At the beginning we thought it would be easy. That being an adult was the coolest thing ever and it was a blast and that the adults were telling us it was hard so that we would do what we were told to do but we knew. Yea we knew. It was all a lie. They ate candy all day while we were at school. They played with toys, took tons of naps and then picked us up from school dressed this way or that to make us think that they were working. To make us THINK that the housework took all day.
This is where your mind is at, let’s say roughly 8 years old. Now let’s say that suddenly you’re roughly 30 years old. Your marriage is struggling, you had an affair. Your kids don’t respect you, don’t listen to you, don’t honor you in any way even close to resembling the way the bible says to. Let’s even go a step further and say that you hate your job, can’t pay your bills, you wrestle with feelings of guilt, of shame, feelings of constant anxiety and helplessness. You aren’t physically fit, you aren’t mentally sound, you certainly don’t have it together emotionally and to top it all off, you have zero, I mean zero faith.
Let’s say one last thing too before I go on, let’s just say I was describing not just myself, but maybe you too. Or someone very close to you. And maybe it’s also very likely that this story is a narrative for someone that you think has everything together. Someone who, on the outside, is a model of how to do this thing called life.
So it all begins with one very marketable word. A very underused and underrated word. A word that people are taught from a very young age to look away from. And of all the words you’re thinking of right now for what I’m about to say, the chances that you’re thinking about this word are slim. Or maybe they’re not, but I’m pretty sure.
What did you come up with?
Was it Positivity?
Oh yes my friends, Positivity. we are living in this world infected by a disease known as negativity. It permeates our bloodstreams and overtakes everything we hold dear. It controls our impulses. It controls our personal interactions, or jobs. It has its muddy little fingers all over our parenting style, our taste in television and in music, it even oozes out of us at the gym, on the ride to work, during family dinners, during sex.
Positivity is the answer and we are all strung along to believe that we need things to be positive in order to see and to act positively. We need positive stimuli to encourage positive feelings. But from a young age we are sculpted to see only the negative. And I’m not talking about the media and its portrayal of only “sexy” people as important, its constant photoshopping of all negative qualities, the body shaming, all of that. No not that at all. In fact what I am talking about is fundamental, it’s english class and math class. We have both of those things from as early as around 4 years old and they persist each year for at least 13 years, many of us even more than that. When was there a time when you can remember the math teacher circling something you got right? Like, “Damn Johnny you killed that 4th question like a boss, great job!” No, more often than not looks more like, “F! Johnny, see me after class to discuss your work.” The fact is, both of those things could be written on the same paper.
The reason we only write the negative one is that we are under the delusion that if we can see the negatives we can work on them and not get them wrong next time. But just like any other kind of conditioning, if you drill it into yourself long enough, it becomes a part of you, part of the very fiber of your being, not just in the place you’re training to use it, but everywhere. I read a story once in a book called the Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor, you need to read it, and everything else he writes. And watch his TED talk. changed my perspective completely.) which goes something like this: An accountant was in a marriage he was unhappy with and after being an accountant for so long he’d become very proficient at finding errors on spread sheets for his clients so that their taxes come out better and so he decided that to fix his marriage, he would make a list of things his wife wasn’t doing right so that she could fix them, just like on the tax forms. He gave her the list that night when he got home. Well, anyone with any experience with any kind of relationship knows how this story ends, and if you said, “She fixes them and their marriage is stronger than ever” you’re out of your ever-loving mind!
And don’t get me wrong, I know that there is a need for recognizing the things we didn’t do well. Otherwise, how do we grow. However, I know at least for myself, I went through kindergarten, first grade, second grade, all the way up through my university studies without a teacher ever saying great job in an honest and intentional way. Perhaps not including the stickers that my kindergarten teacher would put on my paper (but those weren’t specific, they were blanketed across all students. And anything that actually resembled the assignment was worth generic praise to a 5 year.)
