The problem with positive thinking

As is the way, the first few weeks of the New Year has seen papers, magazines and social media platforms brimming with articles, ideas and tips from the latest ‘Guru’ telling us how to be healthier, slimmer and happier.

We live in interesting times when it seems that all someone has to do is make enough noise on social media and they get accepted as some kind of expert as people hang on to their every word and give them ‘likes’.

The intention may be good but the problem I can see is that so much of what we hear and see is contradictory and it can easily send people in a direction that won’t help them.

This week I saw somebody had posted up the following quote on LinkedIn…

‘If you realised how powerful your thoughts are you’d never think a negative thought again.’

If powerful means that certain thoughts can be a very intense experience, then you’d have to agree with this.

The special effects department of the mind is far more powerful than anything you could ever experience at the movies.

But never think a negative thought again?

This seems to be suggesting that we get to choose our thoughts and in doing so we would only choose ‘positive’ ones.

The truth is that the human experience, the one each of us is having, encompasses the whole palette of what it’s possible for us to experience.

We don’t even get to choose our thoughts.

As I think of my own experience over the past week or so, I can see that I have felt a whole variety of feelings… happy, low, positive, negative, enthusiastic, discouraged, forgiving, irritated… and lots more.

What so many of the ‘Gurus’ are telling us is not actually possible. Being positive all the time is not a realistic goal.

If we think it is wrong to feel negative then we’ll spend an awful lot of time trying to not be negative, which is the very activity that creates even more negative thinking!

From my own experience, the clearer I get on the fact that my mind only works one way, the quicker my mind clears.

I still get moods, but they are just part of life. If I don’t get preoccupied or bothered with them then there’s no problem.

A healthy, high-functioning mind is what nature gave us and it is only when we try to intervene that we create problems for ourselves.

The biggest ‘Megatrend’ of our time

Scientists seem to generally agree that we humans are the most intelligent species on Earth.

You would think, therefore, that we would have this experience of life nailed down and in many ways, we have.

This intelligence has allowed us to do what no other creature has come close to. We have built civilisations, come up with literally millions of products and ways to make our lives richer and physically easier, and we continue to evolve at a breath-taking pace.

A few years ago, I read a book called ‘Megatrends 2010’ by Patricia Aburdene, best-selling author and renowned social forecaster.

Through accurate and compelling research, she identified that the biggest ‘Megatrend’ of our time is that we seek more spirit (78% of people).

She realised that in a world that seems increasingly turbulent, unpredictable and uncertain, (and likely to remain this way) we naturally begin to look within.

And with good reason.

Anyone who has watched ‘The Blue Planet 2’ can see that we are destroying our world.

It is plainly obvious that far too many people are struggling with life.

A greater and greater number of us are realising that rampant materialism does not create lasting happiness and contentment.

So, what does looking within really mean? How do we do this?

To me, looking within means acknowledging, connecting with and nurturing our spiritual (non-physical) essence. It means seeing that we are an expression of something bigger than our individual selves and that we are all connected.

The more we are willing to see this truth, the more we open our hearts. As this happens we naturally live in greater harmony with ourselves, other people and the world.

On the question of ‘How?’, I think this is the wrong question.

I was out to dinner with a friend recently and we were talking about this very subject.

I shared that in 30 plus years of being a seeker of what looking within means I have come across two communities of people who experience evolving, improving and lasting levels of well-being and spiritual growth.

These two communities are the people who have learned to meditate (and practice daily) and the people who have learned the inside-out understanding.

I am not saying there aren’t others, but this is my own (and relatively limited) personal experience.

I was very committed to the practice of meditation for over 12 years and then I stopped (my blog about this is here if you want to know why).

The inside-out understanding is something that doesn’t require us to do anything at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is the realisation that we are part of this intelligence that is greater than our personal mind and, when we allow it to, it will beautifully and gracefully navigate us through life.

We don’t have to think about any of the trillions of processes that run our body from moment to moment, do we? You don’t have to think about taking your next breath, digesting your last meal, healing the cut to your hand, making your heart beat or walking without falling over (unless you’ve been on the sherry too much!).

