–But you’re insulting me Alex!
–Think about it. What do you spend most of your time thinking about? Thoughts that help you advance, grow and improve in your life? Thoughts that will help you be more happy and free? Or useless stuff that lead you nowhere?
Think how good your thoughts would smell it they had an odor. Think how good they would look if they were to be seen. Imagine what picture they paint. Are most of your thoughts actually about yourself and what you want to do? About things that are in your control? About what you need to do to get ahead? Or are they mostly about others (and what they do towards you) and things that are long past and are history? Introverts and depressed people are specially prone to spending undue amounts of time in their heads and ruminating.
In this article I’m going to tell you how to remove the trash, clutter and filth from your mind and turn it from a wasteland to a garden so that beautiful things such as success and happiness can grow on it. What you think about affects how you feel and that will affect your actions even things as subtle as your body language and those in turn affect how the world responds to you. If you think you are undeserving or not deserving of success then the word is going to treat you as such. If you think the word is a dangerous and unpleasant place then it will not turn out to be any different. So is the case if you think there is no reward for making an effort.
You are going to see how to cleanup the Augean stable of your mind. But unlike Herculis’s, your task can’t be accomplished overnight. It takes persistence and some effort. The plan is very simple. There is a list of negative things that you should actively stop yourself from thinking about (or doing) and there is a list of positive thoughts and habits that you cultivate a habit of devoting time to.
What you are not allowed to think about
That is, if you want to cleanup your mind. And yes, you are going to police your own thoughts, for your own good. That is what you need to do if you’ve not taken good care of your mind and let weeds grow and garbage be scattered all over it. The general rule here is to ask yourself, whenever you are having any thought, concern or obsession, “Is this thought going to be of any help to me? Can spending time on it improve my situation?” If the answer is no then let go of it and think about or do something more useful. Even imagining a beautiful imaginary landscape is better than thinking negative thoughts.
When reading the list below you may be thinking “But how can I do this? My experience so far shows that blah blah”. You may also not want to let go of negative experiences: “All that stuff happened to me. What do you mean I don’t think about them”. I understand; when you’re depressed and feel hurt, your sad memories become like assets; You don’t want to let go of them. But I tell you it doesn’t matter what your experience has been so far. Why? Because you are going to change your experience. You don’t want to feel defeated and hurt forever.
Even if you believe you are a clumsy low-IQ dwarf, a failure whom nobody ever respects and a looser who has a mountain of negative experiences and an ocean of debt, it doesn’t really matter for what is to follow; you still have positive attributes. The whole point of the list below is to focus on the positive and the possible, in yourself and in your environment and to cherish them. To use them to repel the negative. Remember, you defeat the darkness with light and the negative with the positive. You can’t defeat darkness by basking in it. (Such basking is called rumination and is one of the characteristics of depression.)
Note that this doesn’t mean to fool yourself or to be fake-happy. If you are 50 pounds overweight or unemployed, you need to do something about it and the point of the list below is to free your mind from useless or damaging thoughts so that it can work like the superpower that it is to find solutions for your problems. In the meditation article I talked about your muse and what can disrupt her duty. All the items below are disruptive to your muse.
No thoughts on your bad luck or fate. No negative predictions for your future. Not feeling dreadful, anxious or uncertain about the future. No doubting you can do what you have to do. No thinking that what you need in life is unlikely to get. No “This always happens to me”. No “I doubt we’d get a good result”. Say goodbye to fatalism. You may be telling yourself things like “I’m loosing my job”, “I can’t pay my bills”, “My health is deteriorating”. But then would anxiety and worrying be of any help to you? It wears you down and makes it more difficult for you to tackle your problems. Know that every problem has a solution and be certain of your abilities.
Imagine a gladiator entering the Colosseum. You bet he’d be afraid he would be killed. He however can’t let doubt and anxiety enter his mind. Otherwise he’d perform below what he is capable of. For you the situation is similar, just not as brutal! As I mentioned in the meditation article, being able to stay calm, determined and focused in the face of challenges is the ultimate power.
Some even believe what you think in your head tends to be picked up by the universe and gradually materialized. Napoleon Hill writes in Think and Grow Rich:
[T]he ether is filled with a form of universal power which ADAPTS itself to the nature of the thoughts we hold in our minds; and INFLUENCES us, in natural ways, to transmute our thoughts into their physical equivalent.
I don’t know if this is scientifically true as stated but it is not difficult to see that your thoughts directly affect both your behavior and your body. Victor Frankle writes in Man’s Search for Meaning about an inmate in the concentration camps of WW II who once had a dream about them being released on a specific day. That day came and there was no news of respite in the war. That man died of typhus the next day. The author then highlights how losing hope, and actually not having a (positive) vision for the future, can easily undermine your body’s defenses.
No dwelling on what gets in the way of your progress. This doesn’t mean to be Dickensian. It means that you focus on what you can, what is available and what scape routs are out there instead of on what is missing. There will no doubt be obstacles on your way and you need to figure out a way of overcoming or circumventing them instead of grief and pessimism.
No dwelling on your past failures or negative experiences. No dwelling on wrongs others have done to you. See what you learn from each one (consult someone else if needed), write it down, memorize it and move on. Case closed. You may even, in your thoughts, try to punish the persons who wronged you (like in the story of Ajax). But in reality you’re just wasting your time while life goes on. While other people (wise ones) are enjoying their lives and making progress. But now you are encouraged to not spend time thinking about such experiences and to let go of demons so that you can change your life for the better.
