- Dr. Eric Rooker
The Habit of Positive Thought
"This then is your prescription. For seven days you must not allow yourself to dwell for a single moment on any kind of negative thought."
The 7 Day Mental Diet is a rather small, innocuous book that would become lost on any book shelf. The book itself is no longer than 16 pages, but this 1935 publication still provides a novel concept today. In an age of fad diets, juice cleanses and extreme health trends Dr. Emmet Fox’s text about a “Mental Diet” is a bit novel.
The core premise of The 7 Day Mental Diet is that the mental diet you live on, that is to say your daily thoughts and ideas, are the most important factors in your life. Fox describes these thoughts as, “…the food which you furnish your mind that determines the whole character of your life.” In the end, the thoughts that we allow ourselves to dwell upon will determine who we are and what we do.
It is for this reason that Dr. Fox prescribes his readers a seven-day diet of positive thought. For seven days readers are to let go of every negative thought that comes into their head. If a reader fails and dwells upon a single negative thought for more than a few seconds they then must start their seven-day diet over again. With this simple prescription Dr. Fox seeks to eliminate the human brain’s natural tendency to dwell upon negative thought.
Dwelling upon negative thoughts has become particularly concerning as we better understand neuroscience and the way the brain works. This is because the human brain has a natural tendency to more quickly recognize negative stimuli and dwell on it. Psychologists have termed this phenomenon the “Negativity-Bias.”
For example, say you have a great day of work, everything is going well, on your last call you go and look at a sick cow. The owner remarks, “Boy that took you a long time, what were you hanging out at the office all day?” This simple negative comment can shift the entire perceptive of your thinking and now when you get home at the end of the day and are asked, “How was your day?” You might say terrible even though 90% of your day was great.
This Negativity-bias causes you to pay more attention to the negative things that are in your head or taking place around you. Placing an inordinate amount of attention or weight on the negative thought or event.
Negative Thought = Habit
This simple reaction was programmed within us long before we can remember. Research has shown that this bias towards negative interaction and thought is developed in the first year of our life. In fact, it is our interactions with negative stimuli within that first year of life that will shape our life long habits. The observation and adoption of reactions to negative stimuli is an evolutionary trait which helped protect and provide for our ancestors. Negative stimuli have been shown to engage larger portions of the brain resulting in much stronger emotional and mental responses and increased brain processing; which in the past would have greatly benefited our survival.
It is these strong responses that begin to formulate a feedback loop and an early habit. As James Clear said in Atomic Habits;
“We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them.”
The way we walk, talk and interact with people is driven by what we observe as children, and the way we react toward negative stimuli and though is as well.
Breaking the Habit
So how do we begin to break the habit of a negative thought loop? First, we need to be properly motivated! True change will occur once you begin to recognize that if you redirect that strong negative emotional and mental response, towards positive thought, new opportunities will emerge. We need to retrain our mind to think positive all the time. As Dr. Fox says in his book;
“If you change your mind your conditions must change too.”
This can be accomplished through a technique James Clear describes as Temptation Bundling, or the linking of an action you want to do, with something you need to do. No matter how good you get at positive thought, negative thoughts will always creep into you head. However, we can utilize them to our advantage. When a negative thought comes into our head, which is inevitable and necessary from an evolutionary perspective, you will “release” or forget about it and then cue yourself instead to come up with one positive thought.
If you drop an egg on the floor while making breakfast you won’t focus on the mess. Instead, you will release your negative thought about the mess and mentally or verbally say, “Well the floor needed to be cleaned anyway!” This act of re-framing a negative thought into a positive one will help you reprogram your mind and make positive thought easier.
Receive Your Prescription
With this technique described let’s come back to Dr. Fox’s prescription; “This then is your prescription. For seven days you must not allow yourself to dwell for a single moment on any kind of negative thought.” He has challenged his readers to avoid holding on to a single negative thought for an entire WEEK!
This is NOT an easy challenge. In fact, I’ve only been able to accomplish it a handful of times. But it is the act of trying the act of showing up and beginning to think positively that matters. Start with one thought, then one hour then one day. I think James Clear summarizes it best, “If you want to master a habit the key is repetition not perfection.”
This means that every day you need to concentrate on letting go of negative thoughts and then actively replacing them with positive thoughts. Begin with one single thought per day and work yourself up to Dr. Fox’s week of diet. Ultimately, you need to practice this new habit, every, single, day!
“This then is your prescription. For seven days you must not allow yourself to dwell for a single moment on any kind of negative thought. You must watch yourself for a whole week as a cat watches a mouse, and you must not under any pretense allow your mind to dwell on any thought that is not positive, constructive, optimistic, kind. This discipline will be so strenuous that you could not maintain it consciously for much more than a week, but I do not ask you to do so. A week will be enough, because by that time the habit of positive thinking will begin to be established. Some extraordinary changes for the better will have come into your life, encouraging you enormously, then the future will take care of itself. The new way of life will be so attractive and so much easier than the old way that you will find your mentality aligning itself almost automatically.”
Dr. Emmet Fox
Carry on OTO’ers
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