Never Mind the Turkey, Focus on the Grouse

Social Post- During this holiday season get to the root of your negativity to carry the “holiday spirit” throughout the year. –

The holiday season is a time where many of us feel uplifted by the ability of the human spirit to be grateful and joyous for the world around us. Often, during these months between Thanksgiving and New Years, people pay special attention to what they’re thankful for, and foster an “Attitude of Gratitude,” if only for a few weeks.

While gratitude feels good in the moment, for most people it’s a thin veneer that covers up our deeper feelings. For a feeling of holiday spirit that lasts the whole year, it’s actually more effective to focus on the other half of the gratitude coin: our negative responses to the things happening in our world.

Yes, gratitude can shift your feelings over time, but what really drives your behavior are your subconscious negative responses to everything. The subconscious mind is all about survival, after all, and our survival often depends on our ability to recognize and deal with threats. In the modern world, however, our subconscious idea of a threat can be very wide-ranging — everything from the state of the planet, to an impulsive boss, heavy rush hour traffic, or even a person being noisy in a movie theater. And because so many of these “threats” feel beyond our control, most of us have developed a compelling, near-automatic, and yet ultimately ineffective way to address them: complaining.

I gained first-hand appreciation of this dynamic when I was in my 20s and my roommate Daniel and I challenged each other to a complaint contest. We had both read a book on the benefits of positive self talk and had been struggling to put the tools into practice. Daniel took delight in catching me slipping into negativity, which just frustrated me more, especially because I felt he was the one who liked to complain about everything. Each looking to prove a point, we decided to get two mason jars, which we labeled “complaint jars.” We agreed to drop coins into our respective containers when either of us was caught — by ourselves or the other — complaining about anything. We thought it would be funny and give one of us some bragging rights. We were unprepared for the real outcome.

In the first week, the jars filled up quickly, with each of us either catching our own transgressions or — more often — having it pointed out by the other. By the second week, we noticed that about half the time we caught ourselves in mid-complaint and rephrased the statement in real-time to voice what we wanted to happen in our worlds, rather than what we were unhappy with or felt was out of our control. By the end of the first month, our complaining (“I really hate it when my boss does X”), had transformed into unemotional statements of truth (“My boss does X”), which in turn gave way to forward-looking statements (“It would make me so happy if my boss would see the value in doing Y”).

What we hadn’t anticipated was that, by making a game of our complaints and giving ourselves permission to spotlight these negative thought processes, we put focused attention on how our subconscious minds generated those complaints in the first place, and allowed ourselves the space to clean up habitual thinking that was no longer serving us.

The complaint jars brought our awareness to what we wanted, rather than what we were resisting. We went from complaining about a past that we couldn’t change if we tried, to speaking about the future and vocalizing how we desired it to be. As our thoughts and words shifted to what we intended to create for our lives, instead of what we didn’t want to happen, this “future speaking” dramatically transformed our perceptions of the world.

Though we weren’t cognizant of it at the time, Daniel and I had stumbled on a way to stimulate a fundamental operation of the brain, called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. This is where the brain subconsciously keeps modifying itself, by strengthening existing synaptic connections or establishing new ones, based on what we consciously experience. The subconscious mind’s activity is orders of magnitude larger than the activity of the conscious brain, but in putting regular focused attention to how we were acting, we opened up direct lines to the underlying impulses for our behavior and established new neural pathways.

By the time the complaint contest ended, it was clear to me that I had a lot of cleaning up to do in my own mind. But, with the fast pace of my daily life at the time, I didn’t feel that I had time to stop every five minutes and dig into the origin of the last complaint I had. So I started carrying around a little black book to keep track of all of my complaints and negative thoughts — even the ones I only voiced in my head. I called it my “little book of bullshit.”

My little book of bullshit was like flypaper for negativity. I soon began to notice that the simple act of writing down the negative thought helped it vanish from my mind. Captured on paper, the thought released and freed my mind to focus on the positive. The exercise also helped me work through inner conflict and process my feelings in the same way I might talk through a situation with a close friend. The end result was that my brain engaged in another ancient program called “intentional-forgetting,” where the mind willingly lets go of information it’s holding, because it knows that information is housed somewhere else. Then, once my little book of bullshit was full, I burned it to ritualistically release those negative thoughts from my consciousness once and for all.

Between a compliant jar and a little book of bullshit, negative thoughts can be constantly brought into the forefront of your awareness. And it’s only when this awareness takes place that you can step away from the emotional drama that accompanies it, see it for what it is, and choose to release it.

This week, find yourself an “accountabilibuddy” and challenge them to a month-long complaint contest. Additionally, I challenge you to get your own Little Book of Bullshit to record all of your negative and limiting thoughts and complaints. As you go through these exercises, pay special attention to any themes of negativity that arise, such as “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not lovable.” These could indicate core wounds or limiting beliefs that, if addressed, could release a collection of associated negative thoughts. With these exercises complete, you may just notice a natural attitude of gratitude has replaced your negative narrative, and your experiences of life feel lighter, fuller and more prosperous.

“You can not have a positive life and a negative mind.” — Joyce Meyer

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