The intelligence is built-in and does the work for us.

The mind is no different and yet we have taken on this idea that we need to try and control our lives.

It is the ego that wants to control and it can be an easy trap to fall into. Wayne Dyer used to say ‘ego’ is ‘Edging God Out’.

The result of this is a great deal of unnecessary inner conflict and, therefore, is at the root of all outer conflict – the greater mind is gently trying to point us in one direction and the little mind is trying to go in another.

If we truly want to thrive, experience our lives as meaningful and leave the world better for us having been here, it is so simple we can easily miss it.

The mind only works one way. From the inside-out. This truth is an utterly reliable constant.

The content of our thinking changes all the time and we have thousands of different thoughts every day. If we believe that the experience we are having has something to do with our circumstances then we’re immediately caught up in an illusion.

When we see ourselves as the thinker and that the nature of thought is that it is constantly changing, then we can be at peace with whatever experience we happen to be having.

We are then free to ‘be in the moment’ and enjoy life fully, even with all its ups and downs.

I have shared it before but as an end to this piece, this short video from Michael Neill is worth less than a couple of minutes of your time…

Your wisdom or other people’s wisdom?

For many years I was an almost obsessive consumer and user of self-help, psychology and business success material.

I was always looking for ideas. Ideas that could help me become a better person, get better results and live a good life.

What I was learning was helpful (kind of).

But why did I feel the need to keep devouring more and more of it? What was I really looking for?

After coming across the 3 Principles understanding it dawned on me that what I was doing was putting my time, money and energy into other people’s wisdom.

And I hadn’t realised how much all this consumption was stifling the flow of my own innate wisdom. Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten to trust my own inner voice.

The 3 Principles points to the fact that we all have an infinite capacity for ideas, insights and new thinking. We all have access to a well that will never run dry.

We’re only ever stuck if we think we are.

When we over-think, get tense or anxious we can easily forget to look inside, not outside. We forget or don’t trust that the thinking we need will come to us.

The thing about other people’s wisdom is that it is what was right for them, in their life, at that particular time.

Why would it be right for us? How could it be?

A client recently shared with me a story about a close family member whose life seems to be a constant struggle, often lurching from one crisis to the next.

He said he could see exactly what their problem was and had often given them well-meaning advice.

I asked how long he’d been doing this and how many times his advice had been taken?

He said 17 years and never! We chuckled about that one.

Think of a challenge or area of your life that seems difficult. Something on which you’d like to get a new perspective, a better feeling or the perfect solution.

It seems so simple, but as soon as we see what we are experiencing is thought rather than circumstances then our mind will naturally clear.

We are then so much better placed to get the thinking that we need and allowing life to come to us rather than trying to chase it down.

The ‘don’t know mind’.

I am currently giving a series of presentations about ‘Creating a transformational client experience’ and have been as far apart as Glasgow and Exeter over the past couple of weeks.

One of the first things I share with the audience is that the value they get from the presentation won’t come from me. It will come from their own insights because seeing something new or differently and real change always come from within.

One of the barriers to seeing something new is when we think we already know something and during my presentation, I share a quote from Jiddhu Krishnamurti:
“The most difficult thing to learn is something you think you already know”

Of course, there are times when using what we already know is valuable. My series of presentations are to financial advisers and they have put a huge amount of time and effort into gaining their professional knowledge and qualifications, which is vital so they can give accurate and correct advice.

However, if we always look at life and listen to people through the filters of what we already know, think or believe then we are also filtering out a great deal too.

This reduces the potential for both us and our clients.

The advisers who have the most impact with their clients are excellent at the advice part of their business but what they are really good at is having people get reflective and connecting with what matters most to them.

This is what really brings the advice part of their work to life and takes it from something that can easily be an intellectual exchange to something far more meaningful.

I don’t think it matters what business we are in, there is always that opportunity to reside in the ‘don’t know mind’. To be curious about what could come to us or to whom we are with.

Many people seem to avoid this place of not knowing because we are so used to living out of our intellect. But this becomes very stale and, ultimately, doesn’t bring us any joy.

Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘The power of now’ observed, “When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.”

