By nature, I am not a positive thinker. I have to work at it. Positive thinking will not do anything by itself, but as Zig Ziglar said, “Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.” The success or failure of many things you do in life depends on how well you do those things – and if a few simple tricks can put you in a positive frame of mind, it can increase your effectiveness, as well as amplify your enjoyment of life.
“We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
When I woke up this morning, my body went through its familiar litany of complaints. It’s cold, this hurts, that hurts, I saw this thing on Facebook yesterday and I’m still mad. Now, if I let my frame of mind remain controlled by those first thoughts I have upon waking, my day would just go downhill from there – and I’ve seen this happen, many times.
What I have learned, being the manager of a crotchety and ornery body, is that I cannot allow my body to dictate my mood. I have to define my mood in advance, and then institute habits and actions that will generate the mood that I want.
For me, good moods are not natural. I have to work at maintaining them.
These are ten tools that I find myself using on a near-daily basis to elevate my emotions and keep a positive frame of mind. I may not use every one every day, but as soon as I notice I’m getting cranky or irritated, this is the toolbox where I immediately retrieve the appropriate tool to fix what Ziglar calls my ‘stinkin thinkin.’
1. 101 Power Thoughts
This hour-long recording by Louise Hay, the founder of Hay House, has completely reprogrammed my subconscious mind. When my default state of mind is not actively curated, I know that it can easily take on all the garbage and detritus in the world around me; so I make sure to introduce powerful, uplifting, and inspiring thoughts by listening to this recording regularly.
During this recording, Louise Hay recites hundreds of affirmations in the first person, with soft piano music in the background. That’s it. No fancy binaural beats, no 12 step program. Just positive and uplifting thoughts read by a gentle and powerful soul.
2. Read a daily passage
While I do love listening to Louise describe how I want to be feeling, there is a magnitude of difference when you read a passage to yourself. Hearing positive thoughts in your own voice offers a level of validity that we can’t fake. The brain hears what you say, and it internalizes it securely.
The passage I have been using for the past few years is from Christian D. Larson, and it goes like this:
I keep this image posted to my wall, so I am sure to see it and read it at least once a day.
(Try reading it out loud, right now. You might really like it.)
3. Top 10 Daily affirmations
Even more uplifting than reading the words that another has written, it is super powerful to read your own.
A number of years ago, when I was doing a writing affirmations practice – writing the same affirmation 30 times, or writing many different affirmations every morning – I found that I had collected a lot of affirmations written in my own hand.
Sifting through these statements of power, I selected the top 10, the ones that I felt were most helpful to me personally, and to the state of mind that I want to cultivate.
I am successful in everything I do
My life is filled with abundance
Every cell in my body vibrates with positive energy
I am worthy of love
I easily manifest my dreams
I am calm and relaxed in every situation
Money flows freely and abundantly into my life
My potential is limitless
My heart is a magnet that attracts more of everything I desire
I radiate love and happiness every single day
I spent the time to design a nice flyer with these 10 affirmations, printed it out, and posted it on my bathroom door. Now every morning and every evening, as I begin and end my day, I pass these affirmations, and remind myself to declare this state of mind that I choose to continue.
4. 5 minute journal
I was introduced to this wonderful little concept in a very big book – Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. When I left for New Zealand, I took only one book, and it was this one.
This massive tome is a handbook for excellence. (If you have really big hands.) @timferriss has given us 673 pages of concentrated wisdom, distilled from the 200+ conversations on his podcast, and delivered in a highly digestible format. This is the best of the best. If you are looking for a #fathersday present for a man in your life, this is the one that will level him up. I’ve had this book four days and it has already improved my life in three significant ways, and I’m delighted there is so much more to study. #excellence #productivity #lifehacking #highperformance #bookreview #toolsofthetrade #toolsoftitans
When he described the 5-minute journal, I immediately tried it, and I was fascinated at how quickly it set my mind aright for the day. The 5-minute journal is a simple process; while you can buy nice leatherbound journals, you can also just write in any notebook on the following 3 subjects every morning:
- I am grateful for…
- What would make today great?
- Daily affirmations
That’s it. Because, the simplest techniques are usually the most effective.
The nighttime component of the 5-Minute Journal is a review of your victories. Keeping a victory log helps you remember, especially during very busy times of your life, that there are achievements that should be celebrated. I’m a highly productive person, so when I finish a project, I usually put it down, and – go right to the next project, with no loss of momentum.
Without a victory log, sometimes I feel like I’m always busy, but not accomplishing anything.
Keeping a daily journal of the accomplishments throughout the day helps remind me that there are great things being done, and I should celebrate these victories.
5. Meditation practice
Meditation trains you to let go of thoughts that do not make you strong. “The mind,” Robin Sharma said, “is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.” The real benefit of meditation is that it makes you master over your mind.
Gaining control of this immensely complicated thinking apparatus does not come easily. It takes practice, and diligence and exercise. That’s what meditation is – a disciplined practice of controlling your mind.
After studying a number of different meditation techniques, I have concluded that the simplest practices are the most effective. The absolute simplest I have found is Pranayama.
Pranayama is the technique of controlling and observing your breath, measuring your inhalations and exhalations according to a formula – in for 1 count, hold for 2 counts, out for 2 counts, for example. Because we are modern wizards, there’s an app for that. I use the Pranayama app, and it keeps time for my breathing cycle, so I don’t even have to monitor it. I don’t have to check the time left, or wonder if I was inhaling or exhaling – I can truly let all of my thoughts go.
