It's a horrible feeling of self doubt and loathing, combined with excessive stress and paranoia. Your heart thumps, sweat oozes from your body, and there is an obscenely strong urge to just pack up and run away.Read More
Life requires energy. Just like moving a car across the road, or a plane through the sky, our actions in daily life require energy to achieve any momentum. We need energy to run our daily lives, to perform actions, and to make changes. We need energy to meet deadlines, work towards our goals, and achieve success. Simply put, we need energy to live. But often we use the wrong type of energy. We take the easy (but ultimately flawed) path of tapping into negative energy sources because it can provide instant results. Instant results come at a price though and that price is long-term unhappiness. To overcome this we need to shift our focus. We need to develop the ability harness the positive energy sources in our lives because these come with a much set of side-effects: happiness, fulfilment, and success.
Negative Energy Sources
Negative energy is energy derived from stress, anger, anxiety, hate, and fear. These energy sources provide a quick burst of explosive energy which can be useful in certain situations, like running from pack of ravenous lions. In obvious fight-or-flight examples the usage of negative energy is simply a survival mechanism but do we have a need for such a mechanism in our current society? I don’t know about you but my encounters with ravenous lions (or any creature that is about to eat me) have had a pretty low incidence across my entire life. Zero.
Our society has progressed since simple fight-or-flight times and we no longer experience life-threatening situations on a daily basis. So without the foreshadow of possible death hanging over our heads you’d think we would all be happily smiling and laughing while we skip around town singing Kylie Minogue‘s “I should be so lucky”.
Instead we create other means to justify accessing negative energy sources. Maybe it’s a tight deadline at work, or a disagreement in a relationship, or an upcoming presentation to the board directors. These are not exactly dangerous situations (i.e. they do not have a direct link to our possible death) but we still tend to tap into the negative energy wells to power these activities.
Tapping into the negative energy sources can become the default choice for many because these energy wells typically lie just beneath the surface and are easy to access. It’s like drilling for oil when we know that we have an oil reservoir sitting just under our backyard. We know it’s there, we know how to access it, and we know it will provide a quick burst of energy. We’d be silly not to tap it right?
But this is completely the wrong way to look at it. Just because something is easy doesn’t make it right and using negative energy sources actually has a raft of negative side-effects on our lives.
Negative energy sources are “dirty” energy sources. The side-effect of using them is that they pollute the surrounding environment, degrading it, and making it unusable for anything else. And in this metaphor that environment is our life.
By tapping into these energy wells we release the latent negative energy that is stored beneath the surface. Some of it gets burned up, providing us with a short-term burst of fuel, but more of it seeps out through every nook and crevice and begins to infect our life. Before we know it, the wonderful garden that we had worked so hard on is dying and we are left with a barren plot where nothing can grow.
Worse still is that once we start tapping into negative energy it becomes highly addictive. The nature of this energy is that it provides a quick-burning explosive release fuel. It sustains us in the short-term but after the initial "high" the effects rapidly wear off and we are left with a conundrum. We could spend time seeking alternative energy sources but we already know exactly where the negative energy wells are and we know exactly how to tap them. So we tap it again. We burn more negative energy, we get the explosive “high”, and we achieve short-term goals. It’s pretty easy to see why this becomes addictive.
But this addiction is very near-sighted. It only focuses on achieving short-term and immediate goals and does nothing for our long-term ambitions. That is why we need to use positive energy sources.
Positive Energy Sources
Positive energy sources are things like happiness, contentment, excitement, love, and these sources produce a slower, longer form of sustainable energy when compared to the quick burst that negative energy provides.
It is this slow-release feature that makes tapping into positive energy wells so much harder, psychologically speaking. There are no quick-fix results with this energy. It does not provide instant gratification and reinforcement of our decisions. Choosing positive energy sources is a long term commitment.
Because of this the initial process of tapping into a positive energy well will seem so much harder. If negative energy is like the oil reservoir lying just beneath the surface then positive energy is like solar power. The sun exists and we know that we can technically derive energy from it but doing so takes up a lot of time, effort, and money. And the initial energy returns always feel diminished in comparison to this upfront cost.
That is exactly what tapping into positive energy is all about. Setting it up initially is a lot of work and the immediate results are not in proportion to this effort. The results will seem weak when compared to the explosive fuel that comes from negative sources but the key difference is that positive energy sources are permanent. They provide positive energy forever.
With negative sources we are constantly going back to the well to get that short burst of energy. But eventually the well dries up and we have to move on and find another negative energy source and restart the whole process. We tap it, we get addicted to the short-term burst, we constantly tap the well until it dries up and then we move on. Ad infinitum.
This is where we start seeing the true benefits of positive energy sources. Once we have gone through the initial setup we do not have to do anything else every again. We will just receive a constant stream of long-lasting positive energy.