A cup of tea solves everything!

A couple of weeks back I was walking round my current fishing lake, deciding where I wanted to fish and came across another angler.

We chatted for a few minutes and he then said:

“Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Do bears poop in the woods?” I replied!

So, he boiled the kettle and we enjoyed a freshly brewed cuppa, which went down a treat as we put the world to rights.

I was reflecting on this and a memory came to mind.

It was just before Christmas 1986 and we got a call that my nan was taken ill and was in Lewisham hospital. My mum, two sisters and I rushed over to see her and found her lying in her hospital bed, looking very poorly.

I will always remember the first thing she said though…

“Do you want a cup of tea John?”

Nan’s are great, aren’t they? Always thinking of you. I will never forget that day because just a couple of hours later she sadly passed away.

Have you seen the film ‘Shaun of the dead’? Zombies are everywhere, so what does Shaun suggest?

“We grab Mum, we go over to Liz’s place, hole up, have a cup of tea and wait for this whole thing to blow over.”

A cup of tea solves everything! Nice and simple.

It occurred to me that the three principles understanding is like a cup of tea for the mind.

There is only ever one problem in life… we forget what is true.

Just recently I found myself in an agitated state of mind. I wrestled with my thinking. Tried to stop it. Intellectually rationalised it.

But all to no avail.

Apart from having a few cups of tea (obviously!) what really helped was remembering.

I just remembered that my feelings always follow my thought.

The way I was feeling had nothing to do with my circumstances. I was just revving up my mind and the faster my thought went the worse I felt.

I fell into the trap of trying to control my thoughts. But we don’t need to do this.

The mind is self-correcting.

As soon as we remember that our mind only works one way our thinking settles, we come back into the present and feel better.

Nice and simple.

No techniques. No pep talks. No self-help books.

Just remembering.

The problem with boundaries…

Imagine you have a piece of plain white paper and on it, you draw a small circle. Suddenly, you have a boundary – you have inside the circle and outside the circle.

And with every boundary, there is the potential for conflict.

In life, we have all created a great many boundaries. Universally recognised ones, like time for example, and personal ones like our ego, which is the sum of all our self-created boundaries (I am this, I am that, etc.).

Boundaries can be a good idea and the concept of time is clearly useful! It allows us to show up when we are supposed to. Or remember our loved one’s birthdays. Or as a guide to accomplishing something.

But there is still that latent potential for conflict in every boundary.

A client recently shared with me that he felt under pressure because his business had a ‘poor’ month. Revenue was not quite what he wanted.

So, in crossing the boundary from the end of one month to the beginning of next he began to experience a lot of insecure thinking that was not there before.

Instead of being present, calm and open – the very place where we keep perspective and have the most access to intelligent, creative thinking – he got negatively preoccupied and felt bad.

I know that many people will say goals (like monthly targets) are important.

But this is just a made-up idea too. I have seen many people under-perform because they feel under pressure in trying to meet their target. I used to fall into that trap too.

This is not to say targets are a bad thing. They are neutral. But when people get attached to them it does the opposite of what the initial intention was.

It is understanding where our experience is really coming from that sets us free.

Beyond the limitation of the boundaries we make up is the infinite potential of pure consciousness.

Nothing is smarter than this.

I remember Dr. Dicken Bettinger saying (and I am paraphrasing) – ‘We all have the intelligence of the entire universe at our disposal’.

When we appreciate this fact then it stops making sense to put up so many boundaries and it becomes easy to let them go.

Successful – now do you want to be happy 2.0?

Quite some time ago I wrote an article called ‘Successful – now do you want to be happy?’ and this is a new version, hence the title!

The seed for this article was sown when someone approached me for coaching and wanted me to help him create a new, compelling vision, mission and business plan.

Before deciding if I could help I was curious about what he thought this would give him. Despite his current business being successful and having no real issues in his life he shared with me that he had been feeling discontented, frustrated and unhappy for some time.

His idea was that he needed to create a bigger and more successful business. Something he could really get his teeth into so he could deeply immerse himself in the new project and put all his energy into it.

