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In the children’s classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnette, Mrs. Burnette gives us these observations in children’s language:

One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts, just mere thoughts, were as powerful as electric batteries, as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison is. To let a sad thought or a bad thought get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in, you may never get over it so long as you live.

I want to share today 4 critical destroyers of happiness that blight the lives of many people in their pursuit of a more abundant life. They come in the form of thoughts; sown in silence, tended in the darkness of solitude and then brought to fruition in the heavy heat of habit. These thoughts are often our secret captors. They hold us back from becoming better, from feeling better and from doing better. And yet – for many, we are ignorant of their very existence.

Here is a brief introduction to these destroyers of happiness. Let’s see if they sound familiar:

  1. All or Nothing Thinking: “I have to do things perfectly, because anything less than perfect is a failure.”
  2. Disqualifying the Positives: “Life feels like one disappointment after another.” Or “This one mistake ruins everything.”
  3. Negative Self-Labeling: “I feel like a failure. I am flawed. If people knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.”
  4. Catastrophising: “If something is going to happen, it will probably be the worst case scenario!”

Here are a few more examples of common types of negative thinking:

  • Mind Reading. “I can tell people don’t like me because of the way they behave.”
  • Should Statements. “People should be fair. If I’m nice to them, they should be nice back.”
  • Excessive Need for Approval. “I can only be happy if people like me. If someone is upset, it’s probably my fault.”
  • Disqualifying the Present. “I’ll relax later. But first I have to rush to finish this.”
  • Dwelling on Pain. “If I dwell on why I’m unhappy and think about what went wrong, maybe I’ll feel better.” Alternately, “If I worry enough about my problem, maybe I will feel better.”
  • Pessimism. “Life is a struggle. I don’t think we are meant to be happy. I don’t trust people who are happy. If something good happens in my life, I usually have to pay for it with something bad.”

As I work with people to help them achieve their goals,  I frequently see the symptoms of these toxic thoughts compromising effort and achievement. Critically, this thinking also pollutes our perspective on performance. It becomes a vicious circle that leads downwards in a spiral of despair.

I have learned that to break the cycle of negative thinking, we must first become aware of its presence. We must be willing to challenge the incorrect belief and replace it with a positive affirmation of truth. Consider the consequences of your thought patterns. Where will they lead you over time? Look back to the source of your negative thought. This can help to break its hold on us as it often reveals a broken belief. Offer yourself an alternative approach with a more healthy thought and create an action plan to prepare for situations when you know such thinking will compromise you. Evaluate your experience with the new thought. Do you feel better more more optimistic? Keep trying. Keep trying. Keep trying.

Let’s work today, to think more positively about ourselves. Say something kind and give yourself some encouragement. When you feel inclined to say “you made your bed so you lie in it” remember – every day we can get up and remake our bed!

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