Make the Best of the Rest of Your Life Excerpt

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CHAPTER 9

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Even a thought, even a possibility can shatter us and transform us.
Friedrich Nietzsche

By mid-age our personalities are well established. The tendency is to become more of what we already are, more set in our ways. Without conscious choice and effort, we are not likely to change. That is unfortunate because change is a sign of growth. It is revitalizing.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.
Winston Churchill

Changing an attitude from negative to positive can change the direction of one’s life, the quality of relationships and health. People don’t always know or won’t admit they’re negative. They think the world needs to change, not them. But remember, the world is our mirror. It reflects what’s in our minds. This concept bears repeating: YOUR BRAIN FINDS WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR. Start really paying attention to your thoughts and the words you speak. Listen to the way you talk about yourself, your life, other people and the world. Your brain looks for people and experiences that match your thoughts and words.

I like to think of the brain as a magnificent factory with trillions of willing workers ready and anxious to do our bidding. If not given clear orders, the workers run the same old mental machinery and fire up the same old thought patterns. You are the Commander in Chief. The workers await your orders. What do you want to do? What’s your purpose? Where do you want to go?

Ask yourself every day and all day: WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR? Change what you’re looking for and you’ll change what you find. Volunteers were exposed to positive and negative words about aging prior to taking memory tests. When the tests were preceded by negatives about aging, the participants had much lower scores than when positive words about aging preceded the tests.

The words we think, read and speak tell our mental workers what to produce. Words spoken aloud have a stronger vibration and evoke a response in others as well as within ourselves. Contrary to the old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” negative words, your own or someone else’s, can have devastating and lasting effects. We identify with the verbal labels our parents, teachers, peers cast upon us. The more children hear positive words, the more likely they are to grow up with self-esteem and a positive outlook. Certain words stimulate good feelings.

POWER WORDS: wonderful, excellent, terrific, appreciate, love, magnificent, beautiful, perfect, great, awesome

Our words and the subjects we dwell on reveal us. In a sense, we are characters in a story – and we’re the author! The things we say announce to the world who we are and the theme of our lives. If you want to change your life, you have to change your story.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Our stories are the filter through which we perceive ourselves and the world. Your life story is composed of your strongest memories and beliefs, woven with your emotions, disposition, character and behavior. Your story is your reality. How do you describe you, the main character? What are the overriding and recurring themes of your story? Where is the plot headed?

Most of our thoughts, feelings and actions are reruns of what we thought, felt and did yesterday and the day before and so on – all reinforcing our story and self-image. The more we think a particular thought, the stronger the neural pattern, the faster it fires in the brain. The brain follows the path of least resistance. It continually triggers the neural patterns used the most. So, negative thinking breeds more negative thinking and the negative neural network is strengthened. That means that if you’ve held a negative attitude or perception for a long time and suddenly decide to change it, your positive thoughts are going to be like a 90 pound weakling going up against Mr. Universe. That doesn’t mean attitudes can’t be changed.

We can always rewrite our story. After all, we’re the author. First, pay attention to the story you’re telling yourself right now. What are you thinking about, feeling right now? Sadly, it is estimated that the great majority of people’s thoughts and self-talk is negative. Negativity includes fear, stress, worry, guilt, anger, criticism of self and others. Are you presently telling yourself a story of fatigue, anxiety, impatience, irritation?

Your subconscious hears everything you think and say, and takes it as literal truth. It doesn’t have the ability to rationalize or reject. And it has no sense of humor whatsoever. What you say is what the subconscious believes. If you frequently put yourself down, you reinforce a negative self-image on the deepest level. And behavior corresponds to the deepest beliefs we hold about ourselves. For real and lasting change to be made, it must be made on the subconscious level. The conscious mind programs the subconscious via pictures, words, thoughts and actions. So, you can start to reprogram your subconscious right now by taking control of your thoughts, behavior and the spoken word. Negative neural pathways will weaken and positive ones will be established if you consistently shift attention from negative thoughts to positive ones. But this is important: Don’t deny the negative thought. Look at it, and choose against it. Choose a thought that will give you a sense of harmony and peace. By holding fast to that thought, you can undo negative subconscious patterns of belief. You can rewire your brain and establish new neural connections.

Suppose there is a person you don’t like. Whenever her name comes up, critical judgments immediately follow. You don’t really like how they make you feel so you decide to see if you can change your brain. Next time that person’s name comes up, the negative judgments follow but you consciously choose to shift your attention to a kind thought about that person. As you continue holding the higher thought, the negative thought pattern loses its charge. Eventually, when that woman’s name comes up, the new perception will be the strongest and fire in the brain first.

The brain is plastic, changing and reshaping with every thought and experience we have. This was dramatically illustrated by an experiment NASA did a while ago. To help astronauts respond to the upside down world of space, goggles were designed that inverted everything. After wearing the goggles for several weeks, the astronauts began seeing the upside down world as right side up. Their brains had changed and were automatically making the necessary adjustment. Ironically, our eyes actually do perceive the world upside-down. Like the astronauts, our brains automatically make the correction. It takes approximately 3 – 4 weeks to make or break a habit. During that time you can literally rewire your brain by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. The more you think, speak and visualize the positive, the faster the brain will re-configure. In Train Your Mind Change Your Brain, Sharon Begley writes, “The actions we take can literally expand or contract different regions of the brain… The brain can change as a result of the thoughts we have.”

Think of your mind as a garden and watch what you put in it. If you fill it with trash, don’t nurture and water it, ugly weeds will grow wild and your garden won’t be very pretty. Thoughts are living things. Stop feeding the nasty ones with your attention and words, and they’ll die. Weed them out and plant the ideas, images and feelings you want to flourish in your mental garden.

What are you watching, listening to, reading? Your subconscious is paying attention even if you’re not. Notice how you feel before and after you read the newspaper, watch the evening news or listen to a friend complain. When your mood suddenly shifts from up to down, what words or action preceded that? Remember the song “Happy Talk” from South Pacific? To keep your spirits up, keep talking happy talk. When people ask how you are, don’t respond with a weak, “Fine.” Answer with one of the power words. Say in a strong voice, “Great! Terrific! Wonderful!”

One day a man was going to visit his mother in a nursing home. An elderly man was in a wheelchair in the hallway.

“How are you?” asked the visitor as he passed by.

The old man smiled radiantly and replied, “I am wonderful. My body is not doing too well, but I am wonderful.”

Is it any surprise that the visitor stopped to spend time with that man and a friendship was born? Positive words, smiling and laughing can instantly lift you out of negativity and change your outlook. As a bonus, other people will love to be around you!

The only disability in life is a bad attitude.  Scott Hamilton


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