The other benefit of this positive kind of energy is that we can easily store it to build a backup supply of energy. Each day we tap into positive sources our storage capacity of positive energy increases. This is what people talk about when describing a happy person as “bursting with energy”. Those people have managed to build up such a strong storage of positive energy that, when compared to others, it seems like happiness is just flowing out of them.
And that’s not the only reason we store positive energy. On bad days we can use our backup of positive energy to sustain our daily life. Instead of being forced to look elsewhere for energy we have a reliable and constant stream just waiting to be used. Or, in those times that we face negative situations we now have the choice to “burn” our positive energy to provide the quick solution needed rather than having to tap the negative well. Solving negative problems with positive energy? Now we’re talking!
Finally, there is one more benefit to using positive energy sources – what it does to our surrounding environment (i.e. our entire life). Positive energy sources are clean. They are our natural state and they promote a happy and healthy attitude in our lives. They provide long-term, long-lasting, slow-release energy and they do so with a relatively small upfront “cost”. It does not make sense to choose anything else to power our lives.
Think about the energy sources you use in your life. Are they negative or positive? Do you feel like you are running from one stressful situation to the next with no rest? Or are you in a state of blissful happiness where you are just bursting with positive energy? More importantly, which one would you rather be?
If there were self-improvers anonymous meetings I would be a permanent attendee for I am addicted to personal development. Now that I have started down this path I find that I cannot help but push myself to achieve more and improve more. One of my main hobbies has become the act of continually seeking to improve my life and the lives of those around me. I have noticed that other serial self-improvers "suffer" the same consequences, perpetually improving their lives and achieving more and more success as they do so. Through this observation, and my own experience, I have made a simple conclusion: self improvement is an addictive habit.
Self Improvement is an addictive habit
Addictions are generally bad things. The word itself has a strong negative connotation and the usage generally implies a lack of control and self-awareness. But not all addictions are bad.
Positive things with positive outcomes can also be addictive. Productivity, achievement and success all trigger a "natural high", a mental state of supreme happiness, awareness, and confidence. Self improvement just happens to ticks all these boxes.
The result of self improvement is a positive increase in all the above areas and so much more. It creates a positive aura, one that attracts more positivity and success, and it stimulates our mind and body and encourages us to start operating at a higher level. This is what makes it so addictive.
A friend of mine actually inspired this article when we were talking about home improvement. Here is his direct quote, and proof that once you start improving something, your mind begins to open up to see other opportunities:
Installing a new wardrobe was a bad idea...I now want to do all the other stuff on my To Do list. I'd kind of forgotten about all the things, but now we've started I'm remembering them all and when I walk around the house now all I see is things that need improving.
The beauty of self improvement is that it is never ending. There is always something else that can be learned and adapted to our lives. There are always new experiences, new people, and new challenges presented in our lives, and this is the only dangerous aspect of being addicted to self improvement - it easy to forget that there is no specific end goal in mind and that the simple act of self improvement is what provides happiness. This is summed up perfectly in the oft-quoted line by Souza:
Happiness is the journey, not the destination.
So for those just starting down the self improvement path, be mindful that it is the actual deed of self improvement that provides us with the happiness - the feeling of adding to our skills and knowledge, of making ourselves a better person, and of achieving more success. Do not get too hung up on thinking about the future and where you are going, but rather on living (and improving) in the present moment.
Or You Could Stagnate...
The alternative to this wonderful addiction called self improvement is that of stagnating. By stagnating I mean making the decision (conscious or not) to stay exactly as you are right now.
If you are not willing to challenge yourself, to grow, and to improve then what are you doing? Are you saying there is nothing in your life that needs changing? Are you saying that you couldn't be happier?
If you can truly answer yes to those questions (and I highly doubt that you can) then I have one more question: is there nothing more that you can do in your life that could help improve the life of others?
Even if you had everything you ever wanted, if you really were living your perfect life, I believe that you could still find even more happiness simply by helping others. And isn't the ability to sacrifice and be charitable, just one of the results of self improvement? See what I did there?
There is never a valid reason to stagnate in your life but, sadly, I see this as the default stance more and more people are taking. They are "giving up" and just accepting a life of mediocrity, anger, and unhappiness instead of trying to make a change. It doesn't take much. All you need to do is actually make a start.
Start Improving Today
I know that self improvement is an addictive habit because I am experiencing it first hand, but for those first-timers, and those who are trying to break out of their habit of stagnation, it can feel almost impossible to start. But don't worry, it's not impossible. You just need to start small.
Try being grateful for one thing, or giving a fresh compliment to someone, every day. Try some positive affirmations before you leave the home or just focus on observing your own thought patterns and living in the moment. It doesn't matter what you do, just as long as you do something!
