What’s holding you back from living the life you want? We’ve all experienced negative thinking; it happens all the time.
“I don’t have enough money.”
“I’m lacking social support, no one cares about me.”
“It’s all too hard?
“I have so many dreams, but no talent to achieve them.”
“Life is so unfair, the Universe never works out in my favor!”
If you’ve ever thought any of these things, you’re displaying what we like to call Stinking Thinking.
Why? Because it stinks! Stinking thinking sabotages our success. We use tactics like denial, justification and avoidance to shift the blame and avoid responsibilities. Stinking thinking is the opposite of positive thinking, leading to disempowerment. Stinking thinking leaves us in a place, surrounded by negative self-beliefs and challenging negative thoughts, where we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
We don’t need to move forward because we’ve come up with the perfect excuse—it’s too hard; I’m too tired; the chips didn’t fall in my favor. Stinking thinking gives us an out. It also holds us out of getting what we want.
Like many of our thoughts and actions, this kind of negative thinking is a big part of our personality makeup. The thoughts are deeply rooted in family patterns set for us in our childhood. Where you ever told you were too emotional? Too sensitive? Too much? Not enough? It can all lead to stinking thinking.
You see, over time, the lies and warnings we’re told about ourselves stick. Imagine the little cartoon devil on your shoulder whispering in your ear and repeating these negative self-beliefs. Eventually these thoughts even become habitual.
We may believe we’re unsafe in the world, because we were unsafe as children.
We may be hyper-self-conscious because we were constantly asked, “what will the neighbors think?”
We may have been raised to believe the world is hostile.
We might believe we don’t possess the innate talent of a sibling or friend, or to believe things come easy for others but don’t come easy for us. We weren’t “born with it.”
We may paint the world with a rosy brush, because we have a deep-seeded need to use over-optimism to make everything okay.
These negative thinking patterns eventually lead to limiting beliefs. These limiting beliefs hold us back and keep us from what we want, and are constantly reinforced by our own stinking thinking. So, instead of getting out there and grabbing life by the horns, we zone out. We give ourselves an excuse to indulge in soft addictions.
Soft addictions are little habits we undertake to self-sabotage what we really yearn for. If you binge watch Netflix, endlessly scroll through social media, overeat, shop more than you can afford or constantly “lose yourself” in activities (even socializing or working), you might be looking at a soft addiction.
These addictions aren’t limited to activities either. We can become addicted to gambling, seeking danger, making deals, playing dumb, constantly being late, flirting, gum chewing, nail biting, over-exercising…and the list goes on. We can even become addicted to moods and ways of being, such as hiding behind sarcasm, moping, being a people-pleaser or a perfectionist.
We all use stinking thinking and denial to justify our behavior, avoid feelings and con others as well as ourselves. Denial, defensiveness, overgeneralization, minimizing, blaming and jumping to conclusions several examples of the stinking thinking to which we are vulnerable. When we don’t think clearly and cleanly, we are likely to minimize or even deny that our soft addictions pose problems. Stinking thinking prevents us from viewing our routines objectively and honestly.
Stinking thinking is so pervasive we often don’t realize it exists. We think our stinking thoughts are facts, not arbitrary decisions based on faulty beliefs. Our distorted thoughts normalize our soft addiction routines.
Stinking thinking becomes like a sea we live in. We’re like fish, not knowing water exists around them until they’re caught. Stinking thoughts lead us to indulge in soft addictions, defend the behavior, and deny any problem with our actions. Stinking thinking becomes a sort of soft addiction in itself—a habitual thought pattern that we return to repeatedly for diminishing returns.
Soft addictions function as a filter of our experience, screening out useful input. As we enmesh ourselves in shopping, gossiping, and day dreaming routines, we fail to feel the pain that could guide us toward the right action. Without feeling our pain, we more easily deny that anything is wrong.
The vicious cycle, of course, is that we engage in soft addictions precisely because we don’t want to feel pain. Without the ability to see our lives clearly and feel the pain completely, we can convince ourselves that our soft addictions are harmless or event that they are good for us.
That’s when we deny with comments like: What problem? What pain? What do you mean this is a problem? I can’t see it as a problem.
Denial comes in many forms—minimizing, lying, rationalizing and comparing (one of the sneakiest forms). See, we figure if everyone else is doing it, it’s fine we’re doing it too. But, we when we step back and look at the facts, we may realize those we’re surrounding ourselves with are also giving way to their own stinking thinking.
We surround ourselves with those who display similar patterns because they feel familiar. They serve as living examples our behavior is okay (others are doing it too!), even though deep down we know better.
We might intellectually know that spending hours on the Internet or buying and reading every gossip magazine are problems. We might know that there is better way to nourish ourselves than mindlessly shoving a candy bar in our mouth or perching at the kitchen counter while loading up on takeout food from carboard containers. Yet without our pain available to us we don’t grasp that something profound is happening beneath the surface. We eat, shop or watch TV in place of takin effective action. We can’t feel our spiritual hunger or our yearning to be loved, to matter, and to make a difference.
Fortunately, we can learn to catch ourselves when we overgeneralize or use bizarre logic. If we notice stinking thoughts, we won’t fall into the denial trap. When we become aware of our faulty thought processes we can change our thoughts: when we change our thoughts, we can shift our feelings and behaviors in a more productive, meaningful direction.
Our graduate students become expert stinking thinking catchers. In fact, even in our weekend workshops we encourage the identification of stinking thinking by passing out tokens to participants. Each time they notice a group member (or themselves) exhibiting a stinking thought, they hand over a token. Done in good humor, it’s not unusual to see participants start to laugh out loud at themselves when they realize how silly and stinky their negative thinking, excuses and rationalizations are.
Identifying our negative thinking patterns as they happen is the best way to break them. In fact, stepping back and even laughing a little at the ridiculousness of our stinking thoughts helps us realize how truly not frightening they are. Humor and compassion are anecdotes to our negative thoughts. Guess what? We’re all human! Occasionally, we have to laugh at ourselves.
Handing out tokens, laughing at ourselves and even reading humorous books and watching movies where we can identify stinking thinking (Bridget Jones’ Diary, Austin Powers and Monty Python’s Holy Grail are a few that come to mind), can help us realize how irrational our rationalization is!
As you work to overcome negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, don’t forget to approach it with a sense of humor. Identify your negative thinking and turn it around as it happens. If you are worried about what others think, do something ridiculous and goofy. If you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself, get up there and do it anyway.
Balzac said our greatest fears lie in anticipation and it’s true. What’s the worst that could occur? Could you live with it? Imagine what could be possible if you stopped thinking you couldn’t and started believing you could?
For more on overcoming negative thinking, and living a life of more joy, more happiness and more fulfillment, please visit us at the Wright Foundation. Join us for a workshop (and you might even get your own stinking thinking tokens to share)!
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.