Friday, October 10, 2014

Managing My Thought Life

“Secondly, stop thinking about what it is you fear. Each time a fearful or negative thought comes into your conscious mind, replace it with a mental picture of your positive and worthwhile goal. And there will come times when you'll feel like giving up. It's easier for a human being to think negatively than positively. That's why only five percent are successful!”

“We must control our thinking!”

Earl Nightingale – The Secret Strangest

In the second old lesson that is new, I am reminded how important it is to manage my thought life.  I don’t know if I’m better, worse, or average when it comes to the number of negative thoughts I have, but I do know that I have more than I want.  Complaints, negativity, gossip, regret, prejudices, fears, judgments, or rages – none of them help.  They are just the same old boring and repetitive mind traps that keep me from being happy.
This brings up a crucial question:  Do I want to be happy?
It seems obvious, but it’s not as much as one might think.  In The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, some people choose Hell over Heaven because they would rather hold on to their self-justifications and pride than admit they were wrong and be happy.  This is not far from the truth for many of us.  We’d rather be right (or believe we’re right) than be happy.  I get it.  It’s hard to admit we were wrong, that we didn’t know better, that we aren’t perfect.  An illusion is often much easier to live with than the truth…or so we believe.   But it’s the truth that sets us free, not illusions or lies.
Many of us know people who can rarely or never admit they are wrong or that they just don’t know.  But almost all growth, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual comes only from the realization that we don’t have all the answers or that the answers we have are wrong or incomplete at best.  Growth and change begin not from knowing, but from not knowing.
The good news is that I don’t have to know everything.  I don’t even have to always be right.  But what I do need to do, if I want to be happy, is to manage my thought life.  That’s really it.  Everything begins with the thought life.   Everything begins with our perceptions and beliefs.  People lose their minds, or kill themselves because of the thought life.  People hate or kill or steal based on the thought life.  People also do wonderful things and overcome great difficulties because of the thought life.  It’s not that our thoughts are bad; it’s that we don’t manage them.
Happiness and gratitude also come from the thought life.
Motivation comes from the thought life.
Goals come from the thought life.
Everything comes from the thought life. 
So how do we manage our thought life so that it becomes a blessing rather than a burden?  While many of the following suggestions may not be original, I have found them helpful:
·      Realize that thoughts are only that – thoughts.  They aren’t necessarily facts or truths.  (In fact, rarely are they facts.)
·      Because thoughts and feelings aren’t facts or truths, we shouldn’t act as if they are.
·      Practice gratitude.
·      If you find yourself overwhelmed by negative thoughts, change your focus. 
·      If necessary, find a safe place to express your thoughts, such as a private journal.
·      Read books on this topic.  Loving What Is by Byron Katie is one of the best.
·      Be aware that fatigue, hunger, thirst, or illness can affect your thoughts.  So take care of yourself.
·      Be aware of what you allow in.  This includes all potentially negative input, such as much of the news.  It also includes negative input from others such as complaining, criticism, or gossip.
·      On the flip side, intentionally bring in positive input.
·      Realize that managing the thought life is a discipline and it may take time and practice.
·      Get Started and Keep Going anyway.