Being Influenced

The TV blared the news of the previous weekend events as I sat in the doctor’s office waiting room on Monday.  It was a continuous recount of the violence that occurred in Charlottesville.  After a while, I began to feel a weight from this stream of negativity.  So I looked away from the TV, put in my earplugs and read a book.

I like to be informed of current events, but I don’t need to see image after image of intentional acts of hatred.  Too much exposure to this type of negative press eventually begins to influence our thinking and how we view the world around us.  At least it can for me.  That is not how I want to be influenced.

Based on my own experience, I know there are a lot of good people doing good things in the world.  I come in contact with them every week, if not every day.  It’s these types of activities and people that I want to focus my attention on and to be influenced by.

And fortunately, they’re in large supply.  We need only look for them.

What You’re Allowing In

I recently re-read the book “Where Will You Be 5 Years From Today”.  It’s an encouraging book that makes you think of the trajectory you are setting for your life that will lead you to where you want to be in 5 years.  This is one of those books that should be required reading every couple of years.

As I read, I was reminded how much my attitude and outlook is impacted when I actively fill my mind with positive, though-provoking content.  My mind feels sharper, opportunities seem more abundant, and good ideas and positive thoughts are in no short supply.  I just feel better when I’m feeding my mind with good content.

The thoughts we have are a function of what we’ve already allowed into our mind.  Therefore, it seems reasonable that if we want to have good thoughts, we should be sure our minds are filled with good content.  Think of it like priming a pump or fertilizing the “soil of our mind” that produces our thoughts.

Good thoughts don’t happen by accident.  It’s the intentional behavior of not only allowing good content in, but also guarding our minds against the avalanche of negative content that is so pervasive.  While guarding our minds requires work on our end, it is work that will enrich our lives in the form of better thinking.

Guard your mind, for it will produce and abundant return of whatever you allow in.  Make sure that what you’re allowing in is what you’d like to get out later.

Choosing the Right Path

Back in school, I wasn’t the best test taker.  I usually didn’t prepare very well and my technique when I got stuck, which was often, amounted to little more than closing my eyes and selecting whichever answer my pencil landed on.  Fortunately, my studying and test taking habits have gotten much better.

Earlier this week I was taking an exam for work.  I had prepared well and was ready to take the test.  However, about half way into the exam I got stuck on a couple of questions and also noticed that I might be a little behind, based on time and questions remaining.  For a moment, I could sense the beginnings of feeling frazzled.  (I’m very familiar with what this feels like, as it was a regular occurrence in school.)

Suddenly all these non-productive thoughts started to flood my mind:

  • “You’re not going to get the score you need to pass.”
  • “You’re going to have to retake this test.”
  • “Think of all the time you’re going to have to spend re-studying!”
  • “You’re half-way through your allotted time and you still have half the questions left AND several you have to go back and review. You’ll never make it!”
  • “You don’t know this material as well as you thought. Perhaps you weren’t ready to take this exam.”

I felt like I had approached a very real fork in the road.  The path to the left is where I would decide that these thoughts had merit and as a result, I’d allow myself to get sloppy and lazy in how I approached the rest of the exam, knowing that failure was likely where I was heading.  The path to the right is where I would recognize my thoughts for what they were (a distraction and not a prophecy), push them to the side, and double down on doing my very best.

I chose the path to the right.  I also scored a 93%.  Well beyond what was needed to pass.

It’s amazing to me how my own negative thoughts felt like a physical force pushing against me, much like a headwind against a runner or cyclist.  The best way we can combat the negative force of our own thoughts is by replacing them with thoughts of determination and commitment to successfully complete what we’ve set out to do.  (If that feels challenging in the moment, starting with a prayer would be a good way to begin.)

When you face the headwind of your own negative thinking, realize that these thoughts are not prophetic, and you’re not required to agree with them.  Then, immediately challenge them with positive thoughts and actions that support those positive thoughts.

We can control our thoughts and ultimately use them to take us down the path we want to travel.

Filling Up Your Mind

Have you ever considered how what we allow into your mind directly impacts our thinking and outlook on life?  Similar to how the types of food we allow into our bodies directly impacts our physical health, the material we watch, read, and listen to have a direct impact on our thinking and how we view our current situations and overall view of life.  Therefore, it is imperative that we are not only aware of what we are filling up our minds with, but that we are also taking an active role to ensure the content we consume is positive, useful, and improves our thinking, rather than polluting it.

For example, I’m currently conducting a job search to find work closer to where I live.  This can be a challenging process with no shortage of opportunities to engage in negative thinking.

In Scripture we’re told…

“[…] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  — Phil 4:8

Therefore, before I started the job search process, I found some positive words to use daily to keep me focused and to thwart of negative thinking when it would begin to show itself.  Some of those positive words I use include:

  • The greatest cure for anxiety is action.
  • Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. – Psalms 25:4
  • Do what others aren’t willing to do.
  • Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:6-7
  • Take action every day.

These words are certainly not the only positive choices and may not be for everyone, but they work very well for me in my situation.  The important point is for each of us to find our own encouraging words that we can use to positively influence our thinking.

What about you?  What are you filling your mind with?  Could you benefit some renewed and positive thinking?  If so, begin collecting quotes, phrases, gems from religious text, or just kind words from others and put them in a place that will cause you it intersect with them several times a day.  As you see them, spend a moment to read them, think about them, and apply into your daily life.  This habit will not only cause your thinking to change for the positive, but your life will follow as well.