Once you start down the path of improvement it will become near impossible to stop. The first time you work on self improvement is like the first snowflake that causes the avalanche - pretty soon the desire to improve is raging and the amount of improvement you seek is like a torrent of snow tumbling down a mountain.
But unlike the snow avalanche, this metaphorical one is not destructive. It is actually quite the opposite. Imagine an avalanche that only removed rubbish, beautified the landscape, and made the mountain an even more amazing place than it already was. That is what the avalanche of self improvement does in your life - it is a constant force that pushes away the negativity and stimulates the development of positivity. All it needs is that one snowflake to start it off...
Go forth and seek out self improvement. Your happiness depends on it.
Recently I have been battling with some negativity in my life, particularly to do with a few specific people and their actions. This negativity was manifesting itself as anger, blurring my positive vision of the world and getting me worked up over things that I would normally class as little and insignificant. I let this anger infect my life. Just thinking about these people, or the latest "episode" of something annoying they had done and the anger would start again, even if I was at home spending time with my lovely wife. It was a terrible and unhealthy way to live and I had to do something about it. I had to address my anger.
What Value Does Anger Have In Your Life?
It's a simple question really. What value does anger have in your life? What is the overall gain of getting angry? What function does anger perform that is useful to your immediate survival and/or your long-term growth and development as a human being?
Hint: the correct answers are...none, none, and none. ;)
Do not fool yourself into thinking that anger plays an important role in your life. Do not pretend that anger is a useful tool for expressing your emotions. Do not excuse your anger because it "makes you feel good to get angry". It doesn't work that way.
Anger is an uncontrolled outward manifestation of a negative internal state. It is the representation of all the negative emotions stored inside you. It is your disappointment, your fear, your procrastination, your high stress, your low self-esteem, your unpaid credit card bill, and your annoyance at your receding hairline. But that last one may just be me.
The point is that anger is not a valid or useful tool in our lives. It does not achieve anything positive. In fact, it makes things much worse by ignoring the real issues that are bothering us and instead just acts as a quick release valve - causing us to explode with anger when the pressure inside gets too much.
But, I hear you say, surely releasing that negative energy from inside us is a good thing? Technically yes, but not with anger. Releasing internal negative emotions through an outward negative action like anger just makes everything feel worse. Much worse.
For starters, allowing ourselves to get angry just as a form of release means that we are not addressing the real issues. We are not looking at why we feel that we need the negative release. We ignore the cause(s) of the negativity and jump straight to the outward release. If we never address the cause then the need to release will always be there making us reliant on the angry outburst just to make us feel even remotely happy.
This leads us to the second major problem with getting angry - not only have we ignored the actual negative causes in our lives but we also add more negativity into the mix by getting angry. We still have all the original issues to deal with and now we also have our anger and all the negative response that it generates. And anger always generates a negative response.
I used a quasi-metaphor previously saying that anger was like a quick release valve but in reality it is actually a two-way valve, releasing negativity in bursts, but also allowing negativity to flow inside. And guess what? That valve is set to let negativity in by default.
A sudden burst of anger can, and does, release some of the negative emotions from inside which is why people can misguidedly think it is good for them to do so. But when that burst has finished the valve switches back to its default direction and starts sucking negative energy inside. It becomes like a magnet for negative emotions, funneling them inside you until you feel ready to burst with anger again, resulting in a very vicious cycle.
The only benefit anger serves is that it is a tangible output of our internal negativity. It shows us quite clearly that something is not right in our lives. It is as if our mind is waving a big flag at us and yelling "Helloooooo...I am not happy!" Why would we ignore that?
Using anger as an indicator for change, rather than a primitive release mechanism, enables us to start tackling the real problems. It empowers us to take control of our lives and make the positive changes required to rid ourselves of anger forever.
The simplest way to do this, to successfully address and remove our anger, is to ask "why?"
In my recent situation I found that certain people, and their actions, were the triggers for my anger. These people were underhanded, deceitful fakers and they seemed to be always trying to make me look like a fool. For a while I let this get to me, building up the negativity inside me until my anger started bubbling out of me.
But then I asked myself two simple "why" questions and I changed my whole perspective:
- Why would a person act in a such a negative and unkind way toward me?
- Why am I letting such actions control my emotions?
With the answers to these questions came a complete 180 shift on the situation. I realised that these people were acting in this way because they were scared and/or intimidated by me. They saw me as a threat - a direct competitor who was going to steal their opportunities for success. The reality was that we were part of a team, working together towards the same goals, but obviously some people just aren't team players.
Managing to identify why these people had been acting this way was comforting, but I made the most progress when I asked the second question of myself: Why am I letting such actions control my emotions?
