By Sondra Whitt
“We must all wage an intense, lifelong battle against the constant downward pull. If we relax, the bugs and weeds of negativity will move into the garden and take away everything of value,” says motivational speaker and author Jim Rohn. “You cannot take the mild approach to the weeds in your mental garden. You have got to hate weeds enough to kill them. Weeds are not something you handle; weeds are something you devastate.” Just like in our vegetable and flower gardens, we have to actively stay on top of the weed control and on some days the battle seems to be harder-fought than others. Some days seem to be filled with nothing but cloudy skies and rain — bad news, sky-rocketing debts, lay-offs, illness, mountains of bills, broken relationships, irritations, sadness, and sleepless nights. On those days, nothing seems to be going like we want it to and it’s easy to let the weeds of negative thoughts take over and cause us to slide right into the compost pit of despair.
But we have a saying in Oklahoma about the weather, “If you don’t like it, just wait, it’ll change.” And, like the weather, our feelings are fickle, too. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of good news, a smile from a stranger, a friend’s call, a hug from a loved one and the next thing we know, all is right with the world again. Suddenly we notice that the sun is shining, we get a good night’s sleep and we feel confident and happy again. Things don’t seem so bad after all and we really can handle them.
There are also a few things we can actively do to keep the weeds from sprouting. The two most important ways we can guard against mental negativity are to be careful of what we take into our minds and particular about the people we’re around. There are periods of time when I won’t watch or read the news because it’s just too depressing. Or it makes me mad — especially since I know there’s very little or nothing I can do about it. And I spend as little time as possible with toxic people — the ones who always find something to gripe and complain about, who try to put me down, or who always put a negative spin on things.
Another way we can keep from having a negative mind-set is to accept the fact that problems are normal. As psychiatrist and author Theodore Rubin said, “The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.” When we realize problems are normal and that no one is exempt from them, we’re more likely to look for solutions. We can also lift our own spirits by doing something good for someone else. It makes us more aware of how good we have it when we see the problems other people are experiencing. “The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion,” said C.S. Lewis. “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.”
The nice thing about problems and life is that they’re ever-changing. Rohn says that life isn’t like math where there’s always just one factual answer based on a specific formula. He compares it to art, “You do not know how it is going to turn out. Life, like art, is always changing. Different people provide different colors. When you make a mistake, you can go back, erase it or even paint right over it. You can change the scenery. Life, like art, is ever evolving, and what looks good to one person is of no interest to another. And that is what makes life beautiful.”
We may not always be able to control everything around us nor can we go back in time and do things differently. But we can change our thinking — about the past, the present and the future — which keep us from letting circumstances fertilize the weeds of negative thinking in our mental garden.