Changing the way we think is one of the most important and challenging things we can do in our personal development quest. I am about halfway through Walter Isaacson’s latest book, a biography on Steve Jobs, and in it he provides a quote from when Jobs was 30 years old.
Steve Jobs said, “Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them.”
That quote really resonated with me. I find my thoughts tend to repeat themselves; I will sometimes go over a conversation or situation that bothers me again and again in my head. When I catch myself doing it, I often think about the fact that it’s a waste of time that could be used more productively.
But it’s worse than just a waste of time…it can actually lead to relationship problems. When we rehash something in our head time and time again, we tend to get more and more emotional about it. What may have started out as a minor matter takes on added significance as we continue to stew about it. The more upset we get, the more we begin to make additional assumptions about the underlying meaning of the conversation or situation, without verifying if what we’re thinking is even true. If we act on what we’re thinking, for instance by lashing out or giving someone the silent treatment, we can do significant harm to our relationships.
In addition to relationship problems, negative repetitive thoughts can harm us in other areas of our lives; like our health, finances, work, or personal development. In fact, our way of thinking can affect every area of our lives. Following are some examples of thoughts that can really mess up our lives if we don’t change them:
• Life is so unfair
• Everyone hurts my feelings
• It’s hard for honest people to make a lot of money
• I’m nothing without him/her
• I’m unlucky…bad things are always happening to me
• I can’t lose weight
• I’m not good enough
• I could never do what he/she does
• People don’t change
• I’m not confident
The problem with thoughts like these is we begin to take them as gospel truth and we generalize them to include all situations. So if the truth is just that we had a business that failed, we begin to think, “I am a failure.” If we were hurt by the betrayal of a friend, we begin to think, “People can’t be trusted.” As we continue to think these types of negative thoughts, they become a habit. And pretty soon they become a self-fulfilling prophesy, which we then think proves we were right.
Trying to change unproductive thinking one thought at a time is a big task, so in this post I’m going to pass on one general suggestion that I read in a book called Zen and the Art of Happiness. The author, Chris Prentiss, recommends that whenever something upsetting happens to us, we tell ourselves, “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.” The beauty of this statement is that if we continue to tell ourselves this, we will then be focused on figuring out what’s “good” about whatever situation we encounter, instead of falling into the usual pattern of focusing on what’s “bad” about it. This new pattern of thought can lead us to expect the best, which in turn creates a much more positive self-fulfilling prophesy.
Give it a try and let us know if it helps you get “unstuck” from any negative thought patterns in your life.