Over the course of my life, I’ve been counselled numerous times, by friends, family and mental health professionals, that I need to change the way I think. I need to be more positive.
The advice is often couched in simple platitudes: relax, don’t worry, everything’s going to be okay; but, what they’re really saying is that I need to change my negative thoughts.
I have to admit, no matter how much it irks me (and those kinds of platitudes really irk me, but that’s a topic for another day), they’re at least partially correct. They’re right that I need to change my thinking; they’re completely off the mark in their thinking that controlling my anxiety is as simple as ‘just relaxing.’ But, like I said, that’s a topic for another blog post 😉 .
But just because I can’t think away my anxiety disorder, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try and change my thinking patterns. You never know, it just might lessen the impact of the anxiety. Maybe I’ll suddenly become one of those Zen types who seem to float through life sans stress. A girl can hope, right?
Master of my own thoughts
The fact is that I do get caught up in negative thoughts about myself or what might happen. It isn’t a healthy or particularly happy way to live. And, if the internet is to be believed, it’s something that I DO have control over.
I’m the master of my thoughts; or at least, I should be.
With that in mind, I’ve been working on my positive thinking.
Or, is it that I’ve been working on my negative thinking?
Is it the same thing?
Project Positive Thinking isn’t a simple or small project; it’s actually pretty extensive. It turns out, once I started paying attention, that I’ve got a lot of negativity running around in my brain. Some of it’s obvious, like when I make a mistake and realize that I’m calling myself ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’. I wouldn’t let my children say those words about themselves or someone else, so why is it okay for me to say it about me?
It’s not.Because I’m not an idiot, sometimes, perhaps, I do idiotic things, but that really just means that I make mistakes. Click To Tweet
I’m also not stupid. And that’s not just my own opinion – I graduated university with distinction and was entered on the Dean’s List; something I’m quite proud of (positive thought 😉 ).
Of course, there are a myriad of topics and areas that I don’t show an aptitude for (a fact that is made clear to me by my six year-old twins by 8 o’clock pretty much every morning – one of the joys of motherhood), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m a competent person.
So what am I thinking?
When I take a moment to tune into the thoughts that are circling around and around in my head, I notice that they aren’t necessarily all negative, and they aren’t all directed at me. I do have positive moments. I do recognize my achievements, at least momentarily before they get lost on the ocean of negativity that seems to swarm around me. And I’m not just sitting around ruminating about what a terrible person I am – sometimes those kind of thoughts slip in, but they aren’t the bulk of the content.
What I hear, when I do listen, is a cycle of fear about the bad things that are going to happen. I have this sort of constant sense of impending doom. It’s like I’m walking along the edge of a cliff, and I can feel my feet slipping; I could go over at any moment.
Of course, the cliff analogy doesn’t reflect my life in any manner. I’ve got safety nets. I’m a long way away from catastrophe of any kind.
I think it’s safe, despite not having any type of professional or academic accreditation that would give me license to make such an assessment, to say that some of this thinking can be attributed to my anxiety disorder.
What’s my focus?
What I’ve been focusing on reminding myself is that just because something has its roots in a condition that I don’t have direct control over, it doesn’t mean that I’m powerless. I should still be working on changing that dialogue, even if I can’t completely silence it.Reframing my anxiety driven thoughts is one focus of Project Positive Thinking. Click To Tweet
The other focus is aimed at those negative thoughts that call my own character into question. This might just be the most critical part. How on earth can I function as a competent, productive person, if I don’t even believe that I am? My capability starts with my own belief in me. And, I’m pretty sure that some of the sense of doom will just magically disappear when I come fully onboard with trusting myself.
How did I get here?
It’s probably not going to be a surprise that I don’t have a definitive answer for that.
I’ve made some BIG mistakes in my life and failed at a few things I’ve tried. But, each ‘mistake’ has just altered the course of my life to the path I’m on right now, and for each failure, I went back and succeeded in some way – if not in the way I’d originally intended.
I’m sure my anxiety plays a big part. It’s pretty challenging to be confident when your body is shouting at you that something is terribly wrong.
I guess you could say that I’m trapped in a negative thoughts feedback loop. I think something is going to go wrong because I’m feeling anxious, and my anxiety is through the roof because I’m thinking that something might go wrong.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not constantly thinking that everything I do is going to go completely awry; it’s more like a steady feeling that something is going to go wrong that undermines everything that I’m trying to accomplish – making me second guess myself.
I’ve recently decided that I want to get off of this particular roller coaster (actually, all rollercoasters. I don’t really like them.)
What about the power of positive thinking?
And the ‘power of positive thinking’ is a real thing – so I’ve been told. I know for sure that worrying feels terrible, and it’s NEVER actually helped, at least as far as I can tell; It does, without a doubt hinder, if by nothing more than stealing the fun out of everything.And, I can’t think of a single way that cancelling a negative thought and turning it into a positive thought could be detrimental, so I’m giving POSITIVE THINKING a go. Click To Tweet
So what exactly am I doing?
