Working towards a positive mindset
I was sitting on my balcony today looking at the empty streets below.
My head was a mess of emotions. I was glad that the lockdown gave me a much-needed break — some time to unwind, take a step back, and reflect on my priorities.
On the other hand, I was terrified of what might happen when the world opens up. How would I manage my pending teaching load, the unfinished parts of my project, and all those files that must be getting piled up on my desk?
There was a sense of accomplishment in having finished the first draft of my new novel. But there was anxiety too, a deep-seated dread about all the time I was wasting not working on my PhD. How would I ever recover all the days and weeks and months I lost?
To add to the stress, I know I was supposed to be working on my weight. But in the past three days, I hadn’t worked out even once. I had even failed to meet my daily goal of 8000 steps.
There was some light in my head, yes, but there was a lot of negativity in there too.
But in all the twenty-seven years I have lived on this earth, if I have learned something, it is this — negative thoughts never do any good.
They act like dead weights tied to your feet, dragging you down, making your progress slower, not letting you move ahead in the direction you would have liked.
But how does one let go of negative thoughts?
If you talk about this to somebody, most probably they will suggest you this — “Think Positive” — as if that is a magic mantra guaranteed to put a full stop to all your problems.
In this article, I will try to share four questions I ask myself to get rid of negative thoughts. This is my tried-and-tested method of challenging negativity. I hope they will help you in some way too.
1. Am I Getting Confused Between Thoughts And Facts?
“I will never be able to complete this project on time” is a thought.
“This project requires me to make a 20-slide presentation. If I complete 5 slides in an hour, I can complete the project in 4 hours” is a fact.
Thoughts pull you down and make you feel worse. Facts help you decide what the future course of action should be.
When your head is filled with voices that tell you the effort will never be worth it, pause for a moment and think whether those are just thoughts or solid facts. Learning to distinguish between the two will go a long way in helping you clear your head.
2. What if I Could Pass?
Most of the times, negative thoughts take this form — “What if I fail?”
But is failure the only outcome? I mean, yeah, it’s a possibility, but surely, it can’t be a certainty. There could be other ways you can look at the situation.
As I had written in a previous article, life is too short to let a voice inside your head hold you back.
If the voice telling you that you CANNOT win is your own, the voice telling you that you CAN win should also be your own.
3. Will This Matter In Five Years’ Time?
Yes, not every endeavour ends in success. There are times we need to let go and accept the fact that no matter how hard we try, some avenues will close, some attempts will be rendered futile.
But most often in life, beautiful beginnings come disguised as tearful endings.
The next time you face failure, ask yourself if it is so important to succeed that your life, your happiness depends on it. Or even this — in five years’ time, when you will have outgrown your present predicament, will this one failure matter so much?
4. What Is The Worst That Could Happen?
A few weeks back when the world wasn’t forced into this Covid19-induced lockdown, I had an invigilation duty at 9 AM. But, I hadn’t been able to sleep on time the previous night because of another project I was working on, and I ended up oversleeping. When I woke up, there were barely 15 minutes left to 9.
I brushed and got ready as quickly as I could. When I went downstairs, I was dismayed to see my scooter wouldn’t start. I looked at the time. It was 8.58 AM. There was no way I would make it on time if I walked. I was ready to burst into tears.
Just then, my neighbour came downstairs to water his garden. Seeing me distraught, he asked if everything was alright. When I told him about my predicament, he offered to give me a lift in his car. Relieved, I agreed with all the gratitude in my heart.
Later on, when I met him in the evening, I said, “Thank you so much for the morning’s ride. You saved my life.”
Raising an eyebrow and giving me a disbelieving smile, he said, “Not your life. Your job.”
That was like a moment of epiphany for me. Yes, if I missed my duty, the worst that could happen was that I would lose my job (even that is a worst-case-scenario. The worst that could have ACTUALLY happened was that I would get a letter of reprimand from the director of the institute and I would have to do a few extra hours of duty to compensate for this mess-up).
Either way, there was no way my life depended on it.
It was simply my anxiety telling me that I failed big time in what was otherwise a simple situation.
If there is anything you want to take away from this story, let it be this — when you are worried sick about a situation, ask yourself this — what is the worst that could happen?
When you realise the stakes aren’t that high, you would probably stop beating yourself up about not meeting your expectations.
I know that beating negativity is not a switch that can be flipped at will. It takes time and conscious effort. But if you follow these steps, you can turn your life around, one question at a time.