Over the years I’ve encountered many different people. Having lived in military towns like Norfolk, Va., and in large cities like Chicago, I have met individuals from all ethnicities, economic, and religious backgrounds. Through my work at YMCAs, I have been fortunate enough to work with people of many different ages. The diversity I’ve encountered in my life got me to thinking about how our background, our upbringing, our age and many other factors impact how we think and react to situations in life. These factors impact the way we think about ourselves and others, and how we view life experiences.
Although some ways of thinking are helpful and allow us to grow, others are not so helpful and cause unnecessary stress for us and those around us. A predominantly negative outlook, a victimized attitude, “what if” or “if only” thinking, and “it’s all my fault” thinking can prevent people from obtaining a happier and healthier quality of life. The key is for us to recognize there is problem with the way we think, be aware of it when it starts to happen and start replacing negative patterns with positive affirmations.
One unhealthy model of thinking is the “negative psychic” thinking pattern. This is where we always presume that others have low opinions of us. Remember Debbie Downer on “Saturday Night Live”? She made us laugh because she was so over the top with a negative attitude, but in reality, don’t we all know someone like this? Chances are, among our family, friends or co-workers, we all know a Debbie Downer.
Another example is the “should, would, could” thinking pattern. If we are this type of person, we always have an excuse for not taking the steps we need to take to enhance our life. “I should apply to college, but I’m too busy right now.” “I would be a better parent if only my parents hadn’t been so neglectful.” Or, “I could apply for that promotion, but I know I’ll never get it, so why try?”
In the “It’s all my fault” thinking pattern, we see ourselves as being the cause of everything bad that has happened. For example, we might say, “It’s my fault he left me for another woman.” You’ll notice this type of person does not take responsibility for the good things that happen. A pattern that is the direct opposite of this is the “victimized attitude.” A person with this attitude never claims responsibility for any bad life events, but always blames others.
One final example is the “they’re all wrong” thinking pattern. This individual sees everyone as incapable of doing anything right. It is his way or nothing. If you are this type of person, you might always suspect that someone else is going to mess up a task, so you’d rather do it yourself. This person never trusts anyone to live up to his or her standards.
If we are honest, all of us have fallen into one or more of these thinking patterns in the past. Many of us seem to be stuck in these patterns. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can take control of our attitude by taking the first step and recognizing that there is a problem.
If you don’t recognize that you are in a negative thinking pattern, you may not see any need to change. But keep in mind, your negative thinking can influence many others. Negative rubs off and creates more negative. On the flip side, when others try to bring you down with negativity, it’s important to recognize what is going on and use positive thinking as a line of defense. I’ll give you a personal example.
When I met my husband at the University of Kentucky, I knew he was joining the Navy prior to our getting married. I always wanted to travel and see the world, so the opportunity to move and live in different locations and experience different cultures sounded exciting to me. However, I had friends who were not so optimistic. Their remarks reflected negative attitudes. They said things like, “You’ll never be able to keep a job as you will constantly move.” “Your husband will be out for long periods of time and you will be lonely.” “You are leaving prior to having your thesis complete and you will never complete your master’s degree it if you leave now.”
I never paid attention to them because I learned early in life to work hard, study hard and give your all in everything you do and then the sky is the limit. My father always told us we could do anything in life if we worked hard enough at it and really wanted it. So 24 years later, I’m happy to say that I found YMCA jobs in every location we moved to, completed my thesis and received my master’s degree. I may have missed my husband when he was overseas, but I kept busy and maintained a positive attitude.
Recognize that no one can change their thinking pattern overnight, especially if it is a pattern you’ve carried around for many years. At the Y, we’ve noticed that many people who have been sedentary for years, come into the Y and expect to see immediate and noticeable results from an exercise routine. When they don’t see the immediate results they expected, they get discouraged and go back to being sedentary. Having a healthier body means adopting a healthier lifestyle, and this is usually a gradual process. The same is true for negative thinking.
Recognizing and changing your way of thinking can be a long process, depending on what patterns of thinking you employ and how badly you want to change. People can change, do change, and change for the rest of their lives. I know I have changed some of my limited patterns of thinking over the years and am happier and healthier for it. We all have the ability to do this if we choose to, no matter what our background or age.
Everyone’s view of the world is different, and it all comes down to the thinking patterns we use in our daily lives. If you think life is wonderful, you will notice the wonderful things in your life. If you think life is awful, you will only notice the awful things. Change your thoughts and you can literally change the world you are living in.
Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.