So now fast forward to your 30’s and you see everything negatively and it’s not your fault, but it is in your control. When something bad happens, you could focus on how terrible it made you feel, what awful stuff is about to go down as a result, all the reasons to give up or to scream or whatever. You could do all of those things, and probably do, at least most of the time.
Do you have any idea how powerful those actions are? Let me fill you in a bit. Thinking negatively and speaking those thoughts out loud creates more of those negative situations. It’s called the Law of Attraction. What you put out is what you get back. Also, our bodies are physically affected by our negativity. When our thoughts and feelings are negative, our immune system is less effecting, our cognitive function is reduced, our attention span is shortened as is our short term memory and our access to long term memory. Our metabolism slows down, the chemicals in our brain that produced happiness are released less often which means we are chemically depressed and then the cycle spins ever faster and we end up with things like high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, drowsiness (yes you can be tired all the time and be unable to sleep, though I don’t suggest you test that out.), weight gain, lowered sex drive, muscle disfunction, and the list could go on for even longer but I promised myself that I wouldn’t be so longwinded if I can avoid it.
Did your brain just explode with all of that? Are you now pumped to get out of that cycle. I sure hope so. But before I give you anything to help tip the scales I need to make this one thing very clear: the simile that I drew out earlier about negativity being a virus is super accurate and I could just as easily say that it’s like an addiction and what do those two things have in common? The fact that getting over them is hard. It requires commitment. It requires conviction, willpower, true desire for change, and in my own opinion, the support of those close to you, especially God. (1 Peter 5:7 Cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you).
You will encounter giant opposition from your brain and body. IT will resist the change. You’re so used to negativity that you can’t help but default to it. So here’s where you start. Take notice of the world around you. At least once a day, preferably more, stop and quickly list all that is good about where you are. Everything from “The sun is bright and shining.” to “I was on time for work.” Be as general and as specific as you can. You may even want to write it down, then you can go back and look at the positivity in your life any time you want.
Next, and this does involve some writing, get a journal, steal an old one from your kids, hit the dollar store, whatever you get doesn’t matter because what’s going in it is the important part. Every night, before bed, make a list of three things you’re grateful for that day. It can be long elaborate prose or as short as one to two words. It doesn’t matter. The three most important rules to this activity are that it must be done every day, you cannot write the same things you’ve written previously and lastly, it absolutely must be the last thing you do before you go to bed. After you read, after you catch up on your TV, after whatever you and your partner do that night (If you know what I mean).
Why is it so important to make it the last thing? Because that means that no matter how your day went, it ends on a high note, as positive, as a good thing. It programs your brain to see the good, see the positive. And like any other habit, it takes at least 21 days to get it to sink in. You may not like writing, and that’s ok. What you will like, however, is the results you’ll begin to see because of the writing. I hate the gym. I hate lifting weights, running on a treadmill, doing squats, hate it all very, very much. What I don’t hate is the results. The muscle I’m building, the form my body is gaining, and that keeps me going to the gym.
Two other adjustments you can make to the evening journal are 1. Instead of just journaling the positives in the day, also journal the things you pray for. Then you can go back week after week to those prayers, see how God has answered them, and grow closer to Him as well as gaining a firmer foundation in positive living. And 2. Find tools to help, whether that be meditation, yoga, exercise (releases endorphins and other chemicals into the body that increase your emotional state), Essential Oils (huge for me personally and a requirement for all the people who I coach on a regular basis, let me know if you want more info on coaching or oils), or any other daily thing that can be added to help keep you on track. Even getting more sleep or spending less time in front of a screen or one social media can raise your vibration from humdrum to happiness.
When it finally sets in, the world will look more amazing to you than ever. Hard times won’t seem as hard. Your goals will be easier to reach. Your stress levels will drop, your productivity will rise and what once was the end of the world is now the beginning of a brilliant adventure that unfolds one happy, positive moment at a time.