Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More thoughts on thinking

This piece is a follow-up to my last post about negative thinking. The reason I know a little about the subject is not from anything I read in a book, but from experience.

Believe it or not but I was once a very negative person. I believed in Murphy's Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Along with that other little philosophical gem, “Shit Happens.”

I will give you an example; sometime in 1986 I was painting a custom frame. I was spraying a candy-apple red over a white base. The nature of this paint is that it is semi transparent, and you see the base color through the top color. Like looking at the apple through the candy coating; hence the name.

It is absolutely essential to spray the paint on evenly or the result will be light and dark patches because of the varying thicknesses of paint. I had just started spraying the red coat when I became aware of a large black fly buzzing around inside the totally enclosed paint booth.

I couldn't stop painting and catch the fly or open the door to let him out, because to do so the paint would dry on the half finished frame and there would be streaks where I started painting again because the dry paint would not flow in with the wet paint. I had no choice but to keep going. I kept telling myself, "That damn fly is going to land on the frame, I just know it."

The fly did not just land on the wet paint so maybe I could have carefully lifted him off leaving only six tiny footprints. No, he flew right in front of the paint gun, into the stream of paint, and ended up "splat" in the middle of the top tube.

With any other type of paint the fly could have been picked off, and after the paint had been oven cured it could have been sanded smooth and touched up. With candy-apple paint the whole frame had to be stripped of paint, down to the bare metal, re-sandblasted, and repainted from scratch. This involved many hours of work.

At that time my ex-wife and I were going to marriage counseling, and that same evening I was talking to the female councilor, telling the same story I have just outlined here. She listened, and when I was though venting, she said, “Can't you see you created that to happen by your negative thinking?"

She pointed out a framed quotation she had hanging on the wall of her office. It was from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, it read, "Nothing is good or bad, that thinking made it so."

It was an epiphany, a light bulb went on in my head, I thought about the huge space the fly had in the paint booth and what were the chances of it flying between the paint gun and the frame within seconds of my negative thought. In addition, a top tube is only one inch wide, the fly could have easily gone over or under and not landed smack in the middle.

In the days that followed I went back to work a changed man. I recognized my negative thoughts and replaced them with good positive thoughts. About a week later the power of positive thinking was demonstrated to me in a very dramatic fashion.

I had to go to the bank to deposit some checks and get back to my shop as quickly as possible as I was expecting a visitor. It was 4 pm. in the afternoon in a town in Southern California, the traffic was horrendous.

I came out of the bank and as I walked to my car I was thinking, "I'll never make it out of here." I had to cross four lanes of traffic to make a left turn, with no traffic light. Then I told myself, "Don't think that way, there will be a gap in traffic."

I pulled out of the parking lot and on to a four lane highway there was not a car in sight in either direction. I made a joke about it, I leaned forward in my seat and looked up at the sky and said, "Thank you God, I just needed a space to get out, you didn't have to clear the whole fucking town."

As I drove towards my shop, cars came towards me and from behind and I was back in normal rush hour traffic. Those who have read my novel, Prodigal Child, will recognize this story. The story is true, although in the book, a work of fiction, the location is changed.

That single event had a profound affect on me. I have never had the power of positive thinking demonstrated to me in such a dramatic fashion since. However, I can assure you positive thinking continues to provide parking spaces and gaps in traffic when I need them.

I still ride my bike defensively and always stay alert on the roads; there are also certain roads that I will only use at weekends when traffic is lighter. I think positive but I don't act stupid.

I can tell by some of the comments that some do not fully understand this concept. It is not “Blame the Victim.” A person holding a fear of being robbed, is clearly not to blame if they are then robbed. However, a positive thought may have prevented this outcome.

It is not religion, it is the way the Universe works; it is Metaphysics. Having said this, even the medical profession accepts that prayer can help a sick person heal. What is a prayer? It is a positive thought; a statement of an outcome made with the quiet knowing that it will be so.

This is where the faith comes in. It is not the blind faith of religion, but confidence in the outcome of the positive thought. Without that, the positive thought will not work, but then again, without the faith in the outcome, it is no longer a positive thought.

Not only must we be aware of our own positive and negative thoughts, but those of others around us. Show me a person experiencing a string of misfortune, like illness, accident, car trouble, a victim of crime, etc., and I can practically guarantee that person has some other crap going on in their life.

For example, a divorce or break up of a relationship, trouble at work with a co-worker, conflict with a family member; anywhere there is conflict and a lot of negativity flying around. The good news is if you are aware of this, your own positive thoughts will cancel out the negative ones of others.

