I wrote in a recent article that every feeling is preceded by a thought. Therefore, to feel better, create thoughts that lead to positive feelings. In this article I am going to tell you about one of my favourite strategies for creating positive thoughts. I tend to use this one a lot simply because I find that it works. The strategy is called ‘What else could this mean?’
Imagine a scenario in which someone has annoyed you. Perhaps they have said something to you that left you feeling insulted, or you felt that they were questioning your integrity. Or perhaps they had made plans with you to get together and then cancelled. Or perhaps you did something for a friend that you felt you put a lot of effort into and you feel they didn’t show any appreciation.
There are so many different, possible scenarios for something that has annoyed you, and of course it’s different for everyone because what’s annoying to one person may not be annoying to someone else, and vice-versa. Whatever it was, if it has left you with a negative feeling (e.g. upset, unappreciated, angry, frustrated, alone) it is because you have attached a negative meaning to their behaviour.
To create positive feelings about something or someone that has left you with a negative feeling, practice asking yourself:
What else could this mean?
Then begin to actively find realistically optimistic reasons for what happened. “Realistically optimistic” means the most positive reasons that you can think of that could be true (and there will be many).
Some people reading this will resist what I’m saying. Stay with me.
Some will give it a go but find it difficult. It does take practice. It will become a lot more natural with time and practice.
Let’s use the example of: Someone has made plans with you that you were looking forward to and then they cancelled.
Having negative feelings about this is likely because you have created reasons like ‘they don’t really want to catch up’ or ‘they don’t care’ or ‘they always put other things before me’ or ‘they don’t care as much as I do’.
Special note here: The goal is not to never have a negative thought. Negative thoughts will always happen. The goal is to better manage the negative thoughts when they arrive. To better manage those negative thoughts, use this strategy:
What else could this mean?
Then actively begin looking for reasons. Note any positive reason, disregard negative ones, and keep the realistically positive reasons on your list. Examples of realistically positive reasons could be:
- They are having a stressful week and really need some time to themselves.
- They are not feeling well.
- Their finances are tight and can’t afford to go with you.
- They are feeling insecure about themselves or your relationship.
- They have a lot on their mind and accidently forgot about the plans until late notice and then realised they don’t really have the free time available.
- They want to go but are feeling tired and don’t want to bring your down.
- They want to go but have something else on and it is easier for them to cancel plans with you than the other plans – and they appreciate that they have a friend like you who understands.
This list of possible reasons for what else the event could mean is endless. Literally. It could be any possibility. Negative or positive. If you’re feeling bad it’s because you are choosing to focus on the endless negative possibilities instead of the endless positive possibilities.
You chose it.
Until you know the truth of the situation (and sometimes you may never know the truth) you have to fill in the gap with your imagination. So why not simply choose to fill the gap with something positive?
Let’s say you chose the number one most likely positive reason for your friend cancelling your plans is: they have had a very long and stressful week and really need some time to themselves because that is what works for them whenever they need to feel better about themselves.
Can you know beyond all doubt that this is true? = NO
Can you know beyond all doubt that this is not true? = NO
If you cannot know beyond all doubt that it is true or not true, then simply choose the reason that gives you a positive feeling.
If you later find out the real reason for what happened and it is something negative, then deal with it – but deal with it when it actually happens and don’t waste time in negative energy before that point of knowing.
Lastly, give your friend that which you would want them to give to you: The benefit of the doubt. Most of the time when we are thinking that someone is thinking something bad about us they are not really thinking about us at all. The core of their thoughts will be about themselves, just like the core of your thoughts will be about you. Give your friend the benefit of the doubt as a gift because you love them.
More importantly, give it as a gift to yourself because you deserve to spend the majority of your time in a positive state of mind.