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By Steve Wells

For years I taught that the road to success was to "focus on what you want and not on what you don't want". I still see the value of the first part of that statement, focusing on what you want, but I now have major challenges with the second part. Trying not to focus on negatives, or, as many pop psychologists have taught, seeking to banish the negatives from your mind actually has the opposite effect. It may ultimately be one of the things that is most preventing us from being more successful!

Some very popular "positive thinking" teachers still recommend that you wear an elastic band around your wrist and sting yourself with that band every time you think a negative thought. And many psychologists recommend a technique called "Thought stopping" where, when you find yourself thinking a thought that disturbs you, you are supposed to yell loudly to yourself "Stop it!" There is even a very funny popular You Tube video circulating where a woman with claustrophobic thoughts is told to "Stop it!" as a way of dealing with her phobic thoughts.

If only this commonsense advice actually worked. But not only does it not work, it can actually make things worse.

Research now shows that thought suppression, trying to banish certain thoughts from your mind, is almost guaranteed to cause those thoughts to enter your mind more often. Trying NOT to think about something is actually a great way to ensure you will think it even more. What you resist, persists.  And the same applies when you try not to feel something.

Is this one of the reasons why so many people are depressed?

I think it is. As outlined in The Willpower Instinct, an excellent new book by Kelly McGonigal, studies show that the more you try to suppress negative thoughts, the more likely you are to become depressed. The more you try to push away self-critical thoughts, the more your self-esteem and mood plummets.

And this doesn't just apply to your thinking, it also applies to behaviour. The more you try not to think about eating chocolate, the more chocolate you'll ultimately eat. The more you beat yourself up for failing at a task, the more your future performance on similar tasks is likely to suffer. The list goes on and on.

What is the solution?

Acceptance. Allowing.  Simply allowing the thoughts to be there. I say, let the thought "be thunk". As opposed to our fear that the thoughts will then control us, that by "giving in" to those thoughts that they will "take over", the decision to allow those thoughts to be there without having to act upon them simply confirms that we are not prisoners of our thoughts.

When thoughts are allowed to "be", they tend not to hang around. And if they do, they no longer have the same influence. Allowing and accepting them forces them to relinquish their pretend power. When they have been really faced, it all becomes clear. They are simply thoughts.

Tapping can also help here.

In our Simple Energy Techniques (SET), we encourage clients to focus on whatever they are aware of about their problem, whether thoughts or feelings, bring that into their awareness and then simply add the tapping. There is no judgement about the thought or feeling. We simply bring attention to it, and tap, following it wherever it moves to next, through different manifestations of your thoughts or feelings.

Often, after tapping in this way using SET, the sufferer is able to think the negative thought which previously disturbed them but they no longer have any negative feeling "attached" to that thought. They are no longer controlled by it. They see it as simply a thought.

But it is not just the tapping which causes this, it is the acceptance, which begins with that willingness to bring the negative thought or feeling into awareness. Simple awareness in itself can be  healing, especially if that awareness can be held without judgement.

I often mused when I used to use EFT that the true power of the "EFT Set-up statement", where you have the client state "Even though I have this (problem) I deeply and completely accept myself" is not the positive self-accepting statement as many assume it to be (many clients in fact reject this statement anyway), but is really that the problem is being faced and named. It is in the recognition, acceptance, hell even the resignation of that statement which essentially says, "Dammit, Even though I shouldn't have this problem I do have it!"  Now research appears to be backing up my hypothesis. And I challenge EFT practitioners to use a statement like the one above instead of the usual set-up statement. You'll find it works just as often. As does saying, "I deeply and completely reject myself", by the way, but that's another story!)

The same applies to feelings. Instead of trying to "tap away" our negative feelings as many EFT practitioners advocate, which can produce an inner resistance which draws both practitioner and client into the trap of "thought suppression" and feeling avoidance mentioned previously (which some clients can only resolve by dissociating from the thought or feeling, driving it underground where it must continue to be held psychically until it can be healed by acceptance, with a practitioner who themselves is not scared by the negative...), it is truly our willingness to focus on the negative which allows tapping to reveal its power.

Feelings are meant to move...

I believe feelings are meant to move us and move through us, and that as they do so they inform us and allow us to adapt to important changes in our world.

Of course, we are afraid of some of our "negative" feelings, we don't want to feel them because we fear they will overwhelm us. Again, this is where tapping can help. Tapping used with acceptance of whatever is present. This "acceptance tapping" helps to calm our resistance to what "is", to allow us to "bear with" our legitimate feelings and allow them ultimately to move back into flow.

As we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, release our resistances, and let go of our judgements, we grow into new perspectives and ultimately evolve.  And rather than constricting or defeating us as we feared, as we flow with our feelings and allow them to move us and move through us, we expand into new levels of consciousness. And joy arises from within.

What do you think? I would love to read your comments on this article.

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