Lost in Negativity: Rediscovering the Habit of Positive Thinking

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

We all know the benefits of maintaining a positive outlook – lower blood pressure, less stress, better mood, etc.

I even teach others how to improve their life by managing their thoughts.

Unfortunately, my bouts of positivity can sometimes be short-lived.

All might be well for a few days or even weeks at a time…I feel productive, I have a great attitude, I’m in happy hustle mode getting all the things done.

Inevitably, the “ick”, or negative thought loop, will start to sneak in:

“You know you’re doing this wrong. You didn’t finish what you started last time, what makes you think you’ll finish this? And even if you do no one will notice, so why do you bother?”.

My happy hustle mode quietly begins to wane and the negativity sets in. The next thing I know I’m sitting on the couch binge-watching Northwoods Law for hours, crying over lost hikers and injured baby animals.

It takes work for me to keep positivity in the forefront of my brain and I’ve turned that work into a daily habit. It’s when I break that habit that the ick starts to take over. As a result, I can sit in apathy and inactivity for days or even weeks. 

Thankfully I’ve learned now how to recognize that pattern within myself. And while I can’t always stop it from happening, I can drastically shorten its effect.

Here are 3 steps I take when I need to get my brain back on track.

Step One – Stop the “ick”.

As they say, the first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is stop digging.

So the first thing I do when I find myself in a negative thought spiral is to stop beating myself up for being in a negative thought spiral. 

If someone I loved was down or in a slump, I would never even THINK of layering more negativity on top of that, because that’s not how we treat our loved ones.

But that is how we treat ourselves.

So I think of something I would normally say to someone I love, and I say it to myself. Statements like “I love you and it’s okay to feel however you feel. It doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, or mean anything about you.” “You’re not doing life wrong.” I sometimes even give myself a little mental hug, just like I would hug one of my kids.

One thing I DON’T do is try to force myself out of the negativity. If I decide I want to feel bad for a few days, then I give myself permission to do just that. When I decide I’m tired of sitting on the couch I get my journal out and get back to doing some simple thought work.

Second step, write down your intentional thoughts. Every day.

Journaling needs to be a top priority for me if I want to stay in a positive thought cycle. 

Every time I find myself in a downward spiral you can bet it started when I stopped making journaling a daily habit.

It doesn’t have to be anything involved or elaborate. My daily journaling takes maybe 10 minutes in the morning, depending on whether or not I do a full thought download (aka “brain dump”)..

Since journals can sometimes be pricey and complicated I started making my own using a small, plain, college-ruled notebook. 

Each entry starts with a list of the “5 Things I’m Grateful For” that day (big or small). That prompt immediately takes my focus off of myself and puts it towards the good things I have going on around me, even if it’s just a really good, hot cup of coffee.

Next, I make a list of the “10 Ways I’m Living My Fullest Life”. These are 10 ideals I want to maintain daily to help me achieve my goals. It’s the same list every day, in order of importance, and written in the present tense. Here are the first two as an example: 

  1. I treat myself with love and respect.

This is a decision I committed to about a year ago, and I still have to write it down every day or I will forget it. When I’m treating myself with love and respect it’s impossible to also hold the belief that I’m not good enough. Writing this simple phrase is a sure-fire way to pull myself out of a spiral, I can feel a shift in my body as soon as I remind myself of that commitment.

The second item on my list:

  1. I believe in myself and my clients

It’s another thought that I decided to adopt a long time ago, and another one I can easily forget if I’m not reminded daily. Just like my first affirmation, when I remind myself that I believe both myself and my clients have what it takes to show up for ourselves and improve our lives,  I can’t also hold the belief that “this will never work so why bother”. 

Last, but not least

The third step for living my fullest life is to move my body every day.

This can be anything from going to the gym and working hard for an hour, running a 5K, or just walking for 15 minutes.

Committing to moving my body can also be a double-edged sword for me…I love working out at the gym and I equally love getting outside and walking, hiking, running, kayaking, paddle boarding, you name it. It clears my mind, gives me a better perspective, and reminds me how strong my body is.

But it’s also something I can, and will, use against myself if I don’t achieve it (I’m looking at you damn Apple rings). I would also rather work out than do other things, like talk to other humans or try to craft the perfect blog post. So I just need to make sure that the reasons I’m moving my body that week are in alignment with the first two items on my daily list.

These are just 3 steps out of the 10 that I use to get my brain back into a positive thought habit. It would be wonderful if I could just wake up every day and have all these great thoughts and feelings generated automatically, without having to put in any work, but that’s just not how it is for me.

And that’s okay. 

I don’t believe we’re meant to have “only good vibes”, or “no bad days”. I think life is more like 50/50 – 50% positive and 50% negative. And when my life is turning out to feel more 70/30 or 80/20, I know what steps I can, and need, to take to get my life back on track.

And now, so do you.

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