Can you really think yourself happy?

The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Albert Einstein

career coaching, lifestyle coaching, start-up coaching

Think.. positive!

How does the way you think about the world affect your happiness and success?

When I first read about the following experiment (from Feel the Fear and do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers) to explore the power of the mind, I thought it sounded like a joke, so I tried it with a friend.

Please feel free to try it yourself:

  • Find a friend to work with
  • Ask your friend to hold out their right arm horizontally to the ground and keep it as rigid as possible
  • Now try to pull down their arm to their side
  • Now reset the arm and ask your friend to repeat out loud 20 times “I am weak”
  • Now try to pull down their arm again

I was amazed at how much easier it was to pull down the arm the second time.  To test this, we did experiments where I’d leave the room and my friend would choose to say “I am weak” or “I am strong”.

Sure enough, the effect on the arm was obvious each time.

This experiment shows that our thoughts certainly influence our outlook on the world and our ability to perform successfully.

In this case, it shows that our unconscious is pretty gullible.  It will believe anything it is told, regardless of how logical or truthful the statement.

Clearly we don’t get stronger or weaker in the 10 seconds it takes to repeat a phrase, however our mind and body act that way.

Knowing this made me realize that being aware of what is going on in our minds so important – it has so much influence over how we feel about life and how we approach things.

What is going on in your head?

I’ve written before about the voices we get in our head that tell us we can’t do something, that we’re not good enough, that we shouldn’t even bother trying.

Given the experiment, our unconscious mind seems to listen to and believe these messages.

I know that in the past for me, each time I let these gremlins go unchecked, my confidence, self-esteem and ability to successfully achieve goals seems to be diminished a little more.

Many proponents of positive thinking also claim that the opposite is true.  When we repeat positive messages and visualize our goals, our world is more likely to be filled with happiness and success.  Certainly I know that many top athletes and performers often use visualization and positive thinking to enhance their performance.

Change your thoughts – Change your world

We have control over one thing in our lives – our thoughts” – Napoleon Hill

Being a sceptic, over the last two weeks I decided to put positive thinking to the test.  I was fascinated to see what impact if any it would have on the world between my ears and how I felt about life.

What did I do?

  • I developed some positive affirmations (these are usually in the present tense) – “I am powerful”, “I am successful”, “I am focused and productive”, “I am physically strong” and the really important “Whatever happens, I can handle it”.
  • Every morning for a few minutes before getting out of bed, I repeated these sayings
  • Every day when walking or going for a run, I repeated the affirmations over and over again
  • Every time I heard a negative thought or gremlin, I repeated the opposite mantra 20 times

I have to say I’ve been won over.  I’ve felt happier, more confident and seen life as an exciting experience.

Amazingly, I’ve felt more productive, energetic and seem to get more done.  I’ve rapidly advanced my new website project and even seen an uptick in new coaching clients.

It feels like I’m more in control of life and my gremlins don’t come up so much any more.

Sometimes I feel like a Pollyanna for repeating these mantras, but frankly as long as I feel the benefits I’m going to keep thinking positively.

Over to You

If you’re in a positive frame of mind, why not sign up for regular updates from Less Ordinary Living- the guide to an outstanding career and remarkable life.

  • If you’re interested, try following the same positive thinking regime for a week and see how it works for you.
  • What are your thoughts on positive thinking and affirmations?
  • What techniques do you use to control your thoughts and emotions?

Photo credit: Jessica.Tam (Flickr Creative Commons)

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  1. Phil
    July 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    What is your take on positive thinking? There has been a movement against it recently in the media. Are you a sceptic or a believer? How do your thoughts affect your quality of life?

  2. July 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Enjoyed your blog as always. Am a 100% believer. You only have to look at the German football World Cup team to know that self-belief plays a huge part in whether or not we can achieve. Believe and achieve!


  3. July 21, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    One thing for certain, negative thinking gets you no where. Of course, actions must be taken in addition to thinking positively, but as you discovered, positive thinking can be a way to create energy to go out there and get things done. The way I see it, we have nothing to loose from practicing positive thinking, and perhaps much to gain.