No impolite or self-deprecating self-talk. Don’t tell yourself things like “You stupid!” If you have low self-esteem you may be doing a lot of negative self talk but again you want to change things. Respect yourself so that others respect you too.
Not making self-deprecating comments to others. Yes, talking is a form of thinking as well and this time others hear it too!
No feelings of inferiority. If there is something that gives you such a feeling, do something about it. If that’s not possible just come on terms with it and focus on other areas of your life. And remember other people’s approval, or lack thereof, does not mean much.
No bitching about your environment, even to yourself. No complaining to others. As you already know nobody likes whiners. No matter how legitimate you believe your complaints are.
Not being spiteful or hateful towards others. Not even towards haters! Otherwise you’ll be one of them. From this very day make a habit of looking for good in everybody and everything that crosses your path.
The measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everywhere. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Your spite and hatred is usually caused by envy or something that you don’t like about yourself. For example in the past I held grudges against those who teased me and the reason was actually that I didn’t have enough self-esteem and so what they said got under my skin.
No giving yourself excuses. A whole article can be written on this one. If you want to or need to do something then just fucking do it. NO EXCUSES! If you wanna go to the gym but you don’t feel like it, that would be easy to do in 3 simple steps! You lift your behind off the ground, you get out of the door and move in the direction of the gym. Let your workout performance tell you how tired you really are. I often surprise myself when I do this.
The same goes with any other endeavor. Going for a run or a hike, talking to a girl or anybody that you’d like to talk to, cooking a meal, tidying your place. You just get started without any unnecessary thinking (hesitation). Imagine a lightening bolt comes down from the sky, hits you in the butt and gives you all the energy you need to get the job done. It’s actually the thinking that gets in the way of doing. So, think less, do more!
No dwelling on things that are out of your control. I’ve talked about this [before]. These include politics (for the most part out of your control), other people’s affairs (such as on social media), celebrities, etc. There is no point obsessing on such things unless you are an activist. This is actually a special case of think less, do more: either find a way of doing something about it or just don’t obsess with it.
No uncontrolled spacing out. This one is not really negative but you need to have control over your mind otherwise you’ll be wasting lots of time and loosing the thread. Depressed or ADHD people tend to space out a lot. But again you want to change things therefore make a conscious effort to catch yourself when spacing out.
The above list may be summarized as If you don’t want to feel bad then don’t think negative thoughts. For sure if you’re badly depressed it will be difficult for you to do this. So start with carrying out the plan I detailed here. As you progress, start undertaking as many of the above as you can and try to be persistent. Persistence is key here. Below I list practices that will help you in this endeavor. Now to the positives!
What to focus on instead
Meditate to become more mindful.
Meditating regularly enables you to let go of any thought at the drop of a hat. Moreover the serenity that it brings to your mind makes you feel calm and content.
As regular meditation prevents negative or distressing thoughts from occupying your mind, positive thoughts start to gain more room in there. Your mind stops being a dumpster!
This is absolutely essential. Read this article and get started.
Be thankful for what you have and build upon them.
Like today I was going to go on a date but I was flaked on. Instead of sulking I’m now sitting in a park, enjoying the weather and producing something i.e. writing this article. Later today I’ll be going to a meetup and then go home and practice the guitar and plan for the next week. So instead of focusing on something that was out of my hand, I focus on what I could.
Every morning write a list of a few things that you are thankful about or things you are good at.
Try to Find something positive everywhere.
And in everybody. Mention it to them!
Believe that you can go through life with authority and determination. Stop thinking of yourself as a victim (even if you may be one); stop being unsure, passive or reactive and start going through your everyday life like you are the boss. Even if you think the world is on top of you, behave like you are on top of the world!
Pick up a hobby or something constructive. It can be a musical instrument, a foreign language, (home) gardening, a sport, hiking, running, calisthenics, lifting, a martial art, motorcycling, or just voluntary work. The progress you make will adapt your mind to become more “progressive”, to focus more on building and making progress instead of negativity. Of course it takes effort to do something like learning a new language or musical instrument but you (likely) have plenty of spare time if you don’t spend it on useless stuff.
For me these include writing for this blog, lifting weights, learning Spanish and the guitar.
Read and listen to affirmations.
The idea behind affirmations is to use auto-suggestion on a regular basis to change what is going on in your subconscious mind. Your affirmations are going to be positive statements directed at things you may have problems with.
Here are some of my own affirmations that I read everyday.
Nothing can stop me.
I have no doubt I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
I don’t waste any time or money.
I’m never anxious.
I build everyday.
I’m a source of positivity.
Moreover you can listen to recorded affirmations whenever you are doing something that does not need much attention. There are many available on Youtube.
Plan for the future
If you don’t plan for the future then you’ll be taken by surprise when unexpected things happen, and they inevitably happen. Moreover you need to find ways of improving your life otherwise it will not get any better than it is now. So instead of ruminating about the past, fantasizing about unlikely scenarios, or thinking random thoughts, develop your vision for your future and plan for getting there.
Remember, your mind is not a dumpster. It’s actually an incubator and a treasure trove; treat it as such. Follow the instructions of this article persistently and you’ll find serenity, contentment and value in your mind. You’ll be amazed what good, happiness, new insights and opportunities your new cleansed mind can bring you. It builds up slowly, but before you know it, you’ll have a watershed moment.
One thing that will particularly help you to avoid negativity, and distractions in general, is having a mission in your life, something that is the main focus and goal of you. In the next article of this series we’ll see how to take things a step further and not just stop negativity but also to use your mind for generating positivity, to be the light.