Our daily habits and actions constitute our state of mind. However, few people know that we hold great power over our own thoughts. Developing this power could pave the way for happiness.
Everyone has had moments in their life when they felt as though everything was going “like clockwork”, and that nothing would ever change this. Having control and accomplishing all of our goals certainly generates wonderful feelings. Even so, there are moments in which things seem to go backwards—days in which nothing gets done and everything seems to be against us. How can we account for such a difference, considering that in both situations (whether good or bad) we are talking about the same person with access to the same resources? How can we explain why, for instance, even the best athletes manage to rank first, year after year, in some competitions, yet fail in others?
The mood roller-coaster
The key to dealing with these fluctuations, at times simple and at other times complex, is one’s state of mind. There are moods which stimulate us, make us function at a high level, and allow us to give our best. On the other hand, there are moods which paralyze us when it comes to taking action, and give us anxiety and a fear of failure. This is how we can broadly account for the difference between the results we get when we enjoy the trust of people around us, and those obtained when we are dominated by a fear of failure, and sadness.
This is precisely why—since most of the moods we go through settle on us without any conscious control on our side—the difference between those who achieve their goals and those who fail usually comes down to the capacity to put oneself into a state of mind that supports one’s goal, regardless of the obstacles that will be encountered. In other words, whether we achieve certain results mostly depends on the attitudes and the behaviours stemming from our dominant state of mind.
The imbalance circuit
When we enter a particular mental state, our brain accesses multiple possible ways of manifesting our behaviour. The number of these possibilities is determined by the life patterns we pick up on from the surrounding world, based on our education, experience, convictions, and beliefs. With these as influences, we evaluate and interpret what is happening to us and decide, most of the time unconsciously, on the reaction we will have. A thought such as, “I have no chance of succeeding, I don’t think I’m up to it”—which settles in before the work we need to do to achieve the desired goal has actually begun—is essentially due to a negative mood, which signals a lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem.
How to gain control
The decisive step to take in calibrating one’s state of mind is the effective direction of one’s brain, according to Anthony Robbins, an expert motivational speaker and life coach. Robbins says that in order to succeed, we must understand what generates certain states of mind. Robbins believes that the states of mind are determined by two main sources: internal representations, and our physiology.
Our perceptions and internal representations influence our state of mind, which in turn influences the attitudes we develop, the behaviours we adopt, and the actions we later take. Physiological factors are also important. If a person is in a state of muscular tension or physical fatigue, attests to pain or has low blood sugar, they will have the tendency to process their surroundings in a way that amplifies negative feelings. Therefore, controlling one’s state of mind involves conscious control of both our inner representations and our physiology. When we are convinced that what we already think is true, we come to act in the same ways again and again. Practically, we command our brains to generate a representation of what is happening and, if we can form an optimistic representation, in which things work out for the best, then we will create the necessary internal resources to generate a positive and constructive state of mind. The same happens for pessimistic representations.
For instance, think about how a man might behave towards his spouse when she comes home later than she promised. According to the experts, the behaviour of the spouse who is waiting will largely depend on the mood that person is in when their partner comes home. This mood will have been mostly determined by what that person pictures in their mind as the reason for their spouse’s delayed arrival. If, for hours, the man has pictured his wife being involved in an accident, deceased, or in the hospital, then, when she eventually walks in, he might greet her with tears and a feeling of release, or a hug and the worried question: “What happened?”. This behaviour is generated by a state of concern. But if the waiting husband pictured their loved one being late due to a clandestine meeting, or because she simply did not care about his time or feelings, then she is likely to be welcomed with a completely different attitude—a direct result of the state of frustration or anger.
This is psychologist Roya R. Rad’s advice for implementing positive thinking habits:
1. Look at the glass as half full. Look at the positive aspects of your life, not just the negative ones. You might not have the job you want, but the good part is, you have a job. And, if you focus on what you can do rather than the less-than-ideal situation you are in, you could change things in your favour.
2. Re-evaluate your standards. A correct self-evaluation means recognising your strong points, developing them, and knowing and accepting your weak points.
3. Reward yourself more, punish yourself less. Appreciate the effort you’ve put in up to this moment, so that in the future you may achieve even better results.
4. Judge based on facts, not on your own presuppositions. The hypotheses you have created might be wrong, and blind you to the concrete facts of the problem.
5. Don’t take things personally. The actions taken by people around you might have nothing to do with you. They might be related only to things that are connected to their personality or the problems affecting them.
Think constructively and build up your thought patterns
However, if positive thinking were enough, this would mean that success is just one positive thought away. According to psychologists at Waterloo University, confident affirmations meant to restore a positive state of mind such as “My life is full of joy” or “I am wonderful”, in reality have the opposite effect. Such efforts to administer positive self-impulses make individuals with low self-confidence feel even worse in the end. By arbitrarily repeating how wonderful they are, these people become even more aware of the contradiction between what they are saying and their actual state of mind, says Joanne Wood, one of the professors at Waterloo University, in an article published in Psychology Today.
In reality, achieving desirable results involves more than the existence of positive thinking or a positive attitude. It involves joining these with willpower, discipline, perseverance and knowledge. A positive attitude is a good starting point for positive change, for achieving the established goal, but without proactive efforts, including continuous self-education, positive thinking remains, at most, optimism. What is needed is to be constantly aware of the purpose and the reasons for which you want to cultivate a positive state of mind. These reasons must be authentic, strong, and supported by an immovable hope. It is not by accident that authentic believers are more successful in maintaining a positive state of mind. The best source of hope and of authentic motivations—as well as of faithfulness and consciousness of the need to persevere—is a living relationship with God.