Henry Ford once said: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” And right he was. A subtle shift of thinking has the power to fundamentally change the trajectory of your personal and professional lives.
What most people don’t know is that our brains are evolutionarily wired to think negatively. Seeing the good in something takes additional effort, motivation, and brain power, yet it can make all the difference and help us stand out from the crowd.
Think about it! We humans, it seems, have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. But according to some research, 80 percent of our thoughts are negative. I once sat in a lecture by Fred Luskin on stress management in which he shared a telling example that demonstrated how our brains are wired.
Imagine standing in a room with 10 other people, 9 of whom are holding things you desire in life: health, wealth, friendships, etc. Now imagine the 10th person is pointing a gun at you. Who do you look at? One might say “of course, the guy is holding a gun”, but that’s exactly the point. As humans, we are unconsciously programmed for survival. That’s why our brain is wired to identify threats, danger and negative things in our environment and that’s why thinking positively requires an extra effort.
Now this begs the question if this extra effort is worth it. Is it worth to pug the energy and practice into teaching yourself to think more positively? I would like to strongly argue for yes.
A small part of science has dedicated itself to understanding the benefits of thinking positively — on both your physical and mental health. Turns out it can increase your life span, reduce your aging, and provide greater resistance to illnesses. More years to live just by focusing on the good in life? Who wouldn’t want that! Thinking more positively in life not only helps put more years into your life, but also more life into your years.
But what does it actually mean? What does it mean to think positively? Is it an approach for the helplessly hopeful? No, it’s a self-empowering way of looking at the world. The constant in the equation of life is that it will come and knock you down. The variable of that equation is how long it will take you to get back up on your feet.
I used to get super caught up in my feelings whenever I didn’t get something that I really wanted. For example, I got rejected from business school the first year I applied. It was a gut-wrenching experience, but I made a deliberate decision to not let it drag me down for too long. I sat down and wrote down all the potential good things that could come out of it. I wrote a list of all the things I could now do that I would have otherwise not been able to do. I decided to focus on the potential good that came out of that setback. And with that, I got back on my feet much faster and moved on from it.
There are many different techniques, mental models and frameworks that can help you move on from setbacks. Writing a list of all the potential good things that could be coming out of a disappointment is just one. For the past three years, I have dedicated this blog to writing about the ways how I try to see the world and different mental models and frameworks that I fall back on to not let negativity take over my life.
Yet what works for me, might not work for you. But I still encourage you to give this some serious thought and think of ways how you can shorten the time it takes you to get back up on your feet whenever life knocks you down.