“You can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought.”

This quote is the title of a book first published in 1988 by self-help author Peter McWilliams. He asserts that negative thinking is a debilitating illness that we must overcome by deliberately looking for and focusing on all that is going well in our lives. Most agree that positive thinking yields better results than approaching a situation with negativity, but it’s also true that monitoring our moment-by-moment stream of thoughts is an impossible task. Just think about how many times last week you found yourself deep in a train of thought without having made a conscious decision to climb aboard that train.

Because one thought can so quickly and reflexively trigger a cascade of escalating thoughts and emotions, we often have the sensation that “our thoughts are thinking us,” rather than the other way around. The 20th-century Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was among the first to point out that the ability to choose our response is the one freedom that cannot be taken away from us.

In his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes the devastating experience of being a concentration camp inmate – and the ability to deliberately choose a different response. “Between stimulus and response there is a space,” he writes. “In that space lies our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Practices such as mindfulness and meditation can help us widen the space between stimulus and response, but even if we’ve experienced that gap, most of us are just one stressful situation away from negative thoughts rushing into fill that space. In the decades that have passed since these works were published, we’ve come to understand that it’s not our negative thinking that wreaks the most psychological damage, but the negative emotions that are evoked in us as a result of those thoughts.

A great way to understand emotion is to think about it like a sound wave. All sounds – even those that are outside the range of our perception – move at a certain speed as each of them vibrates at a particular frequency. The less resistance a sound wave encounters as it moves through time and space, the faster it will travel and the higher its frequency will be. On the other hand, a sound wave that encounters resistance will move at a slower rate and vibrate at a lower frequency. This concept holds true in the inner realm of our emotions: The only difference between good-feeling and bad-feeling emotions is the degree of resistance a desire encounters as it moves along the path toward its fulfillment. If you look at your own life experiences, you’ll find examples of this.

Think of a time when you felt excited about something, expecting a positive outcome, and you’ll notice a rushing, inspiring, enlivening feeling within you. The energy is moving at a high rate of speed, not being slowed down by a contradictory thought, emotion, or belief. Now recall a time when you felt disappointed or rejected, or feared things weren’t going to turn out well. That rushing feeling would quickly be replaced by a much duller, denser sensation. This is energy that is traveling at a lower, slower frequency because it is moving through resistance. Your emotions let you know how high or low a vibration you are offering in every moment: the higher and more allowing your vibration, the better you feel. If happiness is our goal, then it’s negative emotion that we really can’t afford the luxury of indulging in.

Use these three steps to become a naturally happier person, less reactive to the world around you.

1. Recognize. Your best shot at derailing an unwanted train of thought is at the very first sign that your emotions have started to take a negative turn. For example, at the first awareness of irritation you feel when another driver cuts you off, or at the first subtle sensation of anger or disappointment you feel in response to the behavior of a loved one or a friend. Once you become sensitive enough to recognize the direction your thoughts are taking you, you have the power to make a different choice.

2. Take responsibility. Regardless of what triggered your negative reaction, you are the only one who has the power to aggravate the negativity or to diminish it. You exercise this power by making a conscience decision about where, how and upon what you focus your attention. The more specifically you focus on the details of a circumstance or behavior that you find upsetting, the more power you unwittingly give it, and the bigger it becomes.

3. Redirect. Once you’ve recognized that your attention has drifted to a subject that generates negative emotion within you, the next step is to consciously choose to focus on something that consistently brings you joy when you think about it. For example, if you fall easily into a state of appreciation every time you think about how bright and beautiful your children are, redirecting your focus to this subject will help you generate a more positive emotional momentum.

With practice, you will become astute enough to steer clear of negative emotions before the momentum of them picks up any real speed. You’ll begin to recognize that there really is a space between any stimulus you encounter and your response to it – however small or brief that space may be. By choosing to linger longer and longer in this space, you dramatically increase your ability to witness, rather than react to, the people, situations, and events that life brings your way, and discover that you can remain in charge of your own emotional state regardless of what is going on around you. And best of all, when your attention is not constantly at risk of being hijacked by your surroundings, you will be much better able to recognize opportunities for connection, for laughter, and for fun that are all around you.

Author's Bio: 

Christy Whitman is a Transformational Leader, Celebrity Coach and the New York Times Bestselling Author of The Art of Having It All. She has appeared on The Today Show and The Morning Show and her work has been featured in People Magazine, Seventeen, Woman’s Day, Hollywood Life, and Teen Vogue, among others. Christy is the CEO and founder of the Quantum Success Learning Academy & Quantum Success Coaching Academy, a 12-month Law of Attraction coaching certification program. Christy has helped thousands of people worldwide to achieve their goals through her empowerment seminars, speeches, and coaching sessions and products. Christy’s life-changing message reaches over 200,000 people a month and her work has been promoted by and featured with esteemed authors and luminaries such as Marianne Williamson, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Marci Shimoff, Brian Tracy, Neale Donald Walsch, Abraham-Hicks, and Louise Hay. She currently lives in Montreal with her husband, Frederic, and their two boys, Alexander and Maxim.

Meet her at www.ChristyWhitman.com, www.TheArtofHavingItAll.com, www.QSLA.com