I learned something incredibly powerful recently. I have been living in a place of precarious uncertainty professionally, personally, and health-wise. My predominant feeling about life could be likened to being on a treadmill where I didn’t have access to the controls, and on many days I could identify with Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." No light at the end of the tunnel to strive towards, toiling for the sake of obligation to duty and providing for those who depend on me.
I was aware that I was fed up with feeling beset by the tedium of day to day life, that my jobs no longer brought me joy, that I looked for excuses to avoid socializing and that I was dragging my significant other down into my wet blanket state of mind. With the death of my father last week and being forced to confront my family dynamics and deal with raw feelings of sorrow and loss, a simple realization struck me like hitting a brick wall at 60 mph: I was the one responsible for my the way I was feeling. Not outside events, circumstances or other people. Just me.
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Swap the word “inferior” for “bad” and insert the quote into my life.
I’ve always been a doer and a go-getter – someone who goes out and fixes things, makes things right for other people, and solves challenges. This realization of my unique responsibility in my dilemma elicited almost simultaneously a feeling of “WTF do I do now?” and a glimmer of hope “If I am responsible for this I can fix it”.
I turned my focus to the task of strategizing – another thing I’m good at: logical planning and organization – to come up a with a viable recipe to set my headspace on the right track so that the rest of my life would have a stable base from which to move forward, and came up with the following points. I posted these as an article to a business website where I have been previously published.
6 Strategies to Conquer Negative Thinking
We all have those days - hopefully infrequent - where a black cloud seems to hang over our head and follow us wherever we go. Moods can and do change, and are highly susceptible to our interpretation of events, more so than the external events themselves.
I would like to offer the following tips for helping to clear the clouds away more quickly, as go-to guidelines when needed. Consider using them in the following order:
1. When pervasive bad thoughts fill your mind, stop and ask yourself “How am I feeling around this thought?” Chances are you are feeling bad – stressed, worried, unhappy, angry, etc. Recognize that the way you are feeling is a direct reflection of your thoughts, which in turn engenders more thoughts along those lines. According to The Secret*, as voiced by acclaimed author Jack Canfield** and life coach Lisa Nichols***, our feelings are a wonderful emotional guidance system and give us immediate feedback as to whether or not we are in alignment with our wellbeing and what we truly want. If you are not feeling good, ask yourself “How can I turn this around – right now – so that I do feel good?”
2. Identify the culprit. It is tempting to say that “My boss is…..” or “My spouse is…” or “This wretched traffic jam is….” when in truth it is our response to these externals that is causing us grief. In her book “Change Your Thinking” Sarah Edelman, PhD, refers to faulty thinking patterns which ambush one’s sense of contentment. It is the way you think about your boss, spouse or the traffic jam that is causing you to feel bad.
3. Do a 180. Deliberately focus on something GOOD that is currently in your life, something or someone that you enjoy, are grateful for, or that inspires you. When you shift your thoughts to a positive direction, your mood will follow suit. When you are in a better mood the challenges are easier to deal with in a constructive way.
4. Blast it with humour! Recall the old adage about dispelling public speaking anxiety by imagining the audience in their underwear. Apply this strategy to whatever other challenge you are facing.
5. An extrapolation of the preceding point: run with the bad thought – but ad absurdium! If you are fuming about your server crashing in the middle of an important project, pretend that an army of micro-gremlins has invaded the hardware of your office and is planning to overthrow the entire company and set up a massive colony to enslave humanity by returning them to the ignorance of pre-internet days, where people will be forced to handwrite letters and use projectors for slide shows when making presentations.
6. If a bad thought is particularly persistent, rather than try to beat it into submission and lock it in the figurative closet, look at it objectively and admit “OK, this is worrying/annoying and not my favourite situation, but as most things in my life are either neutral or pleasant, I can cope very well with this curveball. I am very capable of dealing with frustrations.”
If you are still feeling negative and bummed out after trying some or all of these tactics, consider enlisting moral support, but do so with discretion. If you are annoyed with a work situation, it may be unwise in the heat of the moment to complain to your boss. Choose a trusted friend, mentor or counselor to share with. And listen to what they have to say. Often, the more objective advice of another person can reveal aspects of your situation that you hadn’t considered.
Good luck, and remember – you are stronger than you think.
* The Secret – spiritual documentary released in 2006 by Rhonda Byrne. Amazing and highly worth the 90 minutes’ viewing time.
** Author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and others
*** Coach, motivational speaker and media personality, author of Motivating the Masses