Answering this question took some deeper thinking but the result was worth it. I discovered that I was tying part of myself, and my identity, to being successful in this job. I had mistakenly made myself believe that my achievement and success as a person would be partly measured by achievement and success at the job. This is completely untrue but it is very easy to believe your identity is tied to a particular outcome and then get caught up in the emotions that occur when things don't go smoothly. Luckily I saw my anger as a warning.
Whilst I am constantly striving for more success, more achievement, and more personal growth in my life, deep down I believe that I am already a success. I have already had some wonderful achievements in my life that I am proud of and I know that I have the skills, knowledge and power to keep improving myself, to keep challenging myself, and to keep achieving.
And that's all it took to address my anger and re-frame my thinking on the situation. Now, instead of feeling angry and an urge to compete with these negative people, I feel a little sorry for them. I now realise that they see the world as a zero-sum game and they believe that everyone else is competing directly with them. They are the kind of people that cry that life isn't fair and think that the only way to "win" is at the expense of others. This is a sad way to live.
The other positive I have taken from all this is that I have reminded myself of my true path in life. I am not defined by a job and I am not defined by the approval (or otherwise) from other people. I am defined by myself and what I do. I control my own destiny and no one else has the power to change that. For this reason I am happy for the challenges that have been presented recently and the resulting anger I felt, for it was this anger that has served as a reminder to me. A reminder to always be living for myself and doing what I love.
If you are experiencing anger in your life, stop and ask yourself "why?" What is causing your anger, what is your anger signaling to you, and what changes can you make that will address your anger?
Anger is a warning that you are not happy. Don't ignore it.
It was midnight, and the long shadows cast by the waxing moon played havoc with my mind. Suddenly, the scene burst into light and I was thrust into the thick of the battle. Armed with nothing but a flimsy shoe and a can of bug spray I fought bravely against my 8-legged enemy. Spray, spray, parry, spray. He was a worthy foe. Sweat beaded on my forehead as we battled hard. We both knew that only one us would survive the night. The spider - angry and frenzied by my bug spray - changed his method and launched a direct attack. It caught me off guard and I only just managed to swing the shoe down in time, smacking it into the ground with an almighty roar.
Dust rose around me as the battlefield fell silent. I was victorious, but I was frazzled. It had been all too close this time and I could not shake the feeling of intense fear that had coursed through my body as the spider had approached...
Later that night, as I replayed the event in my mind, it somehow seemed less glorious. I was just another man killing another spider - a pretty simple task that men achieve around the world without the same level of dramatisation. It was then that I realised just how irrational and useless fear is.
Fear is Irrational and Useless
Fear is not a rational thought. Fear is a creation of the imagination - a fictitious future filled with pain and suffering. It is just a negative lens for looking at the future, and it pays little regard to logic or common sense. This makes fear irrational and useless.
Think about my battle with that spider. I would easily be 1000 times bigger, have enough force to crush it with just two of my fingers, and also have access to chemical sprays (and footwear) that kill spiders easily. What did the spider have? Eight legs, some venom that wouldn't even hurt me, and a creepy looking face. Yep, fear is irrational alright…
But don't we use fear to protect us from dangerous situations? Doesn't fear stop us from getting hurt? Isn't our ability to feel fear a major component of our human survival instinct? No, and this is a common misconception that confuses fear with our ability to sense danger.
Take fire for example: when we look at fire we know that it is dangerous - we know that we could be severely hurt, or even die, if we touch it. But we do not fear it. We just recognise and understand the danger the fire presents and we adjust our actions accordingly. This is our danger sense in action and it has played a key part in the longevity of the human race.
Fear, on the other hand, is stress about a possible future state that may or may not actually occur. It provides no evolutionary benefit and I will go as far as to say it actually hampers our natural survival instinct.
The Uselessness of Fear
In previous ages, when humans were not such a dominant force on the planet - when we had to hunt and gather food whilst avoiding deadly predators - a sense of fear would have actually been a major detriment to our survival.
Think of a time when you were in the clutches of a very strong sense of fear. What sort of reaction did it cause in your body? Were you thinking clearly and able to control your actions? Or did it feel like you were lost in your fear, as if your body had stopped paying attention to you?
There is a reason why authors use phrases like "frozen with fear" and "paralysed with terror". ;)
Fear, does not serve any positive purpose. Why? Because it is just a form of worrying about the future, rather than focusing on what is happening right now. If you do not live in the moment, if you are not acutely aware of your surroundings then how can you make the right decisions in order to survive? How will you recognise danger and know how to respond?
Unfortunately our modern society does not have as many immediately threatening dangers and people are getting too comfortable. The result is a decrease in the usage of our ability to sense danger and an increase in the silly and wasteful concept of fear. Just the other day I saw a lady nearly lose her life simply because "her mind was elsewhere" and she stepped out in front of oncoming traffic. I would bet everything I have that she was worrying about the future, rather then paying attention to the current moment.
