Positive thinking always bugged me. It seemed to require lying.
Mind you, I’ll be the first to look for the silver lining. But that’s different from positive thinking. Here’s the thought experiment I’m running now.
A few months ago, I bought a copy of Trevor Blake’s “Three Simple Steps” because my employer and friend, Ryan Moran, called it the best book he’d read all year (other than his!). I figured I’d breeze through it, pick up some cool insights to implement, and then put it on the shelf. As with most books, reading it would yield a few gems I’d use to make some incremental improvements in how I show up in life. I gave myself two weeks to read it and pull out a few action steps.
Three months later, I’ve just now finished it. Not because it was a tedious read, but quite the opposite. Trevor’s message – and even his writing style – is kind of like a nice single malt scotch. You could gulp it down, but what a waste that would be.
Reading the very last pages, including the acknowledgements, within seconds, I wanted to flip to the beginning and start it again. That’ll happen tomorrow.
But like most writers, for me, I’ve got to write about something to know what I really think! I’d love for you to listen in – and would welcome discussion if you’d like to share your thoughts.
There’s so much to process in this book. Like a delicious meal served with a fine wine, savoring and lingering is the only way to go. We’ll start with just one concept – that of being “for” rather than “against” anything.
What You Resist Persists
Whether you’re into personal development – or if you’ve raised kids – you know this truth. It’s about where we put our focus and energy.
A hypothetical for you. Pretend that your child starts dating someone you think is a horrible choice, and you object with every fiber of your being. What happens? Yes. They dig their heels in, get married, and have ten kids with that person. Because something in them felt like you left them no choice but to rebel and preserve their own sovereignty. Had you not objected so vehemently, the relationship might have run its course. The energy you put into being against it fueled it.
We Go Where We Look
Just listen to what he says at 2:55.
I don’t know that I’m a believer in the Law of Attraction so much as the Law of Attention. In my own experience, it’s become obvious that where my focus goes, that’s what grows. The better I master my attention and learn to direct it, that’s magical.
Maybe you’ve experienced entangling yourself in mental anguish, too?
Perhaps it started by waking up feeling anxious. Your mind went searching for every reason you should feel that way. Running a mental inventory, your brain found every deficit in how you’ve handled life. You spot that financial stress, relationship strife or disconnection, acute awareness of physical discomfort or flaws, and your mind actually seems grateful for a thorn to hang onto.
Now you’ve got a name for the thing that’s bothering you – something you can turn over, examine, and own. There’s almost a sense of relief because you’ve identified what’s bothering you. But it’s short-lived because what you’ve actually done is send yourself down a rabbit hole that only gets worse the further you go. By devoting so much attention to what feels horrible, that horribleness only expands.
But the same is true in the opposite. You know this if you practice gratitude. Even if you’re in a foul mood, if you start mentally listing things you’re grateful for, the list gets pretty big pretty fast.
Noticing this inevitability, I’ve leveraged it on purpose. If I’m feeling anxious, down, or less than positive, I’ll challenge myself to count ten things I’m grateful for – counting on my fingers to make sure I don’t lose track. Each item seems to spawn four more, and by the time I end the exercise, the count reaches into the dozens. Focused thoughts expand – in any direction.
This video, in that context, always lights me up.
It’s Not Really Positive Thinking
That’s always seemed like a ruse. I’ve been in settings and businesses where it took incredible delusionary power to tolerate the level of denial going on. You’ve probably experienced that, too.
I’m trying hard to find any other example besides the one I’m about to share. So, that’s probably the one that needs sharing.
When I was young, I was a pastor’s wife. At one point, we served in a Pentecostal church. (There I met some wonderful people, some who have been great friends to me for many years. Between them and the lessons I’ve learned, the experience was not altogether negative. Just wanted to say that first.)
Here’s the instance…
At one point, we were attending a Sunday night service. They went long. Longer still, when you count the altar time at the end. Kind of compulsory (and I was very young and not yet comfortable setting boundaries). My back had been teetering on the verge of going out all day, and standing so long became agonizing. I finally spoke up to excuse myself so I could go sit down. The head pastor started praying for my back – a particularly long-winded prayer, claiming my healing like you might see a televangelist do.
[This is so uncomfortable to write.] All the while, inside, I’m just silently begging to be allowed to go sit down, or even better, to go home. But I felt compelled to go with the group’s consensus that my back was healing on the spot. There was an unspoken directive – faith demanded a certain positive perspective. NOBODY said it, of course. But that was my perception. It seemed like a requirement to believe something contrary to what I was experiencing.
One truth became evident: The mind heart cannot accept what the mind rejects.
No Belief Required
Trevor talks a lot early on in the book about being “for” rather than “against.” This wasn’t entirely a new concept for me. Over the past couple of decades, I’ve been on an earnest pursuit of personal development. I’d learned practices, like setting intentions and focusing on gratitude, that satisfied my integrity and pointed me in the direction I wanted to go.
But the way he puts it feels like a whole new level of mental discipline. Before reading Three Simple Steps, I’d experimented with just identifying and sitting with my emotions. Definitely better than feeling vaguely “off.” But after finding the perfect descriptor for a feeling and staring it in the face, then what?
I discovered that my focus is kind of like a blow torch.
If I paid too much attention to some feeling – even if aptly named – that doesn’t serve me, it was easy to slide into an utterly destructive mental state. Climbing out of that pit took a lot of energy. At my best, I believe that while pain is just part of life… but suffering is optional. After enough experiences of that pit, I decided to bypass it as much as possible. So, while it’s helpful to be able to identify any emotional state I experience, it’s way better to be able to steer myself in the direction I wish to go.
In being “for” instead of “against,” I found something to practice that does just that. Unlike mere positive thinking, it satisfies my sense of integrity because it doesn’t involve trying to believe anything, much less a lie. It works quickly; like lifting a toy train and setting it on a set of tracks, this practice resets my attention and direction. Finally, a few months into this practice, I see changes in my life. I notice my thoughts serving me better. Even in the face of challenges, there’s a growing sense of peace that lets me approach life from a more relaxed place.
So, How Does It Work?
The way I experience it, it’s like this…
Things happen in, to, and around us, all day, every day. We’re consciously aware of some of these inputs. We have thoughts about them, and those thoughts lead to feelings. Those feelings either fill us with delight or they repel us. That’s the fork in the road, and we get to choose which way we’ll go. Our mood will follow, flavoring the next part of the day, week, or even for years.
In that moment, we can choose thoughts that are either “for” or “against” – no matter what the situation is. The mind will follow that choice and create what we experience.
Time for an example, because this still sounds pretty esoteric. In fact, I’ll give a highly practical and probably universal example.
Here’s How Being “For” Helped Me Tidy Up
Hubby and I like to keep our house clean and uncluttered. We’re not obsessed or anything – it’s just a preference. I function best in a tidy and reasonably clean space.
With Christmas preparations, there was a lot going on. Our space had more boxes than usual. One table was full of supplies for wrapping presents. We were also working on our new chicken coop – so there were building supplies and debris right outside. Our cleaning lady recently quit because of some health issues and a career change. For a couple of weeks, I thought I’d just take over because I don’t mind cleaning and figured it would be a good way to ensure I move more each day. But I discovered that while I rather like doing daily maintenance cleaning, getting around to deep cleaning wasn’t happening. It became a losing battle.
Altogether, these factors resulted in a messy house. If I’d given a lot of thought to how much I was “against” living in a mess, my thoughts would have gone to the dark side. My emotions would go toward despair, frustration, resentment, and all of that might have resulted in an angry freak-out.
Instead, I practiced being “for” instead. I’m for order, for tidiness and clear space. I’m for the peaceful feeling of a neat environment. Those are the “for” thoughts I focused on, and they helped keep my mind in a resourceful (and happy) state. As I practiced keeping my mind focused on what I am “for” it became easy to just clean up the mess. I wasted zero minutes stewing and fuming about how messy we’d let the place get. That meant I could fix it faster. It also meant I could focus on my work rather than getting hijacked by the drive to battle what I didn’t like. Even better, I didn’t pick a fight over it 🙂
Practicing “For” Is Fun
A clean house is nice, of course. But this is fun to practice every day, as often as it comes to mind. From potentially big worries (the degenerative disc disease in hubby’s spine) to smaller annoyances (driving in holiday traffic in the snow), I’m learning to spot the fork in the road. It’s right in that spot that choosing consciously whether to be for or against in my thoughts makes all the difference.
It’s an entirely different thought experiment from “positive thinking” which always felt intellectually dishonest. “For” thinking feels more like working a puzzle. It’s a conscious choice to harness how the mind works for the best outcome.
This is just one new practice I’ve been playing with as a result of reading Trevor Blake’s book. It’s one of the first detailed in the book, so I’ve had the most practice with this one. His steps build on one another and the results start to compound. As he posits, we get more of whatever we focus on, desirable or not.
This post got kind of long, huh? Part of me is screaming that I need to go back and edit, to tighten it all up… maybe even optimize it for the search engines, add a call to action. LOL (content marketing training dies hard!). But really, I just wanted… needed… to put my thoughts out there. My hope deep certainty is that this blog will eventually gather readers who long to talk about this kind of stuff, who share their experiences, and who are on the same path. So, if you’re still here and if this resonated with you, thank you. I truly would love to hear your thoughts.