Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Positive Thinking In Plain English For Beginners

We've all heard about positive thinking and being positive, but I wonder how many people have absolutely no idea what this means or how to put it into practice. In plain English and just a few simple paragraphs, here's enough to get you started!

For everyone, be they rich folk or poor, there is a clear gap between how we want things to be and how they are. However, in the midst of "how it is" are things that are good. To take the most extreme example I can think of, Victor Frankl, a renowned psychologist, spent several years in Nazi concentration camps, but throughout that horrific experience was able to find things of joy, beauty and amusement.

To focus your attention on the "gap", i.e. the difference between how you want it and how it is, this is called "Negative Thinking". Focus on things that are good within your actual situation is called "Positive Thinking". Both these types of thought focus on truth. It is true that to be held in a concentration camp is horrific. It is equally true that in daily camp life it was possible to see beauty in nature and the countryside beyond the camp, and acts of heroism, humour, and kindness within the camp.

Negative Thinking usually comes "easier". Most people will by default gravitate their focus on the "gap". However, mental focus is like breathing - it will do it's "own thing" without any effort, but can be completely controlled consciously. But why should you and why does it matter?

Whether your circumstances are horrific or actually not that bad, the type of thinking you're doing has profound consequences for your health, happiness, success and survival. This is due to the way that the brain and its' software the mind are "wired".

When you think negatively, you are focused on something that is bad and beyond your control. Your mind is built to help you survive and get out of situations or improve them. Focused on the bad, your mind goes into THREAT mode. It causes the release of "fight or flight" hormones into the blood. This diverts the body's resources into the muscles, heart and senses. It does this at the expense of digestion, the immune system, the reproductive system, the bodily regeneration system and logical thinking, none of which you need when facing an immediate threat.

However, you are focused on a gap, something that ISN'T THERE, that you can't change, and to which there is no solution. All this energy in the muscles and senses is completely useless. It was evolved for encountering natural threats on the African Savanna, not for losing your job or meeting business targets. With none of your resultant actions solving the problem, you stay permanently in THREAT mode. This means that you become very unhappy and very ill very soon, as the body, thrown permanently out of balance, cannot maintain itself properly.

When you think positively, you are focused on good things you can appreciate. The brain thus goes into OPPORTUNITY mode, and a much more balanced mix of hormones is released to exploit the opportunity. Focused on opportunity, you are happy, calmer, think clearer and rest easier, allowing repair, regeneration and robust defence against germs. Furthermore you can DO something with your opportunity, keeping you absorbed and positive, able to solve problems and cope in adversity.

So you can see that whatever the circumstance is, your personal success and happiness and survival depends on which aspect of it you are focused on!

If up to now you have been a negative thinker by default, do not despair! To think positive is only a question of training. Begin by keeping a "Good Things Journal" - every day before bedtime write down 1-10 things that were nice that you either observed or happened to you. Feel thanks and gratitude for these things. Now you are a Good Things Hunter! In time, as you see the benefits of doing this, grow in confidence and become increasingly encouraged, you will become a newly converted Positive Thinker.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Who You're Not! The Ego Explained in Plain English

There are many different interpretations of the word "ego". The word was coined by Sigmund Freud who saw it as a kind of mediator between your desires and your personal morals. In common language, it means the arrogant part of you that thinks you are in some way superior. Neither of these definitions really get to grips with what the ego actually is, so here is a simple yet full explanation:

The ego is basically the mind's "autopilot", the things you do and think by default. The ego is not "you"! It is in fact a reflex response just like blinking, but very highly sophisticated, with a whole range of diferent responses that are triggered by different environments. Unlike blinking, which is genetically hardwired from birth, the ego is flexible and can both gain and lose responses. The ego is a set of learned reflexes. This gives human beings and other animals with similar mechanisms an immense advantage - it means we can adapt and learn new behaviours for new environments, enabling us to survive and thrive almost anywhere on the planet.

Unfortunately, amazing and useful though it is, it is not infallible. Because of evolutionary forces, it is biased toward childhood experience, particularly in the age range 4-10, as in this period language is used to label and associate experiences with responses and other experiences. A traumatic or antisocial experience in this period can leave a person's responses permanently warped and unadapted for adult life. Most problems I encounter as a therapist boil down to this mechanism.

The ego is so fully integrated into your mind that the majority of people understandably assume that their egos are what they are - they say things like "I" get angry when I see... No you don't! You experience the feeling of anger triggered by a certain situation, but it isn't intrinsic to who you are - you have acquired that response due to a prior experience, and theoretically at least you can also unacquire it.

The only part of you that is truly "you" is the part that actually experiences, ie your awareness, and your true intention. Your awareness never truly sleeps - even when you are deeply asleep you have awareness, although it is all inward. Only a general anaesthetic can properly turn it off.

Up to this point, you may have considered your thoughts were "you", but they're not - they're simply your ego in action - it is responding to data that is either fresh from the senses or equally as often from memory. You are aware of this because your own thoughts can upset you, are not what you want to think, are nonsense or completely contradict each other. They are not your intention, which is to do with self-worth, safety and creation.

Most people will spend their entire lives on autopilot, not being truly themselves but being controlled by their ego. This is fine if your default attitude is bright and sunny - why wake up from a good dream? Unfortunately most egos are not! They are fearful, sad, lonely or bitter, and for many life is spent trapped in a dream of disappointment, which by their behaviour they inflict on the next generation.

There are a few people who are so sick of being sick of it that they become determined to find a way out of their own negative thought, and it is these people who discover ways to override their egos and discover true happiness - not from the world around them but from within themselves. Such a discovery is called many names, such as awakening, enlightenment, epiphany or self-realisation.

It is beyond the scope of this introductory article to point you fully in the direction of being liberated from your ego and learning to control it rather than vice versa. However, most sources agree that the first step to liberation is learning to calm the mind. A calm mind turns off the ego and you can begin to see things clearer.

A final point - your ego is not your enemy. It is there for a good reason - to help you survive, and enable you to multitask. It is a wonderful servant, but not often a good master. Learn to tame it, and your life will be powerful indeed.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

New blog!

I want to focus this blog on personal mental issues, that apply to all, and do not necessarily require a spiritual dimension, so from this point, spiritual issues will be dealt with in a separate blog, http://garysspiritualitypages.blogspot.com