Dealing With Negative And Anxious Thoughts
Today, I want to talk about dealing with negative and anxious thoughts, and I want to talk about it from the angle of happiness, because we want to just fill in the blank space that we create when we begin to erase some of this negative and anxious time that we have, and we want that to be filled in with more of a sense of peace and calm and freedom and happiness. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. It is a good thing, and you can make yourself happier. It's a practice, just as everything else. There are things that we can do. It's all an inner game. Again, this isn't about our external life, this is about our inner life.
I recently read an interesting article from Dr. Joe Mercola, you'll hear me refer to him as Joe. I've read his things so often I think we're on a first name basis now. And this was about following the advice of ancient philosophers and how that could make you happier. Now, this caught my eye, because I respect science and I love that science is showing us more and more how everything about us as a physical being is working. But I know that a lot of my healing came from reading philosophers, from reading about people who had more of a spiritual life, from having that connection to something greater than ourselves. And the ancient philosophers had no direct science as we have today of knowing and being able to "prove" things, but it was evident in their lives. They didn't need and they didn't have a way to prove anything more than that.
And so I wanted to share some of this article with you. And although the article was titled Following the Advice of Ancient Philosophers Can Make You Happier, I wanted to look at it from the angle of coming from an anxious state. And so let's see what Dr. Mercola had to say here. Couple of nice little paragraphs here. Dr. Mercola says, "For many, happiness is elusive at best, and at times near impossible. There's always something or someone pushing our buttons, making us feel less than joyful." And according Barbara Fredrickson, she is a psychologist and positive emotions researcher, she says that most Americans have two positive experiences for every negative one.
And so I wanted to say here if you are living with anxiety, and if you are living in an anxious state as a regular daily occurrence, you don't even have that ratio. You do not have two positive experiences for every negative one, because your mind is telling you way more negative ones. Maybe your mind isn't telling you more negative ones than other people, but you are believing more of the negative ones than maybe someone who is not in an anxious state. Because our minds tell us all kinds of things, but the anxious mind, the person with the anxious mind, tends to believe those negative thoughts much more often.
And Joe goes on to say, "While that sounds good and well, this two to one positivity ratio is barely enough to get by. To flourish emotionally, research shows you need a three to one ratio, that is you need to have three positive emotions for every negative one. Only 20% of Americans achieve this critical ratio, which means 80% do not. Even worse, more recent research suggests nearly 25% of the people experience no life enjoyment at all. The good news is happiness can be learned. Part of the equation is training yourself to view life's events from a different perspective. Inconveniences and more serious troubles are unavoidable facts of life. What many fail to realize, is that these events do not automatically bar you from being happy, unless you let them."
Now, I thought that it was important for you to hear from an article that is not talking about anxiety at all, and it is showing that many people are very, very unhappy. And so since this is something that we can do for ourselves, I think, as you are eliminating your anxious state, you can be filling that space in with more happiness. And so we can just practice it, like everything else. Nothing happens right away.
Dr. Mercola goes on to quote Eric Barker in a recent Time article. Eric Barker says, "You've probably read a zillion articles about happiness online, and you're not a zillion times happier. What gives? Reading ain't the same as doing. You wouldn't expect to read some martial art books and then go kick it like Bruce Lee. All behavior changes must be trained. The ancient stoics knew this. They didn't write stuff just to be read. They created rituals, exercises to be performed to train your mind to respond properly to life so you could live well. And what's fascinating, is that modern scientific research agrees with a surprising amount of what these guys were talking about 2,000 years ago."
Again, that little piece was from Eric Barker in a recent Time article. I will have Dr. Mercola's entire article here, I'll have a link to it in the show notes if you're interested in reading it for the future to remind yourself. So what I'm really impressed with here, is it's really good to see that 2,000 years ago people knew what was good for the mind, what was good for the mind and body. And what's interesting is that we don't need to wait for some scientific breakthrough. We don't need to wait for a new medication to come out. We don't need to wait for a new gadget to be developed, or the proper app to be developed for us to actually find our happiness and our peace and calm yet again. I really want you to know that this inner gain is kind of already know. I believe that there is pieces of you already inside of you that know what to do, that knows what brings you happiness, because that is your natural state.
One of the interesting pieces they talked about in this article was the importance of perception, and I know we've talked about perception here before, and we've talked about how we see life, what kind of filters or what angle we're looking at it, and the wisdom of the ancients, according to this article, dictate that events are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. It is your belief about the event that upsets you, not the fact that it happened. And Ryan Holiday ... He is an author of several books, including The Daily Stoic. But he goes on to say, "Shakespeare and the stoics are saying that the world around us is indifferent. It is objective. The stoics are saying, 'This happened to me' is not the same as 'This happened to me and that's bad.' They're saying if you stop at the first part, you will be much more resilient and much more able to make some good out of anything that happens.
Now, we talk about that here all the time. Remember, we don't want to add judgment to what is happening. When we are sitting with our mind and these thoughts go through, the most important thing after actually seeing the thought itself is to not judge it, and that's what these stoics were saying. You want to come to the place where you are saying, "This happened to me." You don't want to say, "This happened to me, and that's bad." "That's bad" is adding a judgment to it. We want to experience things. We can just experience life. We don't have to add judgment to it, or a second thought, or a second arrow. We are talking about just how we are looking at life and how we can make a difference in how we feel just through our perception, and by not adding judgment to it.
