There is a great story about Thomas Edison. Apparently, his teachers at school got irritated by his constant questioning at school, called him 'addled' (crazy) and sent him home.
His mother, who believed her son was a genius in the making, withdrew him from school and began home-schooling him.
Years later, Edison said of his mother: “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me: and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”
Napoleon Hill wrote a similar story about how he transferred 'a burning desire' to hear to his deaf-mute son, who was born without ears. This son went on to test and sell revolutionary hearing aids, thus helping others as well as himself to move beyond the hearing disabilities they were born with.
Both Edison's mother and Napoleon Hill in these stories harnessed the power of positive thinking, or 'futurizing' with positive intent, and transferred their desire for a positive outcome to their children, who were able to manifest those desires in ways that powerfully affected both their own and other people's circumstances.
Some weeks, like this past one, it can feel as though the world is a frightening and tragic place. Even in apparently safe, peaceful cities like Paris, the threat of violence and horror lurks around every corner. I know a lot of people have gone deep into the news reports and come out, in many cases, feeling anxious, depressed and sad.
My first reaction was horror and fear, then a desire to push the news away, not to immerse myself in it, to protect my own feelings and stability. Then I too started reading, and cried, and hoped, all the time questioning the part of myself that is touched by these stories and yet able to put aside the horrors that happen every day, in 'other', less familiar parts of the world, wondering why it was so hard to find news reports on the terrible bombings that had happened two days earlier in Beirut.
What part does 'positive thinking' have to do with all of that stuff? Isn't it fantastical, or unrealistic, to affirm that 'all is well', or that 'a positive outcome is predicted', faced with the 'realities' presented to us every day in the news?
For me, 'positive thinking' is no more or less 'realistic' than 'negative thinking'. It doesn't deny that there is sadness, tragedy and hardship. What it does is to focus on 'the other side of the story', what Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, would term creating an 'optimistic bias'.
It is about looking at things differently, looking for light in dark situations, remaining hopeful, for people and for the world.
Here are some of my favourite quotes about finding, or being light in dark situations, all said by people who themselves experienced extremes of prejudice and pain:
“A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness can be spread without diminishing that of yourself.”― Mahatma Gandhi
Fred Rogers, the American children's TV entertainer, wrote an inspiring passage about how his mother helped him respond to disaster situations in the news:
" I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.
For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.
There was something else my mother did that I've always remembered: "Always look for the helpers," she'd tell me. "There's always someone who is trying to help." I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong."
(You can see a video interview with him here in the Huffington Post).
The way that each of us thinks and feels is important. Thought energy is contagious. We have all experienced times of being positively or negatively affected by another person's energy.
There are no guarantees, but if we may be able to 'prime' ourselves for optimism and success, doesn't it make sense to try?
Here are some thoughts/ ideas on how to practice positive thinking, both for ourselves and as parents:
1) Use positive affirmations, like the one above - 'A positive outcome is predicted, with everything intact.'* You don't have to BELIEVE the affirmation is TRUE, it is a statement of intent, of where you want to get to. You can repeat the phrase to yourself 10 times, or you can write it down 10 times. If you repeat these positive phrases regularly, e.g. in the morning or at night-time, you may notice you feel calmer and less stressed.
2) Don't watch the news, or at least reduce your news feeds. Being constantly bombarded by negative news can often make people feel overwhelmed, and doesn't necessarily lead to productive outcomes. Or watch positive news channels, like
Here's some good news: Sierra Leone is officially FREE of Ebola !!! Isn't that truly amazing and wonderful? Something to celebrate?
3) Read children's literature. Somehow the classics of children's literature seem to encapsulate what life is all about. A couple of my favourites are:
- Winnie the Pooh (the character of Eeyore is a brilliant study in how our thoughts can affect our reality)
- Little House on the Prairie and the other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
4) Create something or make something. Humans have the capacity to destroy and the capacity to create. Making things - sewing, baking, chopping vegetables, making a photo montage of your family - can be deeply soothing and therapeutic.
What other thoughts or ideas do you have? Please share!
We are mortal beings - we can't control how we die, but we can affect how we live, and that is exciting, fascinating and rewarding.
Love and light,
Elizabeth - aka The Writing Parent
(* This affirmation is adapted from Juliet Jaffray Hubbs and Nora Monaco)