  4. July 21, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, no surprises that I’m a huge fan of the power of positive thinking. I love how you’ve illustrated the use of positive affirmations. My belief is that affirmations work when you choose to introduce them into your life (whatever the motivation behind the choice – you need to make that choice),and then you need affirmations that resonate with you. I’d also add that in my experience affirmations can be more powerful if you start from a positive place (just repeating a positive affirmation over and over again can be redundant if you’re starting from a place of pure negativity). And, that’s where gratitude comes in (again, my view only). Just taking the time to reflect on what you’re grateful for (call it counting your blessings, if you’re not keen on the word “gratitude”) can help you to move into a more positive frame of mind, so that your affirmations have a chance to work their magic. I love this post, and thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. July 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    There is no doubt about it… what we impress on our subconscious we manifest in our lives. Deliberately repeating a single thought over the time is the ultimate mind conditioning formula. Soon, you find yourself decreeing your aspiration in a kingly fashion to make it so. The reward of repetition is cooperation from all depths of your mind..

  6. July 21, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Were you taking a blog breather? Welcome back!

    I find achieving happiness is a think/be combo. Yes, affirmations work wonders and definitely lent me their helping hands when I needed some. Being in my greatness zone works miracles. I feel completely alive (aka happy) when I’m oozing my particular greatness. And it’s not always paid work. Sometimes it’s play or doing my right community volunteer thing. The triumvirate of participation has made all the difference in my life …

    Thanks! Giulietta

  7. July 22, 2010 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil. In 1978 I picked up the book The Magic of Believing, by Claude Bristol. It changed how I think, and taught me that I’m responsible for what I think just as I am for what I say and do.

    Shad Helmstetter (Self Talk) teaches how the brain works to accommodate our thoughts. How neurotransmitters in the brain work. How grooves in the brain are formed through repetitious thought. Through habit. And how those grooves, hence habits, can be changed through new thoughts. (He explains it in layman’s terms, otherwise I would not have understood it.) There is a science to the effects thoughts have on our brains, and therefore on our minds, speech, and actions.

    I’m not certain why the media want us to think otherwise. It’s provable. We do have a lot of control over our destiny. Certainly not everything — that would be naive to think. But we can do far more than we’ve ever tried. (Who are the media studying???)

    It all makes sense to me. Thanks for this post. We need reminders…

  8. Phil
    July 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    @Chris – love your attitude and great to hear from you. Believe and achieve is a superb mantra.

    @Shelly – I’ve found that action gets easier to take once you have that positive mindset. Procrastination for me often stemmed from negative thoughts and now I can squash them instantly I just keep on doing what feels right. Keep spreading the positive vibes.

    @Claire – thank you so much for stopping by. Your attitude of gratitude is so refreshing and it is a great reminder that positive thoughts bed even better when we are grateful for our life. I have certainly found a huge amount to be grateful for in recent years and consider myself blessed. I’m trying to pay that gratitude forward too – so thank you!!

    @Rob – I love your kingly fashion! What a powerful phrase. I find that the conditioning works to help keep me grounded too – it isn’t really about me but about the power of the world around me that really inspires me. It definitely is the well-spring of creativity and action too.

    @Giulietta – glad you missed me. Yes I was taking a quick sabbatical to enjoy the summer and also work on the new all singing, all dancing Less Ordinary Living site – coming next month! I like that think / be combo – when our thoughts and actions are aligned and positive. Your zone of greatness sounds amazing!

    @Barb – I heard the line – “let us change what we can and accept what we can’t” on a song recently and that sums it up perfectly for me. Thanks for the reading – I love to discover new and inspiring books about how to be remarkable and live a positive and successful life. I can’t wait to swing by over coffee to read more of your wisdom.

