when we’ve become adults? I suggest you don’t nitpick on the actual figures coming up that have emerged over recent years – they vary slightly from source to source – yet they all add up to a very similar picture…
- A thought always precedes its associated feeling
- We have 50-60,000 thoughts a day
- 90%+/- are thoughts we’ve had before
- 90%+/- are negative
- We’re only ‘present’ (i.e. using our conscious brain) 5% of the time, the other 95% of our thinking automatically defaults to our subconscious
- Our subconscious is a record/ playback program of primarily other people’s (mainly negative) thoughts and beliefs that we downloaded before the age of about seven
That’s just a few items for starters. And, if you take heed of yet another school of thought, which is that 90% of ‘our’ thoughts aren’t really ours at all but instead (negative, doom- & gloom-laden) thoughts we’ve picked up from the atmosphere around us, the picture gets even worse…
So we’re fighting something of a Goliath of negativity here, aren’t we?
The general consensus of ‘enlightened’ thinking would seem to be both Yes and No.
Yes: If we in essence play the victim and carry on in a kind of ‘business as usual’ way, accepting our reality as the only way it can be, then yes, we are indeed up against a Goliath.
No: If we challenge ourselves to stay present and take responsibility for our thoughts and reject any that we can see are taking us down a negative route, then, in time (surprisingly quickly), we can start to feel happier and more positive about most aspects of our lives.
It isn’t circumstances that dictate whether we are happy or sad – otherwise every healthy & wealthy person would be happy and every sick & poor person would be sad.
It’s our attitude that makes the difference – whether we choose to react to our circumstances or respond to them. Sure, it may take a while to get into new and more positive habits if we’ve allowed ourselves to be ground down and become pessimistic over the years, but it’s not irreversible. And it’s completely different from ignoring circumstances and living in a ‘Walter Mitty’ world of make believe.
There’s a growing amount of evidential data that support the fact that our thoughts create our feelings, which, in turn create our reality. And we know that we create (or take on board) those thoughts…
So, some suggestions
- Don’t follow the news for the next 30 days: It’s 90%+/- bad, and anything you need to know about will be brought to your attention
- Get physical: You don’t have to join a gym – Go for a brisk walk, put some lively music on and dance around the room, do some Zumba (long standing joke: I only added the last to annoy Sarah )
- Next time you have a negative thought come at you ‘out of the blue’ why not ask yourself: “Who does that thought belong to?” And if it ain’t one you want to ‘own’, send it packing!
What do you have to lose except negativity?
PS: Have you tried any of these and to what effect? And what else works for you?
Thursday 17th October Newsflash
For latest information on this subject see:
The UK’s biggest ever online test into stress, undertaken by the BBC’s Lab UK and the University of Liverpool, has revealed that rumination is the biggest predictor of the most common mental health problems in the country.”
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