Shayne on You: Accentuate the positive

Dear Maggie,

My husband and I got into an argument the other day, and he said something that really made me mad. He said all I ever do is complain. Of course, I denied it. But then I mentioned it to my sister, and she got all quiet and stopped looking me in the eye. And when I demanded to know what she was thinking she said that I really do tend to complain a lot! I was hurt and offended, but ever since, Iíve been thinking about it and noticing that I really do. When Iím on the phone with my mom, I complain about the kids, and when Iím talking to my husband I complain about my mom, and when I run into people at the grocery store I complain about the prices, or the weather, or a headache, or ...

Well, you get the picture. I donít when I changed from a fairy positive person into just the opposite, but now that Iíve realized what Iím doing, Iíd like to change it. But itís tougher than it seems. Old habits die hard. Any suggestions?


Negative Nellie

Dear Nellie (Iím starting by dropping the negative part!)

What a great letter! And good for you for recognizing and wanting to change this tendency! It must be kismet, because several people I know have been discussing this very topic. The thing is, we tend to talk about the things we notice. So if we notice negative stuff all the time, thatís on our mind, and is our natural topic of conversation. The problem with that is that when we focus on negativity all the time, we attract more of it. So itís more and more what we see and more and more what we talk about, and the first thing you know, weíre kind of miserable to be around, and worse, we feel miserable inside.

A good first step would be to make it a habit to start noticing positive things. Start every day by writing down six or seven or ten absolutely great things, whether itís big stuff like, ďmy guyís a hunk,Ē to tiny things like, ďI love the way the sun is reflecting off the icicles this morningĒ or ďthank God for fat-free French vanilla creamer!Ē If you make this a daily habit, youíll gradually train your mind to focus more on the positive, which means youíll bring more and more positive stuff to notice into your life.

Another excellent tool is this new program thatís sweeping the nation right now. The goal is to not complain for 21 days. Itís the brainchild of Reverend Bowen of the Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Missouri and it has become a very trendy challenge in many circles now. The way it works is this. You get a little purple bracelet to remind you of your goal not to complain for 21 straight days, and you put it on your wrist. Any time you catch yourself complaining, (and email counts!) you have to switch the bracelet to the other wrist, and start counting over again. It took Reverend Bowen 3 months to get to 21 straight days. He says it has taken some members as long as seven months.

This isnít magic, and it surely isnít easy, but itís a great tool. And according to a friend of mine whoís doing it (and is up to 19 days!) it isnít just that you squelch the complaints as they pop into your head, itís that gradually, you get into the habit of recognizing a negative thought before it goes from your brain to your mouth, and you automatically replace it with a positive thought. You might think, ďThat darn mailman is late againĒ and shift that thought to, ďokay, so heís late sometimes, but heís really great about bringing oversized packages to the door, and heís always friendly.Ē Bit by bit all your tendencies to see the negative, become tendencies to see the positive. You literally change the way your brain works, building new pathways and abandoning the old ones. Thereís science behind this stuff!

The bracelet is a reminder, and it makes a game out of something that can honestly change your life. You can go from being mostly negative, to mostly positive, and itíll make a huge difference in every other part of your life, and especially in your closest relationships.

You can read about the program and get your own purple bracelet at the website Bowen has set up for this, which now offers books and T-shirts as well, with all profits going to charity. The bracelets are offered in packages of five, for five bucks a package. (The more you order, the less they cost, so think what fun it would be to do this as a group with your co-workers or friends!)

Granted, you donít need the ďofficialĒ purple bracelet. Any bracelet, or even a rubber band, would work. I think this is a wonderful idea and I hope it keeps on spreading!

Good luck!


*Note from Maggie: Weíre saving all your email addresses when you send me a letter I can use for the column. In April, weíll be drawing from among them, and three lucky winners will get an autographed copy of my next novel, LOVERíS BITE, before it can even be purchased retail. So keep those wonderful letters coming! (And donít worry, after the drawing, weíll delete the addresses and they will never be shared for any reason.)

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