The Art of Distractibility, Part II: Turn Towards Positive Thoughts

It’s my birthday. My friends serenade me as my mom brings out the birthday cake, the candles glowing. I’m about to blow them out and make a wish when the negativity hits. My birthday will be over soon, and then it’s back to chores and assignments. What if I don’t get what I wish for? I better not eat too much cake, or I’ll look bloated.

Has a storm of negative thinking ever rained on your parade?

If so, take heart, because you’re not alone! In our Neanderthal days, it was adaptive for our brains to focus on threats. Notice the saber-toothed tiger, and you’d stay alive. In the 21st century, however, our threat-scanning brains can make us perceive things are worse than they are. This makes it harder to be happy and flourish.

Becoming distracted by negative thoughts – especially in the midst of a positive experience – can rob you of good feelings, high performance, and harmonious interactions with others.

So, what can you do when dark thoughts imperil your awesome experiences?

Use the Art of Distractibility to direct your attention towards positive thoughts! Maybe the negative thoughts are true, but often they’re blown way out of proportion. Even if they are true, focusing on them isn’t likely help you unless you need to avoid imminent danger (rarely the case).

When you sense yourself veering from positive to negative thinking, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is what I’m thinking true? You may reflexively answer, “Well, yeah!” Keep digging.
  2. Is it really true? Is the thought correct beyond any reasonable doubt (use this method to check)? If not, what are alternative thoughts you could have about what’s going on?
  3. Is having this thought helping or hurting me? It’s helping you if it enables you to avoid danger. If it’s not and it’s rousing negative emotions like sadness, anger, or jealousy, it’s probably inhibiting accurate thinking and optimal action.
  4. What could I think instead that would be more helpful? Generate alternative thoughts that are more accurate and useful. Be your own best friend.

It’s natural for negative thinking to hijack your brain. That’s why you need to turn towards positive thoughts, the second lesson in our Art of Distraction blog series (click here to read it from the beginning), so that you don’t miss opportunities to enjoy the best moments in your life.

Stay tuned for Part III on how to transform distractibility into a skill for flourishing!