And that is the point of the practice – learning to let go of thoughts.
With your breathing regulated, your monkey mind will still offer up thoughts for you to think. Observing these thoughts as they approach, and letting them go without judgment – this is the practice that I find so valuable.
By getting better at declining to hold onto thoughts that I do not want to hold, it makes it much easier to let go of negative thoughts throughout the day. By sitting in the morning, and practicing how to let go of thoughts that I decline to hold right now, when an unwanted or negative thought assaults me later in the day, I have the skill to keep it from taking over my conscious thinking, because I’ve been practicing.
6. Selective ignorance
There are things that I know about, and when I think about them, it makes me upset.
You probably have subjects like this, too. It may be things that have happened to you in the past, or situations unfolding in the news, or injustices that you have personal reason to dislike.
The more you hold these thoughts in your mind, the harder your life will become.
I could go into the science behind why this happens, by discussing the details of the brain’s reticular activating system – or I could lay out the ethereal principles of the Law of Attraction, to make the same case from a spiritual perspective – and I’ll probably do that in a different article. But for now, let me assure you, from my own personal experience, I have seen this happen time and time again.
“What you think about, you bring about,” as Louise Hay said.
Those topics that cause me to bring about strife in my own heart – I make an active effort to ignore them.
This is not to say that I pretend these issues do not exist, but if I am powerless to control an event that is not currently affecting me directly, the longer I spend agonizing over it, the more I dilute my own effectiveness in life, in the areas where I truly can make a difference.
Pick your battles. Choose where to put your attention. If you are spending most of your emotional power on something that you have no ability to change, then you have become a passive consumer of the world around you, instead of an active agent within it.
7. Break a sweat
Most of the work I do to support my family is done while sitting at a computer. If my body calcifies into a prone position, I find myself feeling limited by the constraints of what I have been doing, both physically and emotionally. It is only sweat that breaks me out of the mold.
At least once a week, I schedule an intense workout onto my calendar.
Sometimes I devote up to an hour a day to my physical training, when I’m working on a difficult trick, or getting my parkour body back (because the older you get, the more effort it takes to do a young man’s sport) but most times, my minimum for heavy sweat is one hour a week.
A long time ago, when I was an acrobat in the circus, I found that being in the company of other dancers and yogis was all I required: I just had to go to a class. By being in a studio, and following a teacher through an hour of guided exercises, I could assure myself that I would get to a sweat.
Trying to exercise all by myself, however, I would often get distracted, or I wouldn’t push through the difficult parts, and I would find myself giving up before I had mined the treasures buried deep in the workout session.
Until I found Beachbody.
When I first discovered P90X, I was instantly hooked. I went through the 90-day fitness routine at least a dozen times over the years, and to this day, I know the workouts so well that I can just listen to the audio files on my phone and follow along.
Having a coach that keeps time for me, and tells me when to switch to the next exercise, and what to do next, is invaluable. During an exercise session, there are so many times when doubts and pains creep in, and it can completely derail you if you’re exercising solo. Having a routine to follow will dramatically increase the likelihood that you will get a great workout.
For a long time I juggled the DVDs for P90X (like some sort of savage) and then I made the modest investment in the Beachbody On Demand program, and gained access to their entire library. It’s $39 a quarter, which is ridiculously cheap for all the programs that you can access.
Sometimes, I only need a quick physical pick-me-up in the middle of the day, and the Fitness Marshall is my favorite.
The music is mostly Top 40 pop stars, which is a little mainstream for my taste, but his dance moves are challenging, while still being easy enough to follow, and his personality is goofy and fun.
He’s got a ton of free videos on YouTube, and when I find my focus getting fuzzy after a few hours on the computer, I google “YouTube Fitness Marshall” and bounce around for five minutes before getting back to work, limber and refreshed.
9. Comedians in cars getting coffee
I must admit: I only watch this show for the comedians.
While I am a big fan of coffee, I can’t taste it through the screen. As for cars, I really don’t care about automobiles. But I can see how much Jerry Seinfeld loves cars, and the way he selects a car to match a guest is really charming.
The conversations they have on this show are just top-notch. It’s often Jerry and an old friend, talking like they were backstage before a show, trading stories about the legends they knew when they were coming up, and ruminating on the successes they had along the way.
It’s a pair of performers, often at the top of their game or just beyond it, looking back on their careers and their lives while making jokes about it the whole time. These are people who are professionally funny for a living, and we get to watch them improvise their way through a day together.
As a webisode series, it’s one of the tightest formulas I’ve seen. Like espresso, it’s very concentrated, put through a highly sophisticated machine, to serve you just a few sips of something amazing.
When I notice myself feeling depressed, or low energy, I prescribe myself 20 minutes of this show, and it always makes me feel better.
10. 7 Minutes of Qi Gong
Every morning, I spend 7 minutes moving my body in gentle movements, listening to my breathing, and clearing my mind. This simple practice loosens my joints, releases my stress, and clears my thinking from blockages that could be affecting my, psychologically or emotionally, throughout the day.
I wrote all about my favourite Qi Gong Teacher, Lee Holden, and what I’ve learned from him here: https://bethebetterdad.com/qigong/
Think better thoughts, and you will live a better life.
If you don’t believe in either the neurological or the spiritual principles that are underlying this statement, you can still choose to live by it anyway; for the worst case scenario is, you are wrong, your life didn’t get any better, but your enjoyed it more the whole time.
Best case scenario: you boost your mental state, gain more positive emotions, and your lifelong effectiveness is increased.