I have been receiving Miguel’s emails for some time, cannot really say how long. Recently, I received this article in my mail box that perfectly matches with the purpose of my blog. Actually Miguel, also published a video, in case you prefer watching to reading. Enjoy it!
Humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards negative thinking.
We could assume that tendency is there because it gave our ancestors a small survival advantage.
Those that were happy-go-lucky optimists got eaten by wolves.
Those that were pessimists and hoping for the worst didn’t get eaten as much.
So here we are today with a lizard brain primed to expect the worst.
Although there might be an evolutionary advantage to being pessimistic, living your life pestered by gloomy doomy thoughts is no fun.
The truth is today we live in a much more safe environment than hundreds of thousands of years ago.
It’s very rare for people to succumb to hungry tooth sabre tigers and such.
Yet, we live in a constant state of alert and fear triggered in part by nature only exacerbated by the news and social media.
So how do we escape negative thoughts?
Besides recreational drugs, alcohol, mindless social media binging, and meditation, I dare to propose a new way to lead happier mental lives.
You could think of this method as a thought experiment, a new mental model to deal with pessimistic thinking.
I call it the thought landscape.
Disclaimer: if you have trouble using your imagination or suffer from aphantasia, it won’t be easy to implement this approach.
The concept is quite simple to understand but tricky to master.
It goes like this:
A: There is a large number of thoughts we can have (negative, positive, neutral)
B: However, at any given instant, we can only think of one thing.
C: We can choose what we think at any given instant (focus)
D: Therefore, we can choose to substitute any current thought with any other available thought from A.
These are vast assumptions so let me elaborate a bit on each point.
A: This one everyone should agree. The number of thoughts a human can have is between 0 and Many. Many could be thousands or millions, a lot.
If you have a working brain, A should always be many. 0 is only for dead people.
B: This could be debated. However, we could safely assume that we can only hold one thought at a time. Thinking two thoughts simultaneously is not possible. I.e., you cannot think blue or black simultaneously (“Bluk” is not a colour!)
C: This could be more debatable, but If I tell you to think of a white elephant, usually you’ll think of a white elephant, not of a purple platypus. So you were able to change your thinking deliberately.
D: If the three statements above hold true, then it has to be true that we can control what we think at any given moment.
And if D is true, then it is good news for all of us!
This means that thinking negatively is, for the most part, a choice.
So, if you catch yourself stuck on negative thinking, now you know it’s because you chose to do so.
Great, and then what?
Then you can discard that thought, take a step back and look at what other thoughts are available from A.
The goal of taking this imaginary step back is to gain a new perspective.
Is to gain some altitude and contemplate which other thoughts you could choose from.
In A., we established that there could be many other thoughts you could have.
The range of available thoughts is what I call the thought landscape.
Like a physical landscape, you’ll see valleys and hills.
Now that you’ve momentarily elevated yourself over your thought landscape, it’s time to choose.
What other thoughts do you see that you could choose to think next?
Let me give you a concrete example of how this would play out for me.
So here I am, thinking I’m not good enough, smart enough, that people suck, that the pandemic sucks, that politicians are hypocrites, etc.
I’m feeling like shit. This is no fun. Then I realize I can choose what to think.
I take a step back and look at what other thoughts are currently available across my thought landscape.
In the beginning, it’s hard to see past a few meters because all the negative thoughts are fighting for attention, clouding my vision.
I try to rise a bit higher, past the dark fog.
I know there are other thoughts across the dark valley of shitty thoughts.
There you go… I see some light.
About 2 km away, I see a couple of green hills peeking through the clouds.
I take a closer look.
I see my family on one of them.
They love me. I feel happy to know they are alive and they love me.
I see food. Yum! I can see I have plenty of food, and I can afford more if I need to.
That makes me happy.
Another hill. Wow! I’m relatively healthy. How lucky I am! I can still walk, play sports, dance, use my body. My hands work… I can build things!
Another hill further away.
I see people in need. People whose lives I could make better. It makes me happy I could help other people. That’s important.
This exercise took only a couple of minutes, and my outlook has completely changed.
I feel gratitude. I feel alive. I feel happy.
My thought landscape is full of wonderful thoughts to choose from.
I don’t want to discriminate against negative thoughts. I just don’t want them to dictate how I feel 90% of the time.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember a single day of my life where I didn’t have a moment where my mind wasn’t imprisoned by negative thinking.
Negative thinking is inevitable. It’s there for our survival. We just need to learn how to keep it at bay.
The thought landscape will always offer you plenty of alternative thoughts, equally or even more valid than the negative thoughts you currently hold in your mind.
Give your positive thoughts a chance to live.
They deserve some attention too.
Peace. Love. Happy-Cookies.
Miguel @ Grumo.com