I care about cyclists, and it bothers me when I read about people taking abuse on the roads. Especially when I know that a change in attitude will make a huge difference in rectifying the problem. It will not happen overnight, like any learning process, it takes time and effort.

For close to fifty years, my philosophy in life was this: "Life is a bitch, and then you die." I lived a life of pain, suffering, misfortune, failed relationships, etc. etc. I got what I expected from life, and as Shakespeare said, "Thinking made it so."

The course of my life was changed for the better by a chance comment by a female marriage councilor, whose name I don't even remember. I pass on my experiences that it may cause others to think on their thought process. That is all; I am not trying to convert anyone to anything.

Doug commented on my last post with a story about a dog who chased a group of cyclists, the dog bit the one woman who held negative thoughts about dogs. This story is similar to my story about the fly in the paint booth, the fly and the dog both did exactly what we thought they would.

If a cyclist has negative thoughts about other road users, there a plenty of drivers out there who hate cyclists; the two are going to be drawn to each other. Call it Karma, call it Bike-ma if you wish, but it is the way this Universe works.

Reverse the polarity; change your thinking from negative to positive and you will no longer draw the bad stuff towards you. You will not eliminate the assholes; you will just not attract them to you. Not only will you be helping yourself, but helping the cause of all cyclists.

Cyclists are constantly calling for change. Mahatma Gandhi said, "Before you can change the world, change your own thinking."


Anonymous said...

Reverse the polarity; change your thinking from negative to positive and you will no longer draw the bad stuff towards you.

I really really hope there no people on this planet who actually believe that "thought can directly affect reality." The idea behind Dave's line of thought is that when one is not constantly fearing about bad stuff, the bad stuff that sometimes happens to people will just seem like simple bad luck (what it always is and always has been) instead of being something that was always expected.

Dave Moulton said...

Anonymous 6:50

Here is how you and I differ, and that is fine; there is room for all opinions. I am not trying to force my beliefs on anyone.

I do not believe in luck, good or bad; I create my own luck. Because I am a less than perfect being, bad things still occasionally happen to me. But, I’m working on it, and for the most part life is extremely good.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely going to try this. I find myself in a world of shit most times becasue of negativity. I know its so but it took this simple post to make it clear. Lets hope you'll be the marriage counselor I refer to in years to come;)

Peter M said...

There must have been a lot of negative thinking going on in China.

Anonymous said...

Here's an example that every cyclist can relate to: You're riding along when you see a pothole straight in front of you. You can either freeze and resign yourself to hitting it, or think positively and avoid it. We've all been there.

Anonymous said...

Of course thought can directly affect reality, but not in the way Dave seems to imply.

For example, it's well known that the placebo is an excellent form of medicine and positive thinking may well be an effective placebo, within reason (only if you believe in it of course, that's the point)

There is however no way positive thinking could ever affect crossing roads, good weather or stopping flies flying whither they will.

I don't want to critize positive thinking, it can help you deal with the bad stuff (maybe one just forgets it quicker), but the scientific arguments for any bizaarre "power of thought" kind of thing are pretty few and far between.

I might add that we evolved to think negatively for a reason. If I try plunging my hand into the chainring of my fixed gear it hurts and I soon learn not to go near there again. If I just thought positively ("hey, at least the whole hand wasn't wrenched off") then that learning wouldn't happen.

Now I'm going to make my dinner using pure thought.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep this in mind next time I roll through an unavoidable patch of glass.

Which is the correct thought?

"I won't get a flat today" - Might work.

"There was no patch of glass, was there?" - Outright denial?

“I’m sure several cyclists before me came through unscathed” Share the good vibe?

“Well, there was no avoiding that one. I should be ok” Sprinkle in a dose of reality?

Hmmm… I’ll report back on how this plays out.

Anonymous said...

During an August 17, 1957 baseball game, [Richie] Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands that struck spectator Alice Roth, wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, breaking her nose. When play resumed, Ashburn fouled off another ball that struck Roth while she was being carried off in a stretcher.

Was she your counselor?

Anonymous said...

The "thoughts are things" and "positive thinking" idea has made many self-help book writers famous and some wealthy, as far back as the 1800's. I consider them to be on a par with revival preachers of the 1920 and 30's, and today's TV evangelists.

Me, I have to admit I don't have a clue how the universe or existence itself work, and I don't believe anyone who tells me they do. I keep on open mind, but I don't do anything on the basis of "faith", no matter what that faith is.