And there is another piece of advice down here, which was to follow your own advice. Dr. Mercola says, "Another potent technique you can use is to increase your positive to negative emotion ratio by asking yourself, 'What would I recommend if this happened to someone else?' And then follow your own advice. Barker highlights this technique with an example." Now, I'm not going to read the example, because it's super long here, and the fact that we already talk about this here. This is when you've heard me say when you're feeling a particular way and you have something really that you want an answer to or reassurance about, you can take that ... I often suggest not just saying, "What advice would you give to just someone else?" I usually ask that you say what you would say to someone very small, someone four or five or six years old that came to you with a big problem."
Because I believe that when you are suffering, and I really mean suffering, if you are not finding your way out of your anxious state, you are suffering. And if you are stuck there, you want to be kind to yourself first, so just offering advice is great, but offering advice as if you were giving that same advice to a small child. You would be kind, you would be compassionate, you'd be understanding. You would want to know more. You would almost just embrace them. And so I want you to, when you are following your own advice, as Dr. Mercola's talking about here, I want you to do it without judgment. I want you to do it with lots of compassion. I want you to do it as if you really were talking to the little tiny you, the little four or five year-old you.
And that is hard for people to do. Often people don't want to be kind to themselves, but they would be kind a niece or a nephew, or a neighbor's child, or their own child that is young. So use that. Think of how you would relate to a youngster that came to you with a really, really interesting little challenge or difficulty or problem, and give yourself that same kind of nurturance. It makes a huge difference.
I want to address another piece that Dr. Mercola on here, which is addressing wants and desires. Dr. Mercola says, "One of the greatest contributors to unhappiness is our wants and desires, regardless of whether they're able to be fulfilled or not. Because as soon as you get the thing you desire, another newer better thing will come along, fueling your desire to acquire yet again. Fulfilling desire is a never ending cycle. Here the old adage to be grateful for what you have is part of the prescription that Barker cites in The Daily Stoic, which says, 'Here's a lesson to test your mind's mettle. Take part of a week in which you have only the most meager and cheap food, dress and shabby clothes, and as yourself if this is really the worst that you've feared.' To which Barker adds, 'And research shows that doing that really works.' Luckily, there's a less painful way to get similar results with something you used to relish, something that you now take for granted. Did that first cup of coffee use to be a wonderful moment, and now it's just something you hastily gulp down? Try going without it for three days."
And you know, here we're not talking about coffee. If you are, it's decaf. And Barker goes on to say, "When I spoke to Harvard professor Mike Norton, he said this is how you can regain appreciation for the things that you've taken for granted. Make them a treat. Deprive yourself a bit, then savor the heck out of it. This is how you can stop wanting and start enjoying what you have."
This piece, everyone, is so important to me, because I see much of the anxiety is fueled by the pressure to get ahead, the pressure to get more, and that drive. It's about future, future, future. So much anxiety is about that. And when we are not driven so hard, we actually can start to relax. We can feel our muscles relax, we can feel our mind relax when we are not driven for more. So I love this idea of you don't have to take a week and dress in shabby clothes and eat the minimum food, or whatever. But you can do the idea of maybe giving up something you really liked, like your morning decaf. Give it up for three days and then go back to it and see. It really does make things different.
And the point is that we do it then more mindfully. What happens is, when we have what we have, we want more because we're not even mindfully enjoying what we do have. We aren't in gratitude for what we do have. And these are very simple practices that can change not your world, not the physical world around you, but your perception of it. You begin to feel so much more alive, and it's just like the old saying that enough is as good as a feast. And that is very true, as long as you are with your enoughness with mindfulness and appreciation and gratitude, so I hope you will give that a try.
And the very last piece here is Dr. Mercola saying that those who feel they have enough are usually happier. "Some even claim that the key to happiness is learning to appreciate enough and embracing a more minimalistic lifestyle. The average credit card debt for Americans who carry a balance is $16,000, and 38% of US households carry some amount of credit card debt. The total outstanding consumer debt in the US in 2016 alone was a staggering 3.4 trillion. Meanwhile, financial hardship and work stress are two significant contributors to depression and anxiety. The answer is pretty self evident. Buy less. Many who have adopted the minimalistic lifestyle claim that they've been able to significantly reduce the amount of time they have to work to pay their bills, freeing up time for volunteer work, creative pursuits and taking care of their personal health, thereby dramatically raising their level of happiness and life satisfaction. The key here is deciding what enough is. Consumption itself is not the problem. Unchecked compulsory shopping is. It's like being on a hamster wheel. You keep shopping, thinking happiness and life satisfaction will come with it. Yet, it never does. Many times accumulation of material goods is a symptom that you may be trying to fill a void in your life. Yet that void can never be filled by material things. More often than that, the void is silently asking for more love, connection and experiences that bring purpose and passionate engagement."
The article goes on, of course, and on, because Dr. Mercola always has long articles, and he goes on further to talk about gratitude, which is something that we discuss here quite often. I will make a link to this article in the show notes if you want to read the whole thing, but I hope that you will take that idea of enough and let it roll around a little bit. Not to add more pressure to your life, that, "Oh, now you have one more thing I have to do." But to actually see that what you already have for right now may be enough. Anxiety tends to live int he future, and so when we are not in the present with what we presently have, we're searching for more. How am I going to get more? It's all in the future. So just pull it back. This is totally good medicine for the anxious state.
I hope that you will take some of that and try it out in your own life!
That's it for today If you're ready for more, go to anxietycoachespodcast.com/group-coaching and join today. I'd love to see you in the group.
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson.