Causes and effects of positive thinking
How can we minimize the loss of precious time and energy that invariably occurs when we have a negative attitude? Recall that
between a stimulus (or an event) and our response to the stimulus, there is a space. In that space is our opportunity to choose
how we will respond. Because we can often change our circumstances by changing our attitude, it is to our advantage to think
before we react. The principle of cause and effect predicts that if we choose to respond in a proactive way, we will limit
the amount of energy and time lost in pursuit of unproductive negative reactions.
In these situations, instead of feeding the energy vampire with negative emotions and actions, we can starve him by making
the choice to be positive. Recall that negative thoughts (being defensive, resentful, suspicious, blaming, selfish) foster
negative results (being indifferent, apathetic, withholding, uncooperative, hostile, litigious). However, positive thoughts
(being understanding, compassionate, appreciative, trusting, forgiving) foster positive results (giving, sharing, caring,
communicative, enlightening, happy).
When we allow ourselves to be reactive, we let the words and actions of others control our feelings. Classic examples of this
are embodied in the statements, "You make me angry!" and "Now look what you made me do!" In contrast, when we practice being
proactive, we exercise control over our feelings and, thus, focus our thoughts and actions on events that we can influence
in a positive fashion. By thinking about problems as opportunities rather than obstacles, we can put plans into action to
explore creative alternatives. Thus, we symbolically starve problems and feed opportunities.
The key point of this essay is that being negative or being positive is the result of our choices. Practical application of
this principle does not relate primarily to whether or not we express our feelings, but the manner in which we express them.
We all have the choice as to how we will react to our circumstances. The choice is ours. No matter what the difficulty, each
of us is responsible for our choice to either magnify or help resolve the problems we face. The question is, do we recognize
our responsibility to develop our response-ability?
This requires practice and patience. But understanding the principle that we—rather than others—are responsible for our mental
attitude and frame of mind is to our great benefit. Why? Because it provides us with the opportunity to exercise self-control
and to consciously choose how we feel and act. On the other hand, if we do not pause and think about how to respond (that
is, we do not wisely use our response-ability), we will, by default, feed the energy vampire by choosing to allow other people
and circumstances to negatively influence our reactions and thereby reduce our effectiveness.
If we don't want our energy and time to be consumed by unproductive negativism, we must proactively choose to starve the energy
vampire. I have learned that throughout each day, I often become involved with plenty of negative external events over which
I have no direct control. Therefore, when I look into the mirror at the start of each day, I ask myself, "Are you going to
work with me, or will your thoughts and actions work against me by empowering the energy vampire?" I then reflect on renewing
my commitment of trying to be positive, even when I face adversity.
In fact, it is when we face adversity that we need to conserve our energy by focusing on being positive. Especially then we
must be careful not to let our appreciation for what we have to be soured by our preoccupation with what we do not have. We
must choose to use positive thoughts to free our minds of replaying negative energy-draining thoughts about past, present
and perhaps future external events over which we have no control. If we can learn to be selective in how we choose to think
and act, it will enable us to allocate more of our precious energy and time to the people and goals that we cherish most.
By proactively thinking about our choices, we can change the effect negative circumstances have on us. We can minimize the
mental and emotional baggage that tends to drag us down. By choosing to think positively and transforming these thoughts into
positive actions, being positive will become a part of our personality. We become what we repeatedly do. Being positive will
then be more than an act; it will become a habit. And good habits are as hard to break as bad ones.
This essay was adapted from a commentary published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, Vol. 36, pp 103-105, 2000.
Dr. Osborne, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is professor of medicine in the Department of Small
Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota.