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One Sunday afternoon, a cranky grandfather was visiting his family. As he lay down to take a nap, his mischievous grandson decided to have a little fun by putting Limburger cheese on Grandpa's mustache.

Soon, Grandpa awoke with a snort and charged out of the bedroom saying: "This room stinks." Through the house he went, finding every room smelling the same. Desperately he made his way outside only to exclaim, "The whole world stinks!"

So it is when we fill our minds with negativity. Everything we experience and everyone we encounter will carry the scent we hold in our mind. Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets and authors, said: "I am convinced that the negative has power, and if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over."

We all have negative thoughts from time to time. But studies show constant negativity can lead to depression, anxiety, personality disorders and even mental illness.

That's why I don't recommend hanging around with negative people. A negative person sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while a positive person sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

According to the website Power of Positivity, there are three leading causes of negative thoughts:

Fear of the future. People often fear the unknown, which can lead to predicting failure and disaster. Accept that there is a limit to what you can change in the future and strive to focus on the present instead.

Anxiety about the present. Many of us worry about what people think of us, whether we're doing a good job at work and what the traffic will be like on the way home. Negative thinkers often come up with the worst-case scenarios. Organization and routine can help with banishing negative thoughts.

Shame about the past. Everyone does and says things they feel embarrassed about, but negative thinkers tend to dwell on past mistakes and failures more than others.

Author Emma-Marie Smith suggests asking yourself these five questions when you feel negative thoughts creeping in:

  • Is the thought true? Is there a basis for this negative belief?
  • Is the thought giving you power, or is it taking your power away?
  • Can you put a positive spin on this thought or learn from it?
  • What would your life look like if you didn't have these negative beliefs?
  • Is the thought glossing over an issue that needs addressing?

Thomas Edison used to say his deafness was his greatest blessing — a blessing because it saved him from having to listen to reasons why things couldn't be done.

I love that thought. In fact, I would suggest that practicing "selective hearing" is a positive step toward filtering the negativity that discourages you from trying new things. It's OK to let folks share their opinions, but you are not obligated to let them make decisions for you.

Think about the famous story of David and Goliath. A small boy with only a slingshot and a few stones was facing a fierce giant who could crush him with one hand. David could have looked at his formidable foe and thought, "He's really big. And mean. And scary. And I am none of those things. I'm outta here."

But he turned his thoughts toward what he could do. Looking at the giant towering over him, he said instead, "That guy is so big. There's no way I can miss him."

Mackay's Moral: Negative thinking will not produce positive results.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail