Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Think Positively During Difficult Times

I've been through great times during my life, and I've been through some really nasty times as well. I've impressed the importance of thinking positively in a previous post on success. It's easy to think positively when your life is going well for you, as you are on the top of the world. However, what about when your life is in a downturn? How do you think positively in those situations? Although it may seem difficult, thinking positively during difficult times is not that hard to do. I will explain in this post.

Regardless of how bad your life may be at this moment, you need to focus your mind with positive thoughts. OK, I know that this sounds nonsensical. After all, if you've experienced some kind of negative event in your life (like a job loss, death in the family, etc.), your mind is likely overflowing and racing with negative thoughts. However, here are a few points you should keep in mind:

  1. You had periods of happiness as well as periods of sadness in your life. Both are finite, as one is bound to begin as the other ends.
  2. Think back to the times you were happy and remember what made you happy back then.
  3. Get out a pen and paper, and write down your most current negative thought. You should also write down what made you think this way, and then you should write counter thoughts.
  4. Remember that everyone has bad times in their lives. You're not alone.
  5. Likewise, you might not be able to improve your situation alone. Find and form a support network (whether they be friends, family, colleagues, doctors, etc,) of people who can help you.
I believe that most people don't want to be stuck in a rut. It's just that they get stuck in their negative thoughts and start moping around. It's OK to mope around for a short period of time. However, if you continue moping around, you will not do anything to make your situation better. (Yes, there are lazy people in this world, but if you're reading this post, I doubt that you are lazy.) The third bullet point above is an important technique that I learned and applied myself in my own life. Why? By taking one negative thought at a time, breaking it down, and countering it with positive thoughts, I was able to slowly retrain my mind to think positively. You could think of it like taking a fast spinning movie reel and slowing it down, so you can see the movie frame by frame.

Tip: If you're having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately! Your life will get better, and they can help you get your life back on track.

In addition, I suggest that you find something that makes you feel better. For example, I love reading graduate textbooks on antennas, computational electromagnetics, and computer algorithms. Of course, I enjoy reading science fiction and other types of books. However, I'm going through an uncertain period of my life in the sense that I don't know if I will have funding for my PhD by the end of August. I've recognized that reading books in my field of study makes me feel better because it will help me earn my PhD in the long run, and it will help me find a temporary job (i.e., an engineering internship) in the short run. After all, I enjoy being knowledgeable in my field of research, and my knowledge will add value to whatever company I may do an internship at this fall. Because I enjoy adding value to other people's lives (as well as my own), this makes me feel much better about myself. Of course, I don't spend all of my time reading, as I have other ways to make myself happy, and there are many times that I don't feel like reading. It's just that reading engineering textbooks really helps me feel better because that activity helps me get positive thoughts flowing.

What am I saying? If you're feeling down, find a hobby that will not only make you happy, you should find one that will add value to other people's lives as well as your own. It has been said that you can make yourself happy by being in service to others. You don't have to read engineering textbooks like me. Perhaps you could volunteer at a local food bank or tend a community vegetable garden. Find something that you enjoy doing with a passion. Who knows, as you might find something that you could write about, or you could make a strong and personal connection with someone in your support network. Whatever the case may be, it will add positive value to your life and others around you.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

I find happiness in reading engineering textbooks. After all, I am an engineer and
an academic. Reading is something I love doing.