When we enter the gym, we know that we will leave exhausted, but ultimately stronger. When we’re standing in front of the weights, we know that working out with them will drain us, but that it will also make us tougher.
So, why don’t we feel the same in the gym of life, where the hardships we strain against each day are like weights that need to be lifted? There’s a simple answer to that:
People visit the gym because they want to be stronger. These are individuals who seek out the struggles that will help them to grow; that is their positive choice.
We can choose to go to the gym, but in life, the gym comes to us. Life doesn’t politely ask us if we want to be weighed down by difficulties. It brings us to our knees, it crushes us, and in doing so leaves us full of negative emotions and the feeling that we’re worthless. It puts obstacles in our path and makes us afraid that we cannot overcome them.
We all have a brain that’s been shaped throughout its evolution by fear. Fear and suspicion made our ancestors cautious and helped them to survive in a harsher world, and that fear still lingers for us even today. It’s the thing that drives the negative emotions which make us think we cannot survive, cannot help ourselves, cannot find happiness. It’s what makes us doubt ourselves before we face each obstacle. It’s what makes us wake up every morning, afraid that it will be a hard day and already wishing that it were over. We’re weak, because fear makes us negative and negativity saps our strength.
We may yearn to be positive, but a positive life does not fall from the sky; it has to be shaped by us. To become stronger and more resilient we actually need daily challenges. We need things to push against, obstacles to overcome. We need to seek out opportunities which allow us to remind ourselves that we are capable people. Confidence comes from a faith in our abilities, and we only get that by testing them.
However – there’s a BUT. In order to stand up after a fall or to overcome an obstacle, we must believe in ourselves. This means holding on to the positive idea that we can succeed. Without this belief we won’t go to the gym to lift weights. If we don’t believe in ourselves, we convince ourselves that we have already failed.
You CAN’T do it. You CAN’T manage it. You CAN’T change it. This is the language of negation. So how can we change our thinking to believe that we can cope with difficulties? Of the 100 suggestions it contains, here are the five that I personally enjoy the most.
1. Break out of the negative cycle
Do you know Spotify? You’ve probably at least heard of it. It’s a service that offers streaming music and podcasts, and it was dreamed up by a Swede called DANIEL EK. At 35 years old he was a millionaire, but that’s not really important because he already was anyway. By the age of 22 he had already thought up and sold another service, and made a lot of money with that, then he declared that he had no need to work anymore, and went into “retirement”. However, he soon found that his life was boring, despite having lots of money, because money wasn’t enough. With nothing to do and no projects to work on, he had nothing to get up for, nothing to live for. He discovered that money should not be the goal, just a consequence of achieving that goal. But that’s another story.
Daniel fell into a negative cycle, and it’s one that you might recognise. Sometimes it only takes one silly idea, maybe the thought of something that you regretted doing in the past, to make you think less of yourself. You think, “I’ve messed up my future,” and you’re suddenly going back-and-forth between thinking I made a mistake, and I’m a bad person around and around in a negative circle. Negative thoughts are limiting. They keep you from doing the positive things that we all need in order to move forwards.
Daniel Ek broke out of his negation using two tools – an action plan and a transformational break. Complex terms for simple activities. I’ll explain them clearly:
As soon as negative emotions afflict us, it’s already too late. Negative emotions take complete control of us. We’ll have high blood pressure, we’ll want to scream, hurt ourselves, hate, regret, look for the flaws in ourselves (or find others to blame), take revenge, give up. No positive responses even occur to us. So, we need to prepare our responses to negative situations in advance… This is called an action plan.
In our plan we define what our transformational break will involve. Daniel Ek says: “Negative emotions are stronger that I am. When I am in their grip, it takes a lot of energy to get away from them. Therefore I know in advance that when no positive ideas occur to me, I put my brain on charge.”
What does this mean? Ideally, exercise. Without even thinking about it, automatically get changed and go for a five-to-ten-minute run. And if you can’t do that (e.g. if you’re at work), you can spend five minutes breathing deeply and slowly on the spot. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us and relieves stress.
“It takes a while. Just like when our phone battery is flat, we have to put it on charge for a few minutes before it starts up again,” says Daniel Ek.
What does “run at the dog” mean?
How can we face our difficulties more enthusiastically even though they make us feel worse?
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