Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu
Each of us has a set of messages that play over and over in our minds. This internal dialogue, or personal commentary, influences our words, actions, habits, relationships and ultimately, our destiny.
Too often the pattern of self-talk we’ve developed is negative. This internal seed of negativity causes a dark ripple extending to all corners of our daily lives. We walk around with a dark cloud hovering close-by, and view all glasses as half-empty. Our conversations always revert to all that is wrong with the world, and we’re constantly expecting the worst.
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This negative approach to life can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Concepts such as the law of attraction, “you reap what you sow,” and “birds of a feather flock together,” speak to the magnetic power of our thoughts. Many studies confirm the correlation between positive thinking and success.
So how can we begin to brighten our view of the world, and infuse more positivity into our thought patterns? Although quite simple, these six steps can make a profound impact on your approach to life, and ultimately create a more positive outcome.
- Practice Gratitude. One of the quickest ways to shift your focus away from negativity, judgment, and disappointment is to list the things in your life for which you are grateful. Be grateful to be gainfully employed, to sleep in a bed each night, for the sun that comes up each morning, for the waiter who greets you with a smile, for the people that love and care for you, and for a body that lets you experience life each day. Practicing gratefulness can cause almost an immediate shift in your perspective. Keeping a daily gratitude journal, even digitally, can help remind you to keep life’s blessings at the forefront of your mind. Another strategy is to have a gratitude partner—someone who can support you in your journey to positive thinking. Each day, text, email or tell each other three things for which you are grateful. Think of this person as your accountability partner for your path to healthy thinking.
- Two Steps Forward. Initially, it might be hard to stop the negative flow of thoughts. This shift takes time. Be patient with yourself, and first just try to observe your thought patterns. See if you can catch yourself judging others, focusing on failures, complaining about work, or criticizing yourself or your body. When you observe these thoughts, take a moment to counter each negative thought with two positive observations or gratitudes. Think of it as taking two steps forward after your one step back.
- Positive Posture. The mind and the body have an intrinsic connection—each has aprofound impact on the other. If you are struggling to move your mind into a more positive perspective, try moving your body there first. Try standing up straight, shoulders back, chin held high, stretching your arms out as wide as they can go. Feel powerful. Feel positive. Carrying yourself with “positive posture” will encourage your mind to feel more positive as well.
- Smile. Another way for your body to “trick” your mind into being more positive is through smiling. The simple act of smiling, even if you don’t necessarily have anything to smile about, can instantly change the way you feel internally. Whether you are sitting at your desk, driving in your car, or walking down the street, smile. You will be amazed how your mind reacts. Even better, try smiling at a co-worker or stranger you pass in the hallway or on the sidewalk. Did they smile back?
- Ditch the Crabs. If you put a crab in a bucket, it will easily climb out. But if you put a second crab in the bucket, neither of them will escape. Once one starts to escape, the other will pull it back down into the bucket. In other words, surround yourself with positive people. It’s hard to maintain a positive perspective if you are constantly pulled down by the negativity of friends, family, or co-workers. If you get trapped in a negative conversation, gracefully try to change the subject to something more positive. However, if you are surrounded by a bucketful of negative crabs, it may be time to reevaluate your circle of friends in an effort to be surrounded by uplifting individuals.
- Do Something Kind. It’s easy to get absorbed by our own world of misfortune and to forget about the people around us. Stepping outside of your daily routine to help someone else can provide amazing perspective and fill you with positivity. Strive to do one nice thing for someone else each day. Call a family member or friend in need of a kind word, compliment a stranger, go out of your way to help a co-worker complete a task, or join the thousands of caffeinated people “paying it forward” in the Starbucks line.
Life is not always easy, and sometimes we get handed a bushel of lemons. However, it is our own perspective that ultimately determines if we will drudge through life puckered and sour, or skip along with a glass of sweet lemonade.
