Recently, someone asked me how I was doing and I responded: absolutely fine for someone with no man, career, health and in the process of an enforced sale of my home. What’s more I meant it. Because how you’re feeling can be down to your attitude of mind, how you choose to think about your situation.
This reminded me of an exchange I had had on Twitter where I had argued against the proposition that there is power in positive thinking. So, have I just contradicted my argument? Let me explore this a little further.
Thinking happens both automatically and purposely. There is a whole spectrum of thinking–negative, catastrophic, positive, realistic, optimistic, dreaming, imagining and so on. Thinking influences the way we behave, the emotions we have and how we interact with ourselves and others. Can choosing to think in a particular way influence our health, particularly our physical health?
A part of the self-help industry, built on extolling the virtues of positive thinking, would have us believe so. In one book I read it suggested that if you repeat a positive affirmation for long enough it will become true. I picked one and tried it. It was : I am strong, I am healthy, I am powerful, relax I can manage. It was a lie. I knew it was a lie, my body knew it was a lie, my mind knew it was a lie. It was false positive thinking. It didn’t have a miraculous restorative effect on my physical health. There was no power in this type of positive thinking, for me at any rate.
Then I read Danea Horn’s book Chronic Resilience in which she posited a new approach called Honest Thinking which suggests that, rather than forcing yourself to be positive, or becoming stuck in permanent negativity, you should think honestly by recognising what is true at that moment.
This resonated with me. My mind will create negative thoughts for me based on age old stories I’ve told myself. Let’s take an example: ‘I’ll never be well again’. When that thought arises unbidden I first have to notice that it’s there in among all the other chatter going on. This involves mindfulness, a subject I’ve been studying for a while. Then I have to ask myself: ‘Is that true? Is that helpful?’
For me, no it’s not true or helpful because I do not know what my prognosis is. From there, I work at replacing that thought with one that is closer to the truth. To do this involves a conversation with myself that starts with self-compassion for feeling the way that produced the thought, then moving towards an honest assessment of the moment. For me that is: I am unwell just now, I want to be well and I commit to being open to any approaches that will bring me the health I seek. Then I have to go on and take the action that supports my thinking. This has a beneficial effect on my physical health.
When you go through this process with other negative thoughts, ultimately your outlook will become more realistic, neither negative nor pretendy positive. And it allows for imaginative and creative thinking, freeing yourself from outmoded patterns.
I think, however, there is a further step that is open to us and that is to actively look for the good in any situation in which you find yourself. In my case, I’m retiring at the end of this month because of my poor health. It is not a choice I would otherwise have made but it is now my reality. I have felt the loss of my career and I daresay I will do so again but, for now, I’m choosing purposely to see and think about the good in my situation: principally, I now have time and space in which to heal, lots of which I spend with my children, being the best mum I can be.
And I believe you can go even further than this: to pay attention to, appreciate and think about just how remarkable and wonderful our world is. My last post A Picture from Polmont was about just that. Then feel grateful for all the gifts you have. I see this in action every day. The most inspirational people are often in hellish predicaments choosing gratitude over resentment, appreciation over envy, love over hatred. Too many to mention but you know who you are and I’m in your debt.
So, think freely, think honestly, think widely, think with imagination, appreciation and gratitude and you will think healthily.
This is what I think. What do you think?