First Published on KSL.comQuestion:
I have a pretty negative outlook on life. Not sure why, but things bother me and I get bent out of shape by people and situations quite often. I am pessimistic and I can’t stop being this way. It is just the way I think. Though my family complains about it, I can’t seem to think any other way. How can I change this, when there really are a lot of negative situations around me?
You first must fully accept that your thoughts are in your control. Nothing can make you upset or feel negatively about anything unless you choose to. As a matter of fact, every situation and circumstance is basically neutral and means nothing — until you apply meaning to it.
It appears that your subconscious programming (that has been running the show since childhood) is mostly fear-based, so you’re running on negative autopilot most of the time. But you can change this.
You can consciously choose positive thoughts in any moment. This is simple to understand, but it is going to take some practice to master. In every situation you must stop and use your brain to make a change. You must change your mindset by asking yourself these simple questions:
I was not happy about this.
My automatic response was to be mad and even make her feel bad for being forgetful. But in that moment I chose to stop and use my brain to change my mindset. I decided the only way I could see this (going back) as a good thing was if going back had just saved us from a horrible car accident up the road. If I chose to imagine this outcome, it would completely change my attitude towards my daughter. I might even thank her for forgetting her things and saving our lives.
I realize this was a stretch of my imagination, but it still made good sense to experience it this way, because I was going to have to go back no matter what. The only thing in question was my attitude. I could have a negative attitude and make her feel bad, or I could choose to trust the universe that everything happens serves me (even when I can’t see how) and treat my daughter with kindness. Which option feels better to you?
I also asked my daughter (in a loving way) to be more careful next time, but I didn’t make her feel guilty because I had chosen to see this detour as our perfect journey.
When I get a flat tire, or lose an opportunity, or lose a friend — I chose to trust the universe it knows what it's doing and this circumstance is here to serve me in some way. The universe knows what it's doing.
In his amazing book "Man’s Search for Meaning," Viktor Frankl (as a prisoner in a concentration camp) discovered this truth about choosing our thoughts. He found that he had complete control over nothing but his inner state and could choose his attitude even in the worst of circumstances.
He further explored this principle as a psychotherapist after the war and taught his patients to look for another reason (even a good reason) that a bad thing might happen. He believed if they could see a positive purpose for it, if the bad thing at least counted for something good, they would suffer less.
He explained this principle by telling the story of an old man who came to him for counseling. This man’s wife had passed away, leaving him alone and terribly depressed. Frankl asked the man what would have happened if he had died first, leaving his wife alone. How would she have fared? The man told Frankl that being left alone would have been terrible for her. She greatly depended on the man for support and would have suffered horribly alone.
Frankl then proposed the idea that maybe the universe had given him the beautiful opportunity to save her from suffering. What if there was purpose in her passing first? If given the choice wouldn’t he have wanted to spare her that misery and taken the years of loneliness in her place?
When the man saw his situation in this light his perspective and his attitude shifted. He could see the good in his situation and it did lessen the suffering. It also helped him to turn the tragedy into a human achievement. He chose to use his time alone to become a wiser, kinder, more giving person instead of a bitter, lonely one.
You have this same choice in every situation. You can choose to see positive and grow from a tragedy or setback. You can choose to see every experience as a lesson in your classroom journey. You can use your conscious mind to choose meaning in it and create a more positive picture.
Frankl defined conscious as “the intuitive capacity of man to find out the meaning of a situation.” He believed there is unconditional meaning in everything and you can find it if you take the time and put your brain to use.
This is the bottom line — you are going to apply meaning to everything anyway, so you might as well do it consciously and choose something positive — don’t let negative thinking run your life.
If life is a classroom and you are here to learn and grow (especially to learn to love) then when anything happens (you lose a job, get a flat tire, break your leg, lose an important paper or lose a loved one), stop and ask yourself: What could this situation be here to teach me and how could it help me become more loving?
In every negative there is a lesson, a gift of knowledge or a positive side. There is order in the universe and every experience is here to serve your growth and learning. Life is your servant, serving your education — not your enemy.
It would change your life if you chose gratitude and curiosity instead of negativity. In my book "Choosing Clarity: The path to fearlessness," I recommend writing an official policy about the nature of life and how you are going to choose to see it. Then read the policy out loud daily. This simple practice will create a more positive attitude, I promise.
You can do this!
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.