Evolutionary psychologists have spent years researching jealousy. Take a look below and see if you’ve had experience with someone who presents any of these types:
Hands down, insecurity is the most common source of jealousy. People often throw around the term “inferiority complex,” which is not a clinical term, but refers to an underlying impoverished ego or low self-esteem—a jealous man who feels insecure in his romantic relationships, for example, does not feel confident that he is good and valuable enough to keep another person interested in him over time. It’s important to note that insecurity is usually not absolute in men and women. In other words, a woman may be bright and highly effective at work as a high-powered lawyer, though her psychopathology (getting jealous) comes out in her romantic relationships. Overall, is she an insecure woman? No, but she has the capacity to become deeply jealous in her romantic relationships.
A recent female client of mine in her late 20s, whom I’ll call “Maryanne,” finds herself feeling jealous in almost every relationship she has. Clinically, she also meets several criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder though she doesn’t meet the criteria for the full diagnosis. Maryanne’s brain tends to work on perpetual overtime, always generating new anxieties and worries. Because this is her general cognitive(thinking) style, her tendency to overthink and obsess about things inevitably seeps into every one of her romantic relationships. For obsessive types, the hardest thing in the world to manage is uncertainty, aka the Unknown. While most people can handle a fair amount of uncertainty, when Maryanne’s boyfriend comes home late, she can’t tolerate the unknown (why he’s late, what he’s been doing). When she feels uncertain about where her boyfriend is, her mind fills in the blanks and generates answers, many of which are negative. Very often, she comes up with facts created out of thin air about her boyfriend’s probable infidelity—and then feels extremely anxious and jealous. If she didn’t have an obsessive cognitive style, she would be a lot less jealous.
Many men and women I’ve worked with get jealous, but their jealousy actually stems from an overall paranoid approach to many things in life. While paranoia at the most severe end of the spectrum takes the form of Schizophrenia-Paranoid Type, the vast majority of paranoid individuals fall toward the milder end of this spectrum. Many men and women have some paranoid characteristics but their paranoia isn’t severe enough to meet the diagnosis of full-blown paranoid disorder. Men and women with mild or moderate paranoia have great difficulty trusting others and often infer malicious intent to others’ motives. They frequently have a personality type that leads them to feel victimized and persecuted, frequently feeling that others are out to get them. They often feel that others are trying to sabotage them, their goals, or their career. They also often perceive that others have put them down, rejected them, or patronized them, even when witnesses tell them otherwise. Finally, men and women with a paranoid personality style are often blamers, assigning blame to others as opposed to looking inward and accepting accountability for their own flaws or mistakes. Too often, they get jealous and grasp onto a strong belief that their partner is cheating—and no amount of evidence can convince them otherwise.
… and Reality
If you ask a jealous person whether he (or she) was justified in feeling jealous, he would probably cite several examples where jealousy was actually founded in fact. In other words, a partner really was cheating, or truly did betray him! The question becomes: Is there a pattern of jealousy, or is this an isolated incident? A person can accurately be labeled a jealous person if she (or he) has a history of becoming jealous with multiple partners, many or all of whom did not actually do anything to justify it. If you are in a relationship with someone who’s triggering intense feelings of jealousy in you, ask yourself if you have felt jealous with other partners in the past, or if these feelings stem exclusively from your current relationship.
If you don’t have a history of being jealous, odds are that your jealous feelings in your current relationship aren’t actually a problem. In fact, it might be that your instincts are signaling that you are in a relationship with someone you might not be able to trust. In this situation, you aren’t becoming “the jealous type”; you’re more concerned and distrustful. Having a partner label you as jealous when you don’t have a history of jealousy is a sign that your feelings are being mislabeled. In such a case, you’re not jealous; you’re justifiably worried.
The next time a partner engages in jealous-type behavior with you, remember to put the behaviors and feelings in context by considering whether the jealousy is new, or whether it reflects a longstanding pattern. If you’re in a relationship with someone who has a history of getting jealous, understand that the root of this type of behavior—insecurity, obsessiveness, or a paranoid personality—is not going away anytime soon. Working through such deeply rooted issues takes a lot of time and frequently requires intensive psychotherapy. If you have a partner who is willing to go to therapy to deal with these issues head-on, the relationship may be worth keeping; if not, you need to be clear about what you can and cannot put up with in the future. Without clear boundaries, men and women who get jealous can be very bad for your mental health.