I shared that I didn’t think a bigger vision was the answer he was looking for. I said that I was sure he was capable of creating a business twice the size of the one he had and that would be a great achievement.

But it wouldn’t give him what he thought it would.

The project would have been a distraction tactic. It would have occupied his mind but as soon as his mind was not on the project he would more than likely be back to where he was.

The real issue was a misunderstanding.

It is so easy to think of success as something that occurs in the external world and that it will lead to happiness.

For instance, when we accomplish a goal we allow ourselves feelings of success and happiness. Of course, it can be wonderful to fulfil an ambition and yet whenever we reflect upon our achievements we’ll notice that the feelings don’t last.

That is because feelings don’t come from the outside. Chasing external goals is often the innocent attempt to find the deeper feelings of inner peace, love, gratitude, connection and aliveness that we naturally want to gravitate towards.

These feelings are found within and have no relationship with our external life.

But what if I’m not feeling them? What if my experience of life is one of often feeling tense, unhappy or anxious? What then?

What sets us free is FACT, not FICTION.

Fiction is believing that circumstances are causing our feelings. This is the ill-logic that creates all our suffering. Even though our thoughts and feelings can be extremely intense, compelling and consuming they are not caused or created by our circumstances. Yes, we will still get caught out by the illusion that they do, but it is still an illusion.

The fact is that life ONLY works one way – from the inside out. We feel our thinking, not our circumstances. When we see this truth and know it, then we are free.

One of those freedoms is that we will stop looking for happiness outside of ourselves.

I have heard some people have expressed the concern that if they are not chasing after a goal then they will lose their motivation.

But I have not seen this happen. It simply means that we are free to create whatever we want because we no longer see the need to fill our time chasing an illusion.

Getting over my ego trips!

I don’t know about you but when I used to think of the term ‘ego trip’ my mind was drawn to the idea of showing off or drawing attention in some way. When I looked up a definition it said;

‘An activity done in order to increase one’s sense of self-importance.’

So far, so good but a while back my attention was grabbed by a much broader definition that has proved both useful and enlightening.

Insecure thinking

I use the word ‘insecurity’ as a catch-all term for the feelings we have that are based in some kind of fear, anxiousness or tension. We all experience such feelings from time to time and yet if we don’t understand what these feelings are really telling us it can cause all kinds of problems.

Let me share an example.

I used to sometimes find myself getting very distracted during business meetings with potential new clients. Instead of paying complete attention to the client, really hearing what they were trying to communicate and responding appropriately, I often felt tense and my mind was filled with inner dialogue like…

‘How am I doing?’

‘Am I coming across ok?’

‘Is this going to work out?’

All this inner mental activity was contaminating the communication, lowering my impact and, ultimately, my chances of actually landing the business.

The ultimate ego trip

It was Dr. Judith Sedgeman, on a webinar I took part in, who said ‘Insecurity is the ultimate ego trip’.

When I heard this I thought ‘Wow – I have never thought of my insecurities as an ego trip before’.

We can so easily pin our sense of well-being on external things – like winning business, being liked or getting approval. We think that if the outside world conforms to the way we want then our own inner world will be ok too.

But this is an illusion. The outside does not cause our inner experience. Not ever.

When we see the illusion then we stop giving in to our insecurities because we see no value in trying to fix what we made up in the first place!

Insecure feelings are a fact of life. It is not whether we get them or not that is the issue. Trying to get rid of them is a waste of energy because fighting a feeling makes things worse. Adding more bad feeling on top of bad feelings does not make them go away. How could it?

The truth is that it is ok to feel insecure. What really matters is how much you care about how you feel. If you’re not insecure about feeling insecure then you can feel anything and be ok with it.

I found that the less attention I paid to my insecure thoughts the more available I was for what really matters.

The road less travelled

Just recently I went to an evening hosted by One Thought and the lovely Susan Marmot, who said something that really resonated with me.

The subject was relationships and we talked about how our feelings about other people come from our thinking about the other person and not the other person directly. The implications of this fact are far reaching and highly significant, in every aspect of our lives.

For instance, when we realise that our experience is being generated from the ‘inside-out’ then it completely changes how we might approach any kind of conflict or difficulty we perceive we are having with another person.