The Top 10 Fears
Writing this article led me to research what common fears people have and I found what are supposedly the top 10 fears across the world. These are:
- Fear of flying
- Fear of public speaking
- Fear of heights
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of death
- Fear of failure
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of spiders
- Fear of snakes
- Fear of intimacy
Reading through that list do you think it is the actual event listed that is feared or a series of imagined (and improbable) outcomes from those events? I'd say it's the latter.
People do not fear the act of flying per se, but they fear the possibility of something going wrong mid-flight and the plane crashing. For public speaking, people do not fear the act of saying words to others but instead fear that they will make mistakes and/or be judged negatively by their peers.
And just like during my battle with the spider where I thought I was fearing the spider, I was actually fearing the outcome. I was fearing that he would attack me - crawling on me with his furry little legs. I mean, who wants a spider to crawl on them? It's gross right?
Nope, it's just an overreaction caused by my fear. My irrational, stupid, and completely useless sense of fear.
It is time to remove fear from our lives and start being positive again. It is time to think, act, and be in the present moment.
He has the energy of 20 year old and the looks of a 40 year old, but is actually 60. Everywhere he goes people are won over with his down-to-earth charm, no-fuss style, and the sheer exuberance with which he tackles life. Everyone likes him. No, everyone loves him. In his earlier years he surfed and rode motocross bikes for a living before transitioning into a business career where he quickly established himself as a leader – running his own software company and eventually becoming CIO for a local mining company.
His personal life has the same successful theme - happily married for nearly 30 years with two adult children who, from all accounts, are top of their class both mentally and physically.
It’s fair to say that this man has had a very successful life. It's a life that many people dream of, and strive for, and he has a pretty simple motto which has underpinned everything he has ever done:
"Attitude is everything."
Attitude is Everything
This form of thinking says that our attitude is a critical component of our lives – our attitude dictates and controls our lives, influencing how we see and interact with the surrounding world.
When we have a good attitude, our lives are filled with happiness. Good things happen to good people, and great things happen to good people with great attitudes. Similarly, bad attitudes attract bad outcomes. Negative thoughts manifest themselves as negative actions which cause negative results. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
By making a conscious decision about our everyday attitude we can define the happiness in our lives. We can define the quality of the life we live just by choosing to have a better attitude. Happiness occurs by choice not by accident.
Attitude for Friends
Friends are an important part of our lives. They listen to us, support us, and encourage us. At least that’s what they should do.
The quality of friends we have in our lives is a direct result of our attitude. That is, we attract certain types of people to be friends with based on our attitude. If we have a positive attitude then we attract positive friends. Likewise, a negative attitude attracts negative friends.
For example, previously in my life when I had a negative outlook and a low self esteem, I found it very hard to connect with people and establish good friendships. Fast forward a few years, and armed with my extremely happy and positive attitude toward life, I now have an amazingly close group of fantastic friends. They are all great people with wonderful attitudes and I love spending time with them.
In friendship, attitude is everything.
Attitude for Love
Just like finding friends, finding love is heavily influenced by our attitude. A positive attitude will foster relationships built on happiness, fun, passion, and love but a negative attitude will create relationships filled with mistrust, anger, resentment, jealousy, and depression. Or no relationships at all.
Before I met Sophie I had endured some bad relationships. I had been cheated on, manipulated, and taken for granted. Don't get me wrong, these relationships also had some great times but overall I'd say my experiences in the world of love were quite negative. But then I changed my attitude. I decided to love myself instead of hating myself for these relationships and my whole world shifted. I started believing that I deserved a great relationship with a beautiful, intelligent, and funny woman and...well it's pretty obvious how that turned out. ;)
In love, attitude is everything.
Attitude for Work
If ever there was a place in our lives that needs an attitude boost it is at our work. Most people I've met do not enjoy their job. They are not following their passion but merely working a boring job just to pay the bills and get by in life. Instead of turning up to work with a smile and a positive attitude, these people turn up armed with a sarcastic tone, angry scowl, and a negative attitude.
The result is that work becomes a festering hole of negativity. Just thinking of the building itself conjures up strong feelings of hate and despair, and don't even start on the people you have to work with...this is definitely the wrong attitude for work.
Early in my working life I was in one of these jobs and I hated it! The work was boring (and massively under utilising me), the people were mostly incompetent and negative, and I had a daily struggle to hold back my urge to slap people around me. But then I changed my attitude. I accepted that the job was a shitty one but instead of hating it I focused on the skills I had gained, looking toward the future and what sort of work I wanted to do. I set some goals, crafted my CV, and got myself out of there. Now, less than two years later I've doubled my salary, tripled my experience, met some wonderful people, and have a pretty good job that I enjoy (and actually working for the guy from the intro).
