When I was first learning about weight training, I ran across a concept called 'negatives.' The idea was that someone would help you lift the weight, then you would slowly lower it. Do this a few times, and the muscle quickly becomes worn out from fatigue. The next day, that muscle would be really sore. (but i liked it, because I thought it meant that the muscle was damaged but would rebuild itself bigger and better) Shows how much I knew back then.
Today, 'negatives' are far more pervasive, but they affect our thoughts, instead of our muscles.
Before my daughter went away to school, her computer suffered a failure. Power it up, and the screen was blank, except for a small, flashing icon of a sad computer face in the middle of the screen. This was particularly upsetting for my daughter; she's a creative, and had all of her written and photographical work on her laptop. We took it over to the Apple store to consult with the 'Genius Bar.' Sitting at the counter, we watched the tech look over the computer and try a couple of fixes, neither worked.
He told us he was going to take it in the back to do a more advanced diagnostic, and that there were a couple of possible outcomes. Either he'd be able to just 'flip a switch' internally, and it would all be fine, or it wouldn't, and it would have to be sent out for more advanced data recovery.
He left, and when I turned to my daughter, I saw she was tearing up.
'All my writing is on that. And my pictures...pictures of grandma and grandpa...what if...'
'Hold on; what did he say the possibilities were?'
'That it would either be fine, or we'd have to send it out.'
'Did he say that all your work was gone? That we could never get it back?'
'Ok; so you're getting upset over something that hasn't happened. Over something that wasn't even one of the proposed outcomes. It's just as likely that he's going to bring it back out here working fine.'
And it was.
The point is that, almost daily, we expend a lot of time and emotional energy fixating on things that haven't happened. Conversations, events, interactions...all with 'what if...' placed in front of the thoughts. Funny how we rarely think, 'what if this (fill in the blank) goes really well?'
Ever woken from a dream in the middle of the night, with your heart pounding? Do you think to yourself, 'That must have been the most exciting roller coaster dream ever!' Of course not. You think, 'Oh my goodness I think I may die.'
The basic physiological markers of fear are the same as those for excitement. Driven by adrenaline, your heart pounds, your breathing accelerates, your stomach tightens...but wake in that state, and instantly it was a 'bad' dream. Was it?
If I said to you, 'Here's what I'd like you to do: make up a story in your head, one that has an undesirable outcome. Then I want you to get really upset about the outcome, and spend a couple of days stressing yourself out over it.'
Hopefully, you'd think the idea was ridiculous. Fact is, though, most of us do this all the time. We think about something, and instantly think it will go badly. Why?
There's a saying that pessimists have it better because they fear the worst. So, when things do go wrong, they aren't disappointed, but, if they go well, they're pleasantly surprised. That's a terrible was to go through life. (In my opinion)
I'm not saying that 'thinking positive' is a cure-all; it's not, and in some cases it can make things worse. My suggestion is this: the next time you find yourself stressing and obsessing over an upcoming event, just ask yourself what you're basing those feelings on. Are you reacting to a story you made up in your head?
I stopped doing negatives in the gym because they really weren't giving me the results I wanted, and because they hurt.
Creating, thinking about, and reacting to the negatives has the same effect.
When it comes right down to it, it's just as likely that things will go right.