How positive thinking works

If you start paying attention to your thoughts while noticing how each thought feels, you’ll soon discover that some thoughts are a bit strange.

What’s strange about them is that they may be focused on a subject that seems “positive”, yet the thought itself feels negative.

The thought “I need to get something done now” feels both good and bad.

That’s because the subject of accomplishing things is a positive one. I want to accomplish things, it would feel good to accomplish things.

But the focus on “need” is negative. The subtext is that if I don’t accomplish things then I will have failed.

There’s a big difference between “I need to get something done” and thinking of a specific thing I want to do.

“I need to get something done” vs “I really want to do this specific thing”.

The former focuses on the absence of what I desire.

There’s self-sabotage built into this kind of thought. It doesn’t aim towards what I really want, nor does it aim away from what I don’t want.

Instead it beats me up for not doing something unspecified right now.

…which isn’t especially helpful.

Imagine saying it to someone else in an anxious voice: “You should be doing something right now!”

Not especially helpful.

How would they react? Probably with a well-deserved “Wtf are you talking about?”

Imagine saying it to them again and again at every opportunity. Maybe say it every time they sit down, every time they appear to be relaxing or enjoying themselves: “Shouldn’t you be doing something???”

If you don’t pay attention to your thoughts, you’ll just feel a kind of acceptance that you should be doing something… followed by the frustration of not knowing what it is you should be doing.

Maybe you’ll throw yourself into any activity just to escape that unpleasant feeling, and you might be productive.

But there’s a big difference between the productivity that comes from escaping unpleasant feelings and the productivity that comes from doing what you feel genuinely inspired to do.

If you accept the thought at face value then your orientation is toward “I need to do something…but I don’t know what”.

By paying attention to how the thought feels, you notice instead “I’m making myself feel bad for no good reason”.

I wouldn’t have noticed this if I hadn’t decided to pay attention to all of my thoughts.

Imagine choosing to no longer activate thoughts of that type…the “feel bad for no good reason” thoughts.

The trajectory of positive thinking is such that removing these kinds of thoughts makes space for new thoughts, since there’s a limit to the number of things you can focus on in a single day.

But it also lifts your overall mood, removing one source of negativity and thereby making more positive thoughts accessible.

And on the subject of “things I want to accomplish”, perhaps we’re now free to consider things that feel good, instead of repeating thoughts that feel needlessly bad?

Or perhaps what would feel best right now is to accept that the whole subject of accomplishments is not about “should” or obligation, and was never something best framed by need or by external pressure.

Are we best served by approaching accomplishments from the direction of avoiding shame and humiliation? Or are we better served by looking at it through the lens of inspiration and appreciation?

In fact, we might begin by completely letting go of any thought of accomplishment for now, and focusing instead on appreciating the many things we have already accomplished, beginning with the mere fact of being alive, of having survived to enjoy this present moment.

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Do you like being overweight?

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Hopefully this will be the final in my series on dieting.

If you’ve followed it so far, you should appreciate the distinction between eating out of hunger and eating to gratify the appetite.

If you are overweight, then you are (all things being equal) eating excessively, and this excessive eating is motivated by the appetite, which demands gratification regardless of the physical and psychological consequences.

If you don’t like being overweight, if looking in the mirror fills you with dismay at how much excess weight you are carrying, then use that dissatisfaction to help you clarify your eating habits.

Each time you go to eat something – even if it be something healthy like a tomato or carrot – stop and check whether or not you are still overweight. If you are still overweight, are you still unhappy with this situation? If you are still unhappy with this situation, could you perhaps not eat any more food for now, and thereby stop contributing to the situation that makes you unhappy?

Appetite has ways of clouding your judgement, so although this line of questioning might seem harsh, it is necessarily harsh.

If you stick to it, you will eventually find that your body does need food at times, even if you are still overweight. You will get to a point where the question “can I go on without eating?” is met in the negative. But even so, it then requires only the smallest amount of food to keep you going.

This isn’t just a change in the amount of raw calories consumed, it’s also a change to your relationship with food, or to be more precise, your relationship with your appetite.

You will probably discover that there are numerous unexpected ways in which you gratify your appetite. Even healthy foods can gratify it.

What you’re fasting from is not the food so much as the craving appetite that drives you.It can be a fearsome opponent, so don’t be afraid to really use your displeasure with your appearance to motivate you.

Bring your eating back to the question of whether you are still overweight, whether you are still unhappy about being fat.

If you really are overweight, there’s nothing wrong with being unhappy about it, not liking the way your body looks.

We’re told that obesity is a disease, and, well, diseases often look bad; ill-health often looks bad; gluttony usually looks bad.  It’s nothing personal, just nature.

You wince when you see a terrible sunburn on your neck or face, so of course you wince when you see your abdomen protruding beyond its healthy limits.

When you go to eat, check to see whether you are still overweight or not. If you are, don’t eat unless you are literally shaking with fatigue, and then have only a bite or two.

Don’t eat for the pleasure it brings, or at least let the pleasure be subdued by your dismay at being unattractively overweight.

We’re told not to feel ashamed of being overweight, and I’m not advocating that you begin to feel ashamed if you don’t already. Rather, most people already do feel ashamed, so they might as well put the shame to good use.

As I mentioned before (I think), apart from the problem of being overweight, there’s the problem of being unhappy about it, yet doing nothing to change it. If I really don’t like being overweight, surely that would motivate me to change the most basic cause of weight-gain: consumption.

It would, or it could, if it weren’t for the alluring escapism provided by the appetite, something that needs to be reined in if we are to successfully alter our relationship with food.