Traditional approaches in therapy and mediation encourage people to air their grievances and, in some cases, even in the presence of the other person too. As Syd Banks once said, this is like burning your hand and then sticking back in the fire to make it better!

Life is difficult… is this really true?

Many years ago I read a book called ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by Dr.M.Scott Peck. I loved the book at the time and it contains a line which has become particularly famous:

‘Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.’

So, what is it that makes life difficult? 

How it looks to me is that bad feelings that we attribute to circumstances are what make life seem difficult. After all, in good feelings we tend to transcend our ‘problems’ because our thinking is so much more generative.

The thing is that what we tend to label ‘bad’ feelings are as normal, natural and to be expected as much as good feelings. You can’t have only good feelings, we just don’t work that way. I have never meet anyone who only gets good feelings and no bad ones, have you? (even though advertisers, certain sections of the media and other vested interests would love us to think that it’s true).

What does happen though is that people can have a lot of thinking about their bad feelings. They think it is wrong to have them, they fight them, try and make them go away and yet this only makes them worse.

The most intense examples of this are addictions. People feel bad and then try to get rid of the feeling by numbing themselves with substances or distracting themselves with certain (often destructive) behaviours.

A fundamental truth about life

At one point during the evening Susan said ‘There’s an easier way to do life.’ and I thought this brilliantly captured the essence of the three principles understanding.

The inside-out understanding tells us that our feelings are coming from our thought in the moment, not our circumstances. And the nature of thought is that it is transient – a thought comes, we experience the feeling of it and then we get another thought.

We live in a flow of thought, some we label ‘good’ and some we label ‘bad’ but, in reality, thought is neutral and the more we see this fact the less we are bothered by our experience, whatever it may be.

The biggest mistake that we can make is to try to manage our thinking and control our experience. We have about as much chance of doing this as we do of controlling the weather.

Our thinking changes all the time – in this respect it IS just like the weather (especially in the UK!). But, if we believe that our thinking is a representation of our life then we are going to be for a very, very bumpy ride.

The principles never change – they are 100% reliable, all of the time with no exception and whatever our experience is.

There is a life force, we think and we are aware of our thinking. These three spiritual facts are providing our experience of life, constantly, reliably and perfectly. This is all we need to realise to move through life with ease, gracefully and more enjoyably.

The invisible variable

Life is full of variables. In business there are many variables that we have no control over whatsoever, for example, the economy, legislation and the markets we operate in.

Then we have the internal variables of our business, our product or service, pricing, how we choose to deliver it, who we do business with. These are things we can determine and have control over.

When we want improvement we invariably focus upon the variables we can control and that are visible to us. Behaviour being one of these.

But what about what is not so visible?

Just recently, a company I came into contact with had committed to spending a significant amount of money on external sales training because their team were not performing as well as they wanted.

I had a couple of conversations with members of the sales team and what was immediately apparent to me was that they were being put under pressure to meet their targets. The way this was playing out was that in client meetings, instead of being totally focused upon the client and helping them get what they want, they were more concerned with making their numbers.

When we feel under pressure, tense, and self-orientated it is like having a stone in our shoe. It is uncomfortable, aggravating and affects our performance. Our human interactions, especially, are compromised and it creates a feeling of separation, not collaboration.

Buying in sales training, in this situation, is like trying to make someone run faster with the stone still in their shoe. Maybe there will a spike in performance but such a situation cannot continue.

State of mind is a critical variable and yet it is invisible and, therefore, not considered as a relevant factor. It simply does not occur to people that they could simply remove the stone and by doing so performance would go up.

The mind only works one way – from the inside-out. External factors cannot make us feel a certain way – it just looks this way through our innocent misunderstanding.

The sales people were feeling under pressure because of their thinking abouttheir targets. The targets are completely neutral. If they could realise this truth then it would set them free.

When we realise we live in a thought created world we drop a great deal of the unnecessary thinking that we are doing. 

When this happens we feel increasingly good. The stone is no longer in our shoe. This will have a hugely more significant impact upon performance and results compared to giving people some extra behavioural tips and techniques.