  9. July 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Great article Phil – I’m definitely putting this into practice today. I was just talking to some clients about this earlier in the week. I think some people are a little shy at first about the affirmations and the visualization. But it’s such a powerful and amazing exercise – I love it! -D

  10. July 22, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil – I love that book, one of my faves! I especially like what she says about no-win vs. no-lose decision making. And I think that’s something I do to stay positive: to remember that every hour, day, week, month, year (OK, I’ll stop) has many possible positive outcomes. Every choice has the potential for goodies, no matter what. Also, for me it’s not so much about controlling thoughts and feelings, but getting out of my head and into my senses, letting the thoughts/feelings move through me physically (dancing, anyone?) and then allowing them to transform.

  11. July 23, 2010 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Good on you Phil. Happy I found your blog. I was born and raised in London also; worked as a reporter for a bit in Fleet st. like my Dad.
    It’s been exciting — this last two or three years — realizing more fully how when I am still I can see very clearly what is going on in my mind. I don’t have to fight whatever it may be. Just be aware of it.
    The deeper this awareness goes the happier I feel because I’m getting a little distance from all those sometimes beautoful thoughts and sometimes rather useless thoughts…

  12. July 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I introduced a similar experiment to a group of cancer survivors in a stress management group recently (only we had them think of words associated with weakness, then words associated with strength). Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work with most of them, but I demonstrated it to my father, who was amazed. The power of our thoughts and the mind/body connection is highly underappreciated and overlooked in our society (in my humble opinion), and it’s nice to see it getting some attention! I definitely believe in the power of thoughts, and there’s research to back up their importance, but I think that cultivating their power can be difficult sometimes.

  13. Phil
    July 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    @Dana – go for it! I guess it is natural to be a little shy about these things as they can seem a bit cultish or weird. After a while your realize that it is so much better than the negative thoughts I used to hear and helps keep me present and focussed, so what the heck.

    @Patty – Totally agree about no-lose decisions. As long as we can handle the outcome then how can we lose? Keep on dancing and staying in that happy place.

    @Christopher – thank you so much for stopping by and thank you. I love your description of becoming aware of what is going on in your head and not fighting it. Makes real sense to me. I used to feel like a bear in a cave when emotions came up – I tried to deny them then let them out all at once. Now I acknowledge them and let them be.

  14. July 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Great post and your results speak for themselves. It reminds me of that quote that no one ever built a monument to a pessimist.

  15. July 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil
    “Change your thoughts – Change your world” is a great way to look at things.
    We tend to see the world to reinforce our image of it.
    What we have to do is question our interpretation of what we see by changing our thoughts.
    Modern Cognative Behavioural Therapy uses this as the means to treat anxiety and depression.
    “Change your thoughts – Change your world” – has to be good, go for it.

  16. July 26, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    It sounds like you tapped into a great source of inner strength.

    I think the key is whether you’re reminding yourself of what you already know to be true vs. just trying to change something that you don’t inherently believe to be true (i.e. reinforcing neural pathways over trying to create new ones.)

  17. July 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Phil – Came over from The Happy Seeker’s latest post -were both our blogs got a mention. I’m so glad to connect with you. Just yesterday I wrote a post on happiness – which is quite a theme in my blog. Look forward to reading your posts. I’m blogrolling you.

  18. Phil
    July 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    @Healthy – thanks for stopping by. I’m sure that positive thinking can help most areas up to a point, however I am not sure about curing cancer just yet.

    @Amit – thank you for the kind words. I’m converted to building a massive monument to positivism!

    @Keith – I am sure that we interpret the world according to our outlook and frame of reference. The same incident can be a disaster at the time, but one year later it can be the impetus for a brilliant change in our life. Learning to adopt a positive mindset to events certainly seems to lift my mood and help me find constructive ways of moving forward with living life.

    @JD – Yes, I actually did find some inner strength here and it does reinforce what I already thought and how I saw the world. I do think we can create new neural pathways (neuroplasticity) and reprogram the way we look at the world. I reckon it takes a lot of practice and conscious effort to do so though.

    @Corinne – welcome to Less Ordinary Living – so happy to have you here. Appreciate you blogrolling me – I’ll definitely swing by and say hello!

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