But still, everyone needs their own outlook on life in order to go on, and one is as valid as another. At least positive thinking is not destructive in any way. All in all, being positive does make the life we have more enjoyable on a day to day basis.

Even if I don't always agree, I find this blog very interesting when the topic is cycling, and stimulating when it isn't.

Anonymous said...

Whatever turns your cranks. Me? I like straight blade forks.


Anonymous said...

from Kelly's Heroes

Oddball: Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
Moriarty: Crap!
Oddball: Crazy! I mean like so many positive waves maybe we can't lose! You're on!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm not sure how positive/negative thoughts change outcomes but I've seen it happen many times.

Anonymous said...

UltraRob : Thinking doesn't change the outcome, it changes the perception of the outcome. It turns "bad karma" into a "random occurrence".

Anonymous said...

I always prefer mind over matter. If I don't mind, it doesn't matter.
It might not change the outcome of a series of events, but it makes them easier to deal with.
Every trail rider knows that if you look at a rock or tree in the trail, you're going to run right smack into it!
If we condition ourselves to look for the clear path in life, rather than focusing on the obstacles, the most technical course is much easier to navigate..........and don't forget to be gratefull for the blessings life offers.

Anonymous said...

All this positive thinking stuff is by itself nonsense, unless it gives you the confidence, the psychological impetus needed for you to take additional measures to reduce the risk. Like install fly screens or bug zappers (... is that safe in a painting area...?), or ride more assertively, defensively, and coöperatively.

I don't buy for one minute that merely thinking bad thoughts would draw bad stuff to me. But I acknowledge that my current mood and learned responses affect my actions, my social interactions, and how I rationalise my actions when stuff, good or bad, happens (what others have said about perceptions of outcomes).

The thought in isolation is not the cause here, Dave. But the thought is never quite in isolation in a human mind: sometimes they make the body take effective actions too :), or change the mind's state in ways we're beginning to understand almost as well. Therefore, whatever floats your boat. But don't fall prey to magical thinking; using mystical language isn't quite plain speech either.

Unknown said...

Well I am not really interested in the metaphysical questions but one thing is certain - positive thinking makes you happier and more confident, and being happier makes you more engaged with the world, increases energy levels, and helps influence those around you. I remember a lady I used to know who was so happy and positive she was always a delight to be around and I felt much more positive for days after meeting up with her (and don't get any funny ideas, she was dating from room mate).

I never get flats. Why? Because I check the tyre pressure before every ride, check the tyres for wear and cuts, and replace the tyres when worn - that is positive thinking, engaging with the world.

Brian said...

Enjoyed your last two posts, Dave. I encountered a dog yesterday on my ride. I had some warning and my first thought was, "Oh crap!". Then I remembered a blog or article I read recently where the writer talked about enjoying these encounters with dogs as a chance to out-sprint the dog.

Well, I went from "Oh crap!" to "Alright, bring it!" pretty fast. Take some adrenaline and an owner who fails to leash but NEVER fails to feed his dog, and you've got a rather short chase (10-15) seconds, a tired dog, and a smiling cyclist.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I love the way you so eloquently put into words things that I feel! I have noticed that when I am feeling rushed/stressed/etc, then it just seems that I catch more red lights, more SLOW drivers, etc. However, when I am relaxed and one w/ the world, green lights, gaps in traffic, and yes...even parking spaces magically appear before me...they just seem to happen. Life somehow FLOWS easier during those times. I had never really thought about it and put it all together before, but my positive thoughts just seem to draw the good stuff my way (thats why I recently bought a diesel VW...I have SLOWED down my daily ratrace commute as I am getting such phenomenal fact, I have since slowed down even MORE, and I now commute UNDER the 65mph speed that nets me a cool 50 PLUS mpg! I have the XM sat-radio on a cool channel, and just flow my way around...letting the stressed out speed-racers have their way as they franticly zoom to their destination. And MANY times miles ahead, I will end up right behind the person who blasted by me earlier. Create your own karma...I like it and it works!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Dave,

I was in an collision with a large van just over a month ago. It was the second time I had crashed this year, and also, the second time I broke a collarbone. I've been off the bike all but 3 weeks this year.

And the most vivid thing I remember about the crash is that my first thought was "oh god, I am going to get hit and hurt again" then "I definitely can't stop in time."

This was 2 weeks after I had recovered from my old injury. I am sure that I siked my self into making this a possibility, instead of handling the situation expertly.

I was even thinking of taking time off of commuting and just using cycling for training, but your post, as well as my friends, have been really encouraging to me.

I refuse to be scared of where I live, I should refuse to be scared about the way I get around.