In work, attitude is everything.
I could go on but the point has been made. In life, attitude really is everything. It shapes who we are, who we meet, and what we do in our lives. It can hold you back and prevent you from being successful or it can give you wings and open up your life to endless possibilities. The choice is yours.
There is one little word that is in such common use across english speaking countries that people seem to have forgotten the power it has over us. This word drips with negativity. It restricts us, suffocates us, and holds us back from achieving our goals. It is one of the worst words you can use in your life. I'm talking about the dreaded c-word. The word is "can't" (or cannot) and it is a disgusting word to use, especially in relation to yourself.
The Negative "Can't" (The positive can!)
The number one reason that using the dreaded c-word is bad for you is what it does to your brain. It shuts it off from even trying to help you.
If you say that you cannot do something then your brain will just agree with you and switch off. The brain is very powerful but ultimately flawed - if it thinks something has already been proven then it wont waste any effort on it and will move on, leaving you to feel assured that you really cannot do whatever you are talking about.
If an opportunity did present itself where you could possibly do whatever it is you've said you cannot, then guess what the brain does? It ignores it, or even worse it creates powerful negative emotions such as fear, anger, and stress to prevent you from even trying.
After all, the brain knows (because you told it) that you can't do it so it's in your best interest for it to prevent you from making a fool of yourself, right?
Sadly, this means that you miss out on all those awesome chances to do something new. You miss out on doing, and achieving, wonderful things simply because you (and your brain) gave up before you even started.
Solution: Replace "I can't..." with "How can I..."
The solution is simple. Get rid of "can't" from your vocabulary. Every time you catch yourself using this word stop and start the sentence again, this time replacing "I'can't..." with "How can I..." to turn it from a negatively limiting statement into a positively stimulating question.
- "I can't afford to buy a new TV" becomes "How can I afford to buy a new TV?"
- "I can't get a girl/guy to like me" becomes "How can I get a girl/guy to like me?"
- "I can't become supreme ruler of the universe" becomes "How can I become supreme ruler of the universe?"
I think you get the idea. Just reading those examples your brain should have "clicked" into gear and started thinking about the options. Ok, so maybe being supreme ruler of the universe isn't for everyone but I bet your brain started actually thinking about it before you could stop yourself.
That's the beauty of this simple trick. By asking your brain to focus on providing answers for how you can rather than providing examples of why you can't you will find yourself opening up to ideas and solutions that would have otherwise been automatically discarded.
Try it yourself. Next time you use the dreaded c-word stop and reframe that negative statement into a positive question. You might be surprised at the answers you get.
Today I have a cold. I am sitting here in front of the computer feeling sick, wallowing in self pity, and watching the pile of used snotty tissues steadily building around me. Gross huh? But this little cold has also reminded me that sometimes it is too easy for us to get caught up in feeling sorry for ourselves and being negative. It is too easy to play the life isn't fair card and sook in the corner about what is going on.
Just because it's easy to do doesn't make it right to do it though.
I could sit here feeling sorry for myself and my runny nose. I could mope about and pretend as if somehow this cold is a sign of the world "picking on me" and I could whinge about it to everyone I see, telling them of how things just go against me.
Or I could take a lesson from How I met Your Mother character Barney Stinson:
Whenever I start feeling sick, I just stop being sick and be awesome instead.
That is the perfect example of how to use a positive attitude to turn a bad situation around. Being sick already sucks so why make it worse by being a negative nancy? It's a terrible waste of time and effort. Try being happy and positive instead. Try being awesome, even if you have to pretend at first.
This is exactly what Barney does in that same episode when asked if he is sick:
I'm fine. My nose is just overflowing with awesome and I had to get some of it out.
I love it!
That is the exact opposite of what most people do when they are sick. Everyone likes to complain and feel sorry for themselves when they are sick but what does that really achieve? Is being a pain-in-the-arse, negative, so-and-so achieving anything other than annoying everyone else around you?
Positivity Breeds Positivity
This doesn't just apply to being sick either - it applies to EVERYTHING in our lives.
Ever noticed when you start having a "bad day" that things just seem to get worse? You might sleep through your alarm and miss your train, so you rush to work but then you realise you've got the wrong pants on and you left your wallet at home which makes you angry, and then while you're trying to think of an excuse to avoid that annoying meeting you've got later on you stub your toe outside and spill your coffee all over yourself. It makes you feel like screaming about how bad your day is.
I've got some bad news for you. You created that bad day. It is entirely your fault that you had such a bad day.
Many people will disagree and try to lay the blame somewhere else, but the reality is that any emotional judgment of your day is 100% in your control. You control how you see and interpret the world. If you train your brain to only see a set of negative experiences than that is exactly what you will see. You will only notice the bad stuff while all the good stuff just flies by unnoticed.
The flip side is that if you choose to start with a positive attitude, and start being awesome, then you will start having more of the good days. Those days where everything just feels right. Those days where you are happy, excited, and energetic. Those days where you cannot help but smile when something bad happens because everything else is just so damn good!
Eventually those bad things just wont happen as often. Your positive attitude will draw in more positive actions. You will attract people, situations, and events that mirror your attitude. Your life will be filled with so much positivity that those "bad" things will just be minuscule blemishes on an otherwise wonderful life.
You control your attitude. You determine whether you see things as good or bad, happy or sad, positive or negative. You have the power to make your life better by simply changing your attitude.
Start being awesome. Image: photostock
Negativity exists in our lives. There is no way around it. No matter how hard you try to live in the moment, focus on positivity, or practice being grateful every day, you will still experience times of negative emotions in your life. But this can be a good thing. Negative emotions signal that you need to make a change in your life. Whether it is stress, anger, fear, jealously, resentment, or any other negative emotion, the point of them all is to warn you that something needs to change.
But it is how you deal with these signals that is important. Do you respond with more negativity, try to ignore the problem and hope it goes away, or take positive action to eliminate the problem? No prizes for guessing which one is best for you.
Responding to negative emotions with negativity is just plain bad news but it is often what our default response is. When something occurs that makes us angry we choose to react with that anger, lashing out without thinking first. Negative actions (or reactions) just attract more negativity into our lives and the end result is that we create an even worse situation than we started with. Negative actions = negative life.
Ignoring, or running away from, the problem is no better. When we are presented with a negative situation and we choose to withdraw and hide from it then we are giving that negativity room to grow. And just like how super-bugs develop in our bodies, when we give negative emotions excess room we encourage them to prosper. Therefore, inaction is never the solution.
The only real answer is to respond to negativity with positive actions and here is how to do it:
Acknowledge That the Negativity Is A Sign
The first thing you need to do is actually sit down and acknowledge that you are in a negative space. Maybe you've just been dumped and are feeling sad, or maybe you are stressed out and resenting your job. It is OK to feel this way. In fact, it's normal!
Sometimes bad things happen that impact our lives in negative ways. The oft-used phrase "shit happens" nails it on the head. Shit really does happen, and it is fine to experience some negative emotions when it does. The important part is what you choose to do next.
Once you have accepted your negative emotions you need to acknowledge that they are a sign that something needs to change. Do not ignore them. You are feeling that way for a reason. It is time to make some positive changes!
Figure Out What Action Is Required
Now that you are at one with the idea that some change is required in your life you need to figure out what that actual change is. What are your emotions telling you to do. It's normally pretty obvious.
Stressed in your job? Find a new one. Hating your relationship? End it. Bored with life? Sell everything and take a holiday.
Ok it might not be that simple but I can assure you that it is pretty simple. You can go a little deeper by assessing exactly what is negative about your current situation. Try to break it down to the smallest possible level.
For example, once you start doing this you might realise that your job really isn't that stressful normally but it is just this one project that is killing you. So now you know that you only need to fix your current workload and you actually don't need to quit your job, sell your things, and go live in a cave as a hermit. Phew.
This is the hard part. Acknowledging the negativity and figuring out what action is required is easy most of the time. Actually doing something about it is where most people will encounter trouble.
The biggest blocker to taking action is a fear of change. People are often scared of change because they do not know exactly what is going to happen once the change occurs. Well I've got news for you - the future is constantly changing and you will never ever know exactly what is going to happen. Never!
The very definition of the future means that it a step forward in time which means that things have changed. Time has progressed and billions of actions have taken place. And this occurs every second! You cannot stop the change process but you can make sure that in your life you are the one in control of the changes.
Inaction and indecision are common symptoms of a fear of change (and fear of failure/success). By not taking action you let everyone else in the world decide what will happen for your life. You give away your power and become helpless. But if you choose to be decisive and start taking action you begin creating the changes that you want instead of being inundated by the changes that everyone else wants.
You wont get it right first time but you will learn a hell of a lot along the way. Maybe the first change you made was not enough. Maybe you really did hate your job after all and just fixing that one project didn't help. So you readjust. You take stock again, assess the situation, and make another change. Another positive change that is.
Or maybe the first change you made was too drastic and you realise that the original situation was better than the one you are in now. That's fine too. Just readjust and try again until you get it right and find a place where you feel happy, excited, and passionate. Remember that the process is cyclical.
