I’ve got nothing against “positive thinking” per se – after all, we experience a reality coloured by those aspects of the world we prime our mind to notice, so why not choose a hue that lifts your mood – it’s just that a skewed perspective toward either end of the spectrum is still a distortion of “what is”.
The extent of mental processing and complex meaning-making that must go on for us to make sense of the world around us from a handful of sensory clues means the version of “reality” we perceive is always going to be a heavily biased composition, yet the closest wavelength to the truth we can tune into is generally going to be a somewhat balanced version. As the great yogi-at-heart William Shakespeare observed: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
DARK SIDE OF THE SKEW
The art of attaching neither meaning nor judgement to events, situations or people is a wonderful ideal for purifying the muddied waters of our perception, but for most people attaining that level of clarity can be somewhat hampered by the gatekeeper of our all-seeing heartspace – our mind. And the default setting of the human mind is actually heavily biased toward the negative. It was an evolutionary advantage for our distant ancestors to be hypersensitive to the slightest inkling of danger; apparently those with such a tendency enjoyed much greater survival rates in the midst of ferocious predators than those happily engrossed in smelling life’s roses.
Yet still today the core survival instinct of our reptilian brain is continuously simmering away in the background, ready to override our more civilised simian cognitive functions at the mere hint of what past experience has taught us to be a source of pain. Well-meaning as it may be, the relative lack of physical danger in the modern world can make this outdated protection mechanism something of a hindrance to the way we go about our everyday lives. Aside from the health issues this state of heightened alertness, apprehension and stress can create if allowed to continually grate away at our immune system, our lives can also become unhelpfully limited by a tendency to always fear the worst, hone directly in on the negatives and needlessly apply the brakes of resistance that keep us playing small and safe.
How have you noticed this imbalance playing out in your life? Maybe it’s when you look back over how you performed in a situation and your focus becomes consumed by the one thing that didn’t go perfectly, rather than noticing any of the twenty things that went well. Perhaps you’ve found inner resistance steering you away from an opportunity that could have yielded great pleasure and reward, yet an irrational imbalance in your unconscious mind is far more concerned with avoiding the perceived discomfort of potential failure or rejection. Or do you simply find it much easier to reel off a list of what you definitely don’t want to happen than consider how you actually would like things to be?
REDRESSING THE BALANCE
The first step toward resolving the imbalance is to be okay with these perfectly understandable negative tendencies of our mind’s programming, as the chances are you may already be some way along the road of painting this trait in a rather negative light. Appreciate the positive intention of the strategies and patterns you have developed for living your life, navigating the world and painting the reality you experience around these imbalanced leanings. Our unconscious programs only ever have our best interests as their basis, no matter how potentially misguided they have become in their endeavours, but now is the time to take back conscious control of what we are choosing to allow in and what we are filtering out.
Through opening up your awareness to notice more of the full picture, rather than a restrictive negatively skewed perspective, you can retrain your brain to develop the habit of attuning to a much more balanced appreciation of reality. When you find yourself processing, contemplating or evaluating any situation, why not focus your attention on redressing the positive/negative balance?
Instead of your thoughts continuously honing in on a problem you’re facing, how useful would it be to invest at least as much time and energy solely on considering the solution? For all the things you “can’t” do about a situation, what would be different if you focussed on what you “can”? How much better does it feel when you shift your attention away from being devoured by what you lack or don’t yet have in your life, and instead welcome a joyful appreciation of all you do currently have and the opportunities that are to come?
How about balancing the focus of what went wrong versus what went right; your weaknesses versus your strengths; your fears versus your dreams; what will happen if it goes wrong versus what will happen when it goes right; the factors you can’t control versus those you can? Thought patterns around these areas and countless others can automatically have such negatively biased leanings, but notice how much the full spectrum of choice, possibilities and empowerment opens up when you decide to square the ledger.
This is not positive thinking. This is simply the reality that is already there to be noticed.