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Everyone, at some point, has been told to “think positive”. This is a terrible phrase for many reasons: it’s more of a command than a pick-me-up, it is often highly patronizing and – more to the point – what does it actually mean?
Wander into any bookshop and you’ll find a huge section devoted to the improvement of your spiritual wellbeing. This is, of course, not a bad thing, as seeing words of wisdom in physical print can often be more assertive than vocal advice, the latter having a tendency to merely drift off into the past as soon as the words are formed. Magazines love to tell readers “10 Ways To Live Happier”, and give “positive thinking” a search on the Internet. You will be bombarded with instructions of meditation and how to take time out for you. It’s easy to say how to make things more positive, but the negative side seems to be hugely overlooked.
Negative thinking doesn’t automatically equate to anxiety or depression. Have a bad week and it’s difficult to look at the blue sky and drop to your knees in thankfulness. Negative thinking has an enormous impact on how the day progresses, as it makes everything so much more tedious. It encourages procrastination as you wind up asking what the point is, even if it’s just something as mundane as making your bed.
How you look after yourself can take a definite hit: things quickly lose their worth. My brain has never championed the notion of running, so when I’ve woken up and thought my cheeriest “F-F-S”, exercising immediately gets cast aside in favour of Buzzfeed. I’m not implying that this is a downward spiral, because it may well only last two hours and then miraculously things can seem okay again. However, when it comes to food, everyone has their experiences of trying to stick to a diet. Eat one “bad” thing at 6pm and, if you’re like me, you think that the whole day/week/month is ruined. As someone who gets from A to B via the comfort food train, negative thought processes have a tendency to leave me on the other side of five slices of cheese on toast before I’ve even opened the cheddar.
Negativity is a great tool for psyching yourself out of things. In the keenness of hanging on to my teacher’s pet school day persona, in first year I would make myself ill to get out of seminars, the embarrassment of unfinished work too much to bear for my little freshers’ mind. It’s ridiculous looking back because when I went, there was nothing near the finger-pointing shame I envisaged. It was down to my mind clouding with worst case scenarios. I’m not guilty of this any more, but it’s the same as when you have an interview or leave an exam: in your head you think about what you did wrong or could have done better, at the prospect of failing everything, at the chances of being unemployed. In many ways it’s natural, even healthy to worry and feel disappointed, as after all – without sounding too cheesy – reality isn’t always kind. It is problematic when this is constant, as on the flipside reality can also be fantastic. Thinking negatively loses this knowledge.
So, what does negative thinking mean? It means pessimism. It means the harder option, or even non-existent situations in my case. It’s not so much what causes it, but how to get out. What can you do? Find a book, grab a magazine. Go on a run, even if you really don’t want to, because like first year seminars, the thought really is so much worse than the reality. Don’t let it consume you, because there is always something good. There is always something positive worth keeping in mind when you’re trapped by negative thinking. Start with cheese on toast.