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Keeping your mind clear in a world filled with distractions

January 23, 2010
By Kimberly Short Wolfe

Have you ever been driving down Harrison Avenue and a negative thought crosses your mind? You become completely distracted and feel your blood pressure rising. A car honks its horn to bring you out of your reverie as an ambulance passes with lights flashing and siren blaring. Why didn't you hear it before?

Distractions come in many different forms: A person, situation, relationship, organization, or trial takes over your mind like the waves of the ocean at high tide. Before you know it, you are engulfed in anger, resentment and bitterness. These poison emotions if not dealt with will result in illness both mentally and physically.

It is also good to realize what angers you in another person is often an unhealed aspect of yourself. If you had already resolved that particular issue you would not be so irritated by its reflection back to you. So many times we concentrate on another's faults due to the fact they are our faults, too. Or, we concentrate so much on them, we become like them. Zeroing in on the negatives about another person will only result in our becoming like them.

Tongue in cheek here, I once heard a person talk about people they knew who talked about people too much. It really appalled this person that these people gossiped so much, and on and on. You see? We not only become like those we are around. We become like those we have a problem with, when and if, we meditate on their faults instead of meditating upon the word of God and how we can change the only person we are capable of changing: ourselves.

One thing I have come to realize as time marches on is that the things I think about take over not only my mind but my heart. That can be a very good thing. Or, on the flip side, that can be a very bad thing. I once heard and will never forget, "You aren't what you think you are, but what you think you are." Our thoughts are the roots of our emotions and finally our actions. We have all heard of pre-meditated crimes, crimes that have been thought out and followed through. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the thoughts are the window to our actions.

Life Enrichment Coach Valorie Burton says no matter how positive of a person you are, some days are better than others. One negative encounter can ruin an entire day, if you dwell on it. And if you're dealing with an ongoing challenge - such as a job loss or divorce, financial stress or a health problem - it's imperative that you learn how to stop negative thoughts before they spiral out of control. In fact, learning this one key skill can keep you from sabotaging your success, ruining relationships and even sinking into depression.

The key is to catch yourself in the moment when you are stewing over a negative situation. You know how it starts: You encounter a rude driver in traffic on your way home from work after having a disagreement with a co-worker and begin lamenting how everyone is out to get you. Or you or your spouse lost a job and you begin imagining the worst case scenario rather than focusing on the positive action you can take to land that next job. Or maybe you are just down because life is challenging right now and it's taking all your strength to keep moving forward. Whatever your scenario, use these five techniques to keep negative thoughts from spiraling out of control:

1. Breathe intentionally.

Research shows that proper deep breathing - in which you breathe from your diaphragm rather than shallow breathing from your chest - reduces blood pressure, anxiety and stress. Take one minute and focus your thoughts on your breath. Feel it enter your nose, fill your belly and exit through your mouth. Center yourself in this moment. Relax.

2. Anticipate the negative and be ready with the positive.

Expect negative thoughts to cross your mind, especially when you are dealing with stress. But choose not to ruminate on them. Rumination means meditating on the negative and doing it often enough can have serious mental health consequences such as depression. Instead, meditate on the positive. Focus on what you are grateful for. Focus on the opportunity you have for change and improvement. These are things within your control.

3. Get out and about.

Sunshine and fresh air can do wonders for your mood. Being stuck physically - whether at work or home - can leave you stuck mentally. So get out. Take a walk. Ride your bike. Run some errands. Stand on the porch or patio for a few minutes and soak up the rays. Sunshine helps your body produce vitamin D and has been shown to be a mood lifter.

4. Do something fun.

Research confirms that negative emotions are far more powerful than positive ones. Therefore, you need at least three positive emotions to overcome the negatives you face. So when you are particularly challenged with negative conversations, interactions and situations in your life, you've got to be intentional about countering them with positive experiences. One way to do that is have fun. What do you like to do for fun? Go do it. What brings you joy? Incorporate more of it into your life today.

5. Get around funny, happy people.

Psychology researchers have discovered happiness is contagious. And when you are down, it doesn't help to be around other negative people. Who makes you laugh? Who always puts a smile on your face? Who knows how to find peace and joy even in the midst of chaos or challenges? That's who you need to hang out with. Give them a call, stop by their desk at work, or get together for dinner tonight. You won't have time to let those negative thoughts spiral out of control. You'll be too busy laughing and enjoying good company!

Philippians 4:5 - "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

(Kimberly Short Wolfe, MA, is a home school mom and the grief counselor/bereavement coordinator for Mountain Hospice. To contact her, e-mail: or call 304-823-3922, ext. 136.)



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