How to use negative thinking in a positive way (aka gratitude on steroids)

Since launching the "Mindset Shift Mini-Course." I've received a lot of emails asking me how to make the positive effects of the course more permanent in their lives.

Most of these messages present a similar issue: 

"I found the course extremely helpful while doing it but I found myself going back to my negative thought patterns just a few days after finishing the course."

I'll address this FAQ in two parts:

  1. The truth of the matter is that the Mindset Shift Course is NOT designed to be a quick fix or the last word on developing an effective mindset. Life is messy and isn't always solved by one specific philosophy or set of rules. I've found the most effective way to make mental strategies and habits stick by taking daily actions and having a variety of tools at my disposal that help me feel balanced and focused.
  2. When I was just starting my journey, I also got discouraged when I found myself thinking "negative thoughts." Over the years, and after some study, I now know that I can use these kind of thoughts to my advantage! Negative thinking does not have to produce a negative outcome.

Because of books like The Secret and The Law of Attraction, many people think that we should never have negative thoughts and that negative thoughts are always a bad thing.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Not only is this idea impractical and stressful, I’ve found that it’s simply not true. We don't need to completely rid ourselves of negative thoughts, we just have to learn how to use them to our advantage. 

Sidenote:
I think the Law of Attraction can be a useful tool (and so can many other concepts/philosophies). This doesn't mean that it can or should be applied to every single situation all the time.
Just as you wouldn't use a hammer for a job where a wrench would be more effective, you will need different approaches and strategies for your life, depending on your specific circumstances, stage of life, and other factors.
I'm a huge fan of anything that empowers you to be better, however I'm not a fan of anything that cripples you because a of a strict dogmatic set of rules. Learn to use new strategies in a way that is most effective for YOU, not in the way someone says you should. 

I want to share with you a "mindset tool" that has helped me use negative thinking for a positive purpose/outcome. 

It’s a psychological strategy that has its roots in ancient Stoic philosophy and is both easy to use and quite helpful.

To be clear, when I use the phrase "negative thinking" here, I am NOT suggesting you dwell on or wallow in disempowering, gloomy thoughts.

In fact, the primary purpose of this strategy is to empower you and make you more joyful and appreciative of what you already have.

The concept I'm referring to is the practice of recognizing, in a given situation, that things could be worse and acknowledging that everything we experience is temporary, both our joys and our pain.

This may sound counterintutive at first (especially if you've studied LOA), but think of it this way:

When you think about the possibility of losing the things you hold dear—or even things you take for granted—it can actually make you more appreciative of them.

So how do you actually apply this to your life? 

Very simply: Occasionally take a few moments to contemplate or ponder the idea that things could be worse.

This mental strategy can help you under two very distinct circumstances:

1. When you are experiencing difficult times and are having trouble finding things to be grateful for.

2. When you are experiencing good times but find yourself never being satisfied with what you have.

In A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, the author explains this principle clearly:

"Most of us spend our idle moments thinking about the things we want but don't have. We would be much better off if we spent this time thinking of all the things we have and how much we would miss them if they were not ours.
Along these lines, we should think about how we would feel if we lost our material possessions, including our house, car, clothing, pets and bank balance. How we would feel if we lost our abilities, including our ability to speak, hear, walk, breath and swallow. And how we would feel if we lost our freedom."

The act of juxtaposing an undesirable possibility with our current circumstance helps us amplify our gratitude for our current situation. Even if our current situation is challenging, it could still be worse.

For example, when I was working a job I didn't like, I occasionally made it a point to reflect on the possibility that I could have no job and no money, which helped me appreciate my job more.

Even though I'm now doing work I love, I still have days when I get frustrated or annoyed with certain aspects of what I do. But I make sure to remind myself that I could be working at a job I hate. 

Real Life Examples

Real life examples of this principle in action are quite common. Take people who have had a near death experience, such as survivors of natural disasters or automobile accidents.

These people commonly tell the story of how they were “sleepwalking through life” before but after experiencing the very real possibility of losing their life, they became much more grateful for the little things and have a new lease on life, etc.

The beauty of this is that we don’t have to have a near death experience to benefit from it. We can put this into practice whenever we want. It’s a mental exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime to help you amplify your gratitude and enhance your appreciation for what you have.

PRO TIP: Don't dwell on these thoughts, think of it as a "mental glance."

"Psychological Insurance"

There is also another benefit to this practice: To lessen the negative psychological impact that stressful or difficult events can have on us. 

It is practical to prepare for the worst case scenario, mentally and otherwise. 

No one would say you are being a negative person for purchasing insurance; you are simply acknowledging that there is a possibility of loss and are taking measures to mitigate or lessen the impact of that loss.

I like to think of this strategy as a kind of "psychological insurance."

For example, I periodically remind myself that my parents will someday die. They are perfectly healthy right now, so this may sound morbid or negative but it's not. It is simply a fact of life.

Of course, mentally preparing for this and rehearsing this outcome won't prevent my deep grief when it happens. But the idea is that it will lessen the shock factor and psychological anguish and help me to more deeply appreciate the current time we have together. It's helped me to not take them for granted, ever.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Being a positive person doesn't mean that you never have negative thoughts. It just means you don't let those thoughts run your life.

Finally, it might be helpful to metaphorically think of negative thoughts as a heavy weight, similar to something you'd find in a gym. This weight can be used destructively. For instance, it can be thrown at you to knock you off balance or hurled through a window to shatter it. But it can also be used constructively. You can use it to become stronger by lifting it in a controlled and deliberate way.