If you want to join me in my quest for a more peaceful and positive mind, the following are the 5 things that I’m doing to change my harsh narrative into a sunny story with a happy ending:
5 Steps to Positive Thoughts
When I notice negative thinking, I take a moment to gentle the message and change it into a positive message.
For example: if I’ve made a mistake while sewing, and as I’m undoing the stitching, I notice that I’m muttering about my idiocy under my breath, I first stop what I’m doing. I put my sewing down, so that I’m not multi-tasking; I’m focusing solely on my thinking, and only my thinking. Then, I reframe the thought. Instead of thinking that I’m an ‘idiot’ because I made such a simple mistake, I might point out that the mistake was within a complicated project, and that I’m in fact doing something that is quite amazing. I’m talented.
It’s important to remember that mistakes don’t take away from our talent – mistakes are just a part of the learning process. They’re a part of pushing boundaries and learning new things.
Repeat a positive mantra
When I notice that my thoughts have gotten ‘stuck’ in a loop of dread, I select a mantra of positive words that counteract the negative thoughts, and then I repeat it over and over – sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head.
For example: on the day of my fitness test for work, I realized that I was starting to feel ill because I was so anxious that I would fail. I’d been having some serious health issues, and my training hadn’t been what it usually was. Once I recognized that it was the thoughts that were making me nauseous, I started repeating the following words over and over whenever I noticed the anxiety creeping back in: I’m strong. I’m powerful. I’m capable. I can endure.
The mantra changes from situation to situation, but it helps keep me strong, focussed and positive. And most importantly of all: NOT focussed on the negative thoughts.
Talk about positive things
When I notice that my mind’s narrative has become a list of negative things: things I’m not getting done, things that aren’t going as planned, things I wish I did differently, etc., etc., I come back fighting.
My weapon? A countering list of positive things.
My thought behind this technique is that my mind can only think of one thing at a time, so if I fill it with positive things, there’ll be no room for the negatives. It isn’t going to erase the negative, but there won’t be any room for the negatives to get a word in edgewise.
The positives can be anything. They can be happy memories of vacations, events I’m looking forward to or a recent success (or ancient successes as long as I’m not turning those successes into something negative because they happened so long ago – you have to be vigilant, negative thoughts are slippery).
This is an area where the practice of gratitude can be really helpful. When you’re thinking about things that you’re grateful for, it’s pretty hard to be negative.
Negative thoughts are tough. And if yours have been around for a really long time, like mine, they’re going to be territorial. So you need to be tough. I give strength to my list of positives by not just thinking about them but actually TALKING about them. It works best if you have someone to talk to. They don’t even have to know what you’re doing, just start talking happy. You might even brighten their day. But remember, talking to yourself is powerful too.
Adding a physical aspect to the counter-attack just makes it that much more powerful in your brain.
Remind yourself of positive historical outcomes
When I’m mired in an overwhelming list of things that I can’t imagine I can possibly complete, or when I’m thinking that everything is going wrong and a catastrophe is coming, it’s helpful to take a look back. I can make a long list of things that I have done wrong in my life, but I can make an equally long or longer list of things that went right – especially, if I give myself permission to be positive.
When I start thinking that I’m NEVER going to get through this, that this time the pain is going to win or that this time I’m going to mess up my work project so badly that I’m going to lose my job, I create a little movie in my mind of all the times before that things worked out just fine. In this moment, I might not remember what I was thinking before each of those successes, but based on my history, I can pretty much guess that I was just as worried.
It’s important to remind myself, from time to time – like when I’m completely freaking out – that if my life had truly been a series of failures, then, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I must have done one or two things right, at the very least.
Accept that I can’t always change things
There’s a well-known Serenity Prayer that says:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, & the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr Click To Tweet
I believe that this prayer eloquently captures the essence of positive thinking. If I get caught up in negative thoughts about things that I can’t change, then I’m going to become trapped in a cycle that I can’t ever free myself from. If I can’t change it through my actions, then I can’t change it through my thoughts.
But, I CAN change my thoughts.
I can’t change that I have an anxiety disorder (although there are things I can do to mitigate it). It’s part of my genetic makeup. I can’t change that extensive parts of my life have been negatively coloured by that anxiety.
What I can change is how I much let it impact my thinking and my future.
I can change my thinking.
I can’t change that I’ve made mistakes in the past. I can’t change the choices I’ve made in the past.
What I can change is how I think about my past.
I can change my thinking.
I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m ready to start the hard work. It’s time to make changes to the person I am. I can’t change the essence of me – nor should I try. The things that make me who I am are special and should be cherished, but I can change my thinking. I can become a more positive person in my own mind.
The ironic part is that my negativity is mostly in my own head. At work I’m considered to be a positive and vibrant member of the team. I also have friends who describe me as bubbly and happy. The fact that it was a surprise when I learned this is perhaps a further warning about my need to work on my positive thinking.So, it’s time to make the inside reflect the outside – one thought at a time. Click To Tweet
If you have suggestions for simple ways to stop negative thoughts in their tracks, I’d love to hear them. Please leave them in the comments below 🙂
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