Years ago, whenever life was going smoothly, I would find myself thinking, “How long is it going to be until something sh*tty happens and messes everything up?”
And then I would wait for that “something” to happen and actually watch for it.
Sure enough, something would inevitably happen and I’d have some new obstacle to overcome or puzzle to figure out or challenge to get through and then I’d think “See? I knew something bad was going to happen!”
Do you know what that’s called? A self fulfilling prophecy. When you’ve got something on your brain that you’re actively trying to avoid and therefore thinking about all the time – you will very likely cause the thing you didn’t want to happen to actually happen! Your thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to actions – for better or for worse. It is very easy for negative thoughts (or even just thinking about what you DON’T want to happen) to lead to negative feelings which can quite naturally lead to negative actions that lead you straight to the place you were desperately hoping to avoid in the first place.
Well that sucks. Why the heck would you do you that yourself?
Here’s a secret (except it’s not a secret because you already know this) – life is filled with ups and downs. Shocking, I know. There will be times in your life when you feel as high as a kite, and other times when you wonder how you can possibly go on. This is life as a human being. If there is one truth in this world, it’s that nothing is permanent except change. Highs don’t last, but either do lows.
Call it The Law of Attraction or call it whatever you want – I call it common sense once you begin to see the way your thoughts can lead you directly to the place you’re trying not to go.
This is why I like to focus on what I DO want to happen, instead of what I DON’T want to happen. I’ve stopped “waiting for the other shoe to drop” or waiting for something to happen that’s going to wreck a good thing I’ve got going. Whenever I’m feeling good on a certain day or string of days or even weeks – I’ve finally stopped waiting and watching for the next thing that is surely going to go wrong and screw everything up. When I see that thought pattern emerge or try to poke its way into my consciousness, I notice it and then shift my thinking to what I’m grateful for today.
<insert a slow, deep inhale and exhale here>
TODAY things are good. TODAY I am happy.
And if today hasn’t been a great day? Instead of stewing on all that is wrong and how unfair life is, try to spend more time focusing on the things that are going right and less time on the things that aren’t.
Sound cheesy? Well so be it. Somebody pour me a glass of Cabernet to go with my cheese!
I’ll freely admit that I’m not perfect at this, it’s still a practice for me. Negative and sad thoughts do still appear in my head and even sometimes stick around longer than I’d like. But I’ve come to see that I’m feeling a lot lighter and happier for longer periods of time as I’ve gotten better at keeping the negative thinking mostly at bay. It takes time and practice, but this is one ways yoga has helped me. (I’m telling you, yoga is cheap therapy!)
It’s a lot easier for me these days to watch my thoughts as they happen than it has been in the past. (Scroll back up and read that quote!) I’m quicker now to notice negative thought patterns and stop them before they spiral out of control. As I’ve practiced yoga and the poses have become more familiar and comfortable, it’s gotten easier to observe what thoughts creep up when I’m on the mat – and then it’s easier to do the same thing off the mat, in my every day life.
I’ll also say that of course I know yoga isn’t for everyone, and I’m not trying to convince you to become a yogi. (DO IT!) (Just kidding.) (Dooooo iiiiiitttttt! YOOOGGGGAAAAA!)
There are many paths to the same place. A regular meditation practice can do to the same thing. Whether it’s a moving meditation (like a walk, run, hike or bike ride without head phones stuck in your ears) or even just sitting on cushion or chair in silence doing nothing. See how long you can sit there and think about NOTHING. Even just 5 minutes. (Set the timer.)
Thoughts will eventually appear. Notice them (it might take a while before you even notice that you’re thinking again) and when you do notice that you’re thinking, let those thoughts go (without judgment or thinking “I suck at meditating!”) and then go back to thinking about nothing. With time and practice, you’ll be go longer without thinking, and you’ll also get better at noticing your thoughts and more importantly, the quality of those thoughts and especially the types of thoughts that aren’t doing you any favors.
As you get better at noticing negative thoughts, you’ll get better at turning your thoughts around, re-framing them into positive ones which will be more likely to lead to positive feelings –> positive, life-affirming actions and choices.
You might notice that negative/scary/anxious thoughts happens most frequently when you’re bored or otherwise disinterested in the present moment. (Stuck in traffic? Doing the dishes? Some other boring task?) When I see this happening in my own life, that’s when I try to fully engage in the present moment by letting my senses come alive – noticing all the little things that had gone unnoticed until now. Feeling ground under my feet, the air on my skin, whatever I can see or smell or hear right now.
Easy peasy, right? Not really. It takes practice and it takes time. I want to say “What have you got to lose?” but instead I’ll say “Think about all you have to gain!”