Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Room for Nothing Else

When Norman Vincent Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking, was first published in 1952, it was dismissed by the mainstream orthodoxy of psychology and psychiatry. Nonetheless, it stayed on the New York Times best seller list for 181 consecutive weeks. Although I can't say that I agree with all that Dr. Peale professed, he offered a lot of really useful advice. Useful that is, if you want to be happier, more confident and more productive.

A Finn in a Strange Land
A little more than a year ago, my dad, an old Finn with a thick accent and deeply entrenched northern attitude, moved to northwestern South Carolina. He moved there to be near my mom's family. He spends time almost every day with my uncle Johnny (my mom's brother), my aunt Wanda and my cousin Rebecca. They've made him an integral part of their family and they actively include him in all they do.

Along the way to South Carolina my dad managed to burn through a lot of good will. Moving from place to place, looking for a fresh start, hoping for a big change, he exemplified the old adage, wherever you go, there you are.

The pattern was easy to see and perhaps more common than I imagine.
  • Move to a new town.

  • Settle into a nice place.

  • Meet friendly people.

  • Build a routine.

  • Talk about how much better things are here than they were there.

And then as the months proceed...
  • Start to see similarities between your old environment and your new one.

  • Allow the negative similarities to crowd out the good stuff.

  • Begin to feel lonely and depressed as the newness wears off.

  • Start drinking.

  • Withdraw from the people around you to hide your drinking.

  • Get annoyed with all the things that are wrong with the new place.

  • Spend hours on end watching Fox News by yourself.

  • Get annoyed by all that's wrong in the world.

  • Limit your verbal expression to complaint and concern.

  • Become emphatic.

  • Become belligerent.

  • Start looking for some place new.
Knock on wood, although dad's had his moments, he's doing great in South Carolina. I see two reasons for this: 1) I think dad's come to see that he's run out of places to move to and 2) my uncle (who's much nearer my age than my dad's) and his family are so wonderful with my dad that it's really hard for him to complain.

A Visit
Last week, my seventeen-year-old cousin Rebecca and her friend Anna brought my dad from South Carolina to our house for a visit. Rebecca, Anna and Iris went to New York for a couple of days leaving me and dad. We talked about what we're each doing. We talked about my kids. We entertained friends and family who came from all over to visit with Dad. When I cooked and cleaned, dad watched Fox News or slept.

On the afternoon of the second day I began to notice a pattern. Although my dad talked about becoming more positive since moving to South Carolina, any time he made an unprompted statement, it began with a complaint or concern (many of which were tied to something he'd seen on television).

When I shared my observation with him, Dad denied it, but he seemed to take it in.

Seven-Day Positive Mental Diet
Anyway, knowing my dad's propensity for negativity, self-imposed loneliness and depression, I've been thinking on and off about this ever since he left.

This morning, I remembered reading The Power of Positive Thinking way back when I was seventeen or eighteen. What came to mind is what I believe Dr. Peale called a Seven-Day Positive Mental Diet. The concept is simple: for seven days, refrain from saying, thinking or doing anything that would be negative (e.g., complaints, gossip, destructive criticism, fear, foreboding, pessimism) and avoid intake of the same.

It's a simple concept, but perhaps a difficult one to implement. I remember trying several times and I believe the longest I lasted was four days. Nonetheless, it had a dramatic impact on how I felt.

Of course, knowing what I know now, I would perform a little mental jujitsu. Rather than avoiding the negative, I'd spend time flipping any negative thought into something positive.

So what do you think? How about starting the new year with a new diet?

Happy Tuesday,

PS Below are some quotes from Norman Vincent Peale...

"Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all."

"Drop the idea that you are Atlas carrying the world on your shoulders. The world would go on even without you. Don't take yourself so seriously."

"Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy."

"Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don't have any problems, you don't get any seeds."

"Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture... Do not build up obstacles in your imagination."

"If you have zest and enthusiasm you attract zest and enthusiasm. Life does give back in kind."

"If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal."

1 comment:

  1. Focus. and realizing one has choice, is choosing....and that if one continues to do, focus wise, what one has always done, look for and find notions/perspectives, one can complain, or blame as reasons for ones discontent, or use as excuse to dull oneself with a depressant/alcohol. Ahh to realize the flavor of ones experience is simply self chosen..., and, rather than make excuses to wallow and to complain, discover one is completely free to choose the beliefs,make-up, one experiences. love and hugs...thanks for reminding me bw


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