Ever noticed how one negative thought about something leads to another and another and another? Like not hearing your alarm and oversleeping. Right away, it starts. “Oh darn, I’m going to be late!” Then the onslaught begins: “I won’t have time for breakfast, much less any exercise, so there goes my fitness plan. I’ll miss the bus, or there will be so much traffic I’ll be even later yet. Did I put gas in the car? I bet I forgot. Oh, now I can’t get to the bank before work, and I’ll have no cash on me!” and the beat goes on.
Now this could be a meaningless rant, which you’ll get over as your day unfolds, but here’s the thing. Your brain takes you very seriously. When you allow yourself to indulge in negative thoughts on a repeated basis, your brain responds with something no one wants: cognitive decline – often with an increase in the kinds of proteins that lead to Alzheimer’s. No joy there.
We are endlessly picky about the food we choose to eat, the clothes we wear and the movies we watch. And these are but a few of the aspects of our lives in which we are picky, picky, picky. Yet when it comes to our thoughts, which frankly regulate our physical, mental and emotional well-being, we are lackadaisical.
There’s hardly any choosing going on. We allow whatever random thought occurs to blossom in our minds, rather than recognize how very important it is to choose what we dwell on.
“But I can’t possibly monitor every thought that crosses my mind,” you say. Of course not. That would be impossible, if not to mention very annoying. Fortunately, it’s not the occasional thought that matters, it’s our repetitive thoughts. The thoughts we allow to grow and multiply when with just a little attention, we could easily shift our focus to a more constructive thought.
For example, you overslept. It’s not the end of the world. It is a reminder to maybe set your alarm farther away from you so you hear it a bit longer before turning it off. You may have to forego your usual breakfast and exercise routine in order not to be late to work, but you can probably grab a quick coffee and a snack on your way out the door.
The important thing is to switch your focus to what might work in this situation, rather than dwell on all the things that could possibly continue to go wrong.
Take Louise Kobs, for example. She finally retired from her beloved job as a crossing guard at 91 years young. She’d helped generations of children cross the road safely for over 40 years, having joined New York’s Nassau County Police Department at 50. She had been a stay-at-home mom up until then.
Louise never missed a day of work. Now surely there were days when it rained, days when Louise felt achy, days when she might have preferred to stay home. But Louise didn’t let any of that dim her enthusiasm for her job. Day in, day out, for all those years, Louise found a way to dismiss any negative thoughts about what her day might be like to keep at it with such gusto for so long – and still be vital, healthy and happy at 91.
Let Louise be an inspiration to you. Don’t allow negative thoughts take over your thinking. This isn’t a suggestion to bury your head in the sand and pretend all is well if it isn’t. If there’s a problem to solve, solve it. If you need help with something, ask for it. But most importantly, move on from whatever the negative thought is as quickly as you can.
Just as I can imagine Louise saying to herself, “Raining? OK, that’s what a raincoat is for,” instead of “Raining? Oh, what a dreadful day this will be.” Having a hopeful and confident attitude is invariably better for your health, your brain and your overall happiness.
Do you have an example of how you didn’t let negative thoughts take over? When something negative happens to you, how do you typically react?