Five Questions to Help Maintain a Positive Attitude

Let’s face it, sometimes unpleasant unexpected things just happen through no fault of our own.  This could be anything from a job loss, to a bad diagnosis from a doctor, to the unexpected death of a loved one.  As challenging as these things may be, we still have the luxury to choose our attitude as we navigate scenarios like these.  Here are 5 questions we can ask to help maintain a positive attitude through a difficult situation:

  1. What were the positive aspects of this scenario before I received the bad news?

It is so easy to let your mind think of all the negative aspects when we receive bad news.  In fact, our minds seem to go there automatically, unless we decide to focus them elsewhere.  With this in mind, choose to look back with an eye on the positive.  Think about experiences gained or relationships formed.  The positives are there, we just have to look for them.

  1. What can I learn from this?

This may sound cliché, but there is something to be learned from every situation.  Think about what you have learned or what you can learn from this situation.  At first, it may seem like there isn’t anything, but if we’re paying attention, we can learn some valuable lessons we might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn.

  1. What does this make possible?

This is my favorite question!  There is something about an unexpected situation that alters what has been normal for us, be it temporary or permanent.  In that alteration, that “new normal”, there are opportunities for us that didn’t exist before.  Identify what they are and how you can take advantage of them to improve your future and your definition of “normal” moving forward.

  1. What am I thankful for?

Even in light of a bad situation, we have much to be thankful for.  Don’t lose focus on what those things are.

  1. How can I use this experience to help others?

Life is more fun when we share the journey with others.  No matter what you’re going through, someone else has gone through it before, or will be going through it after you.  That’s cool on 2 different levels!  First you can find others who have gone through a similar circumstance and seek guidance from them.  Second, after you’ve gone through it, you will be poised to help someone else in the future who is going through a situation you’ve already been through.  What a blessing to be a source of encouragement to someone during what is a dark hour for them.

 

Yes, unexpected and unpleasant situations really stink.  We could go as far to say they really suck.  But how we come through them, and how our future is impacted by them, is largely due to the attitude we have while were in them.

 

Let’s be mindful of this powerful choice we have and decide today, and every day, to keep an attitude that is positive instead of letting a negative attitude take root.  The choice is ours.  Let’s choose wisely.

Someone Would Gladly Trade With You

Life is good, but occasionally we get frustrated and begin to complain.  This isn’t all bad, because frustration can often be the spark that causes us to take action to improve our life.  However, we get into trouble when we focus solely on what is frustrating us and develop an attitude of complaining.

We may justify our complaining by pointing out how bad things are, but here’s a thought to consider the next time we feel like complaining:  someone in the world would gladly trade places with you.

Consider this:

You think… Someone else thinks…
My job sucks. I’ll trade with you!

I’m currently unemployed and would love to have a job right now.

My marriage stinks. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to be married and willing to work out our differences with a spouse.

I’m old. I’ll trade with you!

I’m 32 and have been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I’d love to look forward to growing old.

I’m fat and out of shape. I’ll trade with you!

I live in a country where we rarely have enough to eat, let alone have the ability to choose a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet.

My life is boring. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to have the freedom and resources you have to choose how I live my life.  There’s so much I want to do, experience, and learn.

As you look at your frustrations through the lens of how others view them, your situation starts to look a whole lot better.

The next time you find yourself having adopted an attitude complaining, stop and consider how many people would love to trade places with you.  This thought will likely give you a new perspective on your situation as well as refocus your attitude.

Cultivating Good Ideas

I started this blog 153 weeks ago with the goal of consistently posting one entry per week.  So far, I haven’t missed a week yet!  What’s amazed me most about this journey is how every week I find a new idea to write about.

I like to post my entries on Saturday, but on Sunday, 6 days prior to posting, I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about.  It isn’t until I start going through my weekly routines of reading, having conversations with people, and listening to positive content that an idea for a topic pops into my mind.  These ideas burst onto the stage of my mind without any warning.  It’s an amazing process that I’ve really enjoyed over the past 153 weeks.

Ideas don’t just happen.  Whether it’s ideas for writing, planning, or myriad other forms of creation, I think there are certain disciplines we can practice to greatly increase our likelihood of coming up with good ideas.  Those disciplines include the following:

Expect that you can and will come up with good ideas

Henry Ford stated it well when he said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Pay attention how you talk to yourself regarding your ability to come up with ideas.  Instead of telling yourself you’re not good at coming up with ideas, change the internal dialog and state how capable you are of coming up with not just one, but several good ideas.

Consume positive content

Positive content, in the form of conversations, reading, podcasts, or any other method, is the fertilizer that helps grow new thoughts and ideas.  Your ideas will come out of whatever you have been putting into your mind, so be mindful of what you’re allowing in.

Set a deadline to come up with good ideas

For me, I imposed an artificial deadline of generating a blog post every week.  This created a sense of urgency that forced me to generate an idea.  So far it’s worked out well.

Practice cultivating good ideas

Every day, write down 10 good ideas on any topic.  It can be anything from ideas for generating extra money to titles for a make-believe TV show.  The objet here is to just get in the practice of generating ideas.  The more we do it, the better we can become at coming up with ideas.  James Altucher says that this is how you stretch your “idea muscle” and become and “idea machine”.

Set yourself up to be a generator of good ideas by following the steps above, or share some of your own ideas for generating ideas in the comments below.

Ideas are the starting point of all new adventures.  If you want to have a more adventurous life, you only need to start having more ideas.