LIFE LINES: Learning to think wisely


Victoria Sarne


Most of us think too much. And most of those thoughts are unproductive and repetitive, like a tune we once played because we loved it but then couldn’t couldn’t stop it from going round and round in our heads for days.

We get stuck in old patterns and ways of thinking because our brains are wired that way and our subconscious minds are always running a script in the background. So how can we change? That’s the challenge and it’s more important than ever that we rise to that challenge now that the coronavirus has up-ended our lives. From my point of view, which may well be controversial, the panic caused by focusing almost entirely on the negative news has been as equally destructive as the infection itself. It certainly is a real crisis and has had a catastrophic effect on people and businesses in countries all over the world and the fallout will continue for a good while with a guarantee that the media will continue to fan the flames - anything for a good dramatic headline and unfortunately, it seems we humans pay more attention to negatives rather than positives. Instead of the death count why don’t we look at the survival rate which is far greater?

It’s important that we limit our exposure to negativity so that our minds do not absorb it and create an anticipation of a further negative result in our endeavours. It’s equally feasible to think that things will work out rather than they won’t - we need to build that into our thinking. All successful people have learned this lesson and trained themselves for achievement, whether in industry or sports. As Tiger Woods says, “the difference between sinking the putt or not is one millimetre.”

There are many powerful ways or tools to change our mindset, visualisation; looking for the positive angles in news or challenges, checking ourselves when a negative thought comes up, setting personal goals for change with a time frame and many others.

Our brains are hard-wired for fear, and back in cave-dwelling days that was a necessary and valuable way to think just to stay alive and avoid being killed by a giant predator. But these days since Brontosauruses no longer roam the earth, we seem to create our own behemoths to frighten ourselves silly. Our minds are a tool for us to use and should work for us not against us. If we want to survive challenges such as this illness or any other kind of threat, we must learn to re-programme our brains and manage our subconscious thinking to relieve our stress.

William James, a pragmatist scholar, said: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” And we can choose. Saying, “I can’t help the way I think” is simply not factually true. We can start by deciding which thoughts are actually going to be useful in any given situation. We have a problem to solve and a problem is simply an unanswered question. So the only thoughts required here are “how do I solve this?”and “what do I need to know to resolve this?” And then get to work to acquire the necessary knowledge for the answer.

We can apply this same principle to many things in our lives whether these are work issues, difficulties we may have in relationships, how to create the life we want or simply learning to appreciate the good things we already have. It will take a conscious effort because our subconscious mind, always in play, has been programmed, absorbing information like a sponge, from the first moments we entered the world and so we must learn to think actively and coherently and not run on auto pilot. Our subconscious is always active behind the scenes and it’s not always easy to identify this.

We mostly accept the way we are because it’s habit and it rarely occurs to us that maybe we haven’t got it all quite right nor that we can make shifts in our consciousness. We can change our thinking to make us feel more comfortable or make us act more responsibly and take ownership for our own behaviour. If we can do that we can set ourselves on a path to success personally or professionally reaching goals we may previously have thought unattainable. Many of us defeat ourselves before we even get started with self-sabotaging thinking believing that success belongs mostly in the “getting lucky” category rather than from our own deliberate efforts.

Rising to the challenge of the present times and others which will surely come, requires flexibility and creativity in our thinking process if we are to survive - and I believe not only is it possible but inevitable if we all make a conscious effort personally and collectively to do this. The question left to ask is another by William James: “Are you really thinking or simply re-arranging your prejudices?”


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