The process is also endless which sounds scary but it isn't. It is endless because as your life changes so will your experiences, your goals, and your emotions. What you want (or think you want) in the future will be different to what you want now. But you can only act on the information you have in the current moment, so as long as you keep adjusting as your life goes on you will experience more happiness and positivity, and much less of that dreaded n-word.
Summary (Cheat sheet)
For those less inclined to read longer articles I will play nice and include a (very) simplified summary. But you really should read the whole thing. I promise it's worth it. :)
- Accept your negative emotions are valid.
- Acknowledge them as a signal for change.
- Figure out exactly what the problem is.
- Make a positive change. Make any positive change. Just change something!
- Continually readjust until you hit your target.
That's it! Get out there and start making positive changes in your life!
I am a bit of a maths nerd and data geek, as well as wannabe professional gambler, and I have come to realise that there are many parallels between the mathematics of gambling theory and life. The basic theories that any serious punter uses to determine their gambling actions can similarly be applied to life. And just like how knowledge and skill can be the difference between winning and losing your wagers, they can also be the difference between a positive and negative life.
My Gambling Background
Before I delve into the mathematical theory of gambling I will share my experiences in gambling to give you a better understand of where I coming from.
Firstly, for many people the word gambling will have negative connotations. They associate it with problem gamblers who pour their hard-earned money into useless gambling games, often with no procedure in place, and generally end up in debt and cause massive problems in their lives. That's not me.
My gambling is not any riskier than stock trading, forex trading, or any other form of investment. What do these people do when making decisions? They gather data, analyse it, determine the likelihood of certain events occurring, and then invest their money accordingly. That is exactly what I do but for sports instead. The game is no different, in fact it is probably better because I actually know about sports, whereas I wouldn't know how to tell one stock from another.
But I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of gambling. I am just demonstrating that I actually know a fair bit about this stuff and I have had enough experience over the past few years to realise how closely related gambling theory is to my belief system for how to live life
The key concept to understand is mathematical expectation which, to put simply, is the amount that you can expect to win or lose per bet. It is easy to calculate - just multiply the each possible gain or loss by the probability of those outcomes and sum the results. Still confused? Let's look at a simple example: the coin toss.
If we were betting on an unbiased coin toss we could assume that the result would be 50% heads and 50% tails. If I were betting $1 each time for the possibility of winning an extra $1 if I was correct then the expectation of this situation would be calculated as:
(0.5 x 1) + (0.5 x -1) = 0
Therefore the expectation of this action is that I would break even over the long term. There is no advantage to either player. However, if you were feeling generous and decided to offer me a $2 win each time I was correct then my expectation for this event would be:
(0.5 x 2) + (0.5 x -1) = + 0.5
This is known as a positive expectation and if we were to play the game 100 times I could expect to win $50. The opposite of positive expectation is a negative expectation - where the long term result of the game is expected to result in a loss. In the coin toss example this would happen if I were wagering more than the payoff for winning. For example if I bet my $1 each time but was only winning $0.50 my expectation would be:
(0.5 x 0.5) + (0.5 x -1) = - 0.25
If I were to play this game 100 times I would expect to lose $25.
That is mathematical expectation at its simplest level. The three examples above illustrate what neutral, positive, and negative mathematical expectation looks like and how they work long-term.
How Mathematical Expectation Applies to Life
Hopefully you now understand the basics of mathematical expectation, the foundation of professional gambling, because it is actually applied everywhere in our lives. Just like every betting action has an expectation applied to it, so does every action in our life. Every decisions we make contributes to our overall expectation of life, which can be neutral, positive, or negative.
Just like the gambler who bets on an event with a negative expectation can expect to lose money long-term, you can expect a negative effect on your life over the long-term if you perform actions with negative expectations.
But what are negative expectation actions in life? I say it is anything that does not contribute positively to your life and the life of those around you. That is, anything negative.
Have you ever been rude, mean, or inconsiderate to someone? Or have you every spent your time stressing and worrying over small things? Or have you ever purposefully taken advantage of someone or something? These are examples of actions we perform in life that have a negative expectation. Our lives are poorer because of these negative actions and the long-term result is a negative and unhappy life.
Luckily positive actions have the opposite result. Any positive action you perform has a positive expectation for your life. By being kind, loving, and caring towards yourself and others you will develop a life with a positive expectation. A life where only positive outcomes are expected.
Perform Positive Expectation Actions Only
If you had to gamble for your life would you choose to place bets with a negative expectation? Would you choose these bets where you would expect to lose? No, you wouldn't but this is exactly what you do with your actions every day of your life.
Every negative thought and every negative action in your life brings with it a negative expectation. So why continue to be negative? Focus your energy on positive actions that yield a positive result for your life. Be kind, donate, listen, help, and above all love yourself and others.
Make a series of small positive actions and your life will become ultimately positive.