Smell the Coffee: Seven days of positive
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A few weeks back, a reader sent an email that said, "This sounds like something you'd like." Attached was a file labeled "Seven-day diet."
Since I was already on a diet at the time (like always), I didn't open the attachment right away. I figured it was yet another fad that would have me cooking a kettle of cabbage soup or downing some strange food combination. But I was nicely surprised when I eventually opened the file and saw it was for a seven-day mental health diet. Keep the pounds, but shed the negativity.
I like to believe I'm generally a positive person, but my road's had so many potholes lately that I haven't maintained as good an attitude as I'd like. The diet's arrival was well-timed.
I was intrigued enough to do a little research. Turns out there are a number of mental diets, many of which are for seven days, but others lasting 21 to 28, because researchers say that's how long it takes to establish new behavior as a habit.
The diet is simple: Each time you recognize yourself thinking or speaking a negative thought, you stop. If possible, you should try to reframe the negative notion to see how it could be viewed differently.
I have a friend who is a perfect example of reframing the negative. For several years, this friend has had the most baffling collection of random medical ailments. At times, she's even wondered if she wasn't losing her mind because doctors couldn't determine what was causing the problems. Finally, though, an actual diagnosis was sort of tripped over, and after all that time, there it was. Her answer.
But it wasn't a very good answer.
She was, for a very short time, devastated by the news. Even though it isn't fatal, it's likely going to be hard. She has a long road ahead. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she now knows her opponent. He's no longer a ghost she has to swipe wildly at and hope to hit. She can see him. Knows his name.
I've been impressed by how she took her negative and is turning it into a positive. She could've curled up and felt sorry for herself, but that wouldn't have moved her forward.
According to one of the mental health diet sites, the average person entertains between 10,000 and 60,000 thoughts every day, with a large percentage of those thoughts being negative. We are bombarded by information that is heavy on negativity -- news about distressing current events, bad financial climate, poor work environments -- and we're often surrounded by people who criticize, blame and complain all day long. We're swimming against a constant stream of negativity, so it's far easier, and perhaps even more natural, to have negative thoughts rather than positive ones. We can even feel foolish for trying to think upbeat thoughts considering what is going on all around us.
But thinking negatively begets more negative in your life. If that's what you plant and fertilize, that's what you grow. Yet it can be difficult to escape such a long-held habit.
Many years ago, my best friend and I attended a weeklong conference where, in a workshop at the start of the week, we were instructed to yell the word "bind" every time someone in our group said a negative word. It was meant to call attention to negativity so that we could change our way of thinking. Valerie and I took it a step further by adding a somewhat violent whap to the back of the head along with each "Bind!"
The bind-whap! combination turned out to be most effective. By the end of the week, if anything negative slipped through my lips, I'd catch myself flinching even if Valerie wasn't around. We continued the experiment for weeks after the conference, and the change I noticed in myself was astounding. I'd stopped beating myself up over things I couldn't change, found ways not to take setbacks or rebuffs personally. Instead of using "can't" as an out, I'd try things I previously wouldn't have attempted. Most of all, I was simply happier. My life seemed filled with possibilities rather than impossibilities.
It was a gift. One that lasted for years. Gradually, though, my station has switched back to the negativity channel, and I began finding reasons why I couldn't rather than working to find ways that I could. It was easier. Perhaps even more natural.
And it was lazy.
So I'll be trying the diet for at least the next seven days, adding in the old "bind," and maybe even head-whapping myself for good measure if down thoughts slip in or complaints slip out.
I know that it's possible to retrain the brain, to establish a new habit of thought selection and control. Like with any diet, the first few days will be the most difficult, and there will always be slips, but I can always start over again.
Reach Karin Fuller via email at email@example.com.