In my first teaching job, we always began the year by setting a goal. We would write this goal on an index card and place it in an envelope. Midway through the year, this goal would turn up in our mailbox, so that we could monitor our own progress.
This was kind of an inside joke between my aide and me, because we always had the same goal: to be more positive.
It wasn’t that we didn’t take our goal seriously or try to be positive. It’s just that those pesky “negative” thoughts and words always crept in.
And it wasn’t only at work that this was happening. I noticed negativity in my conversations, in my self-talk, and in my mood, in all aspects of my life. And during my last winter living in the house in Michigan, I launched an all-out effort to change it.
How did I change it? I got up early and recited a positive poem to begin my day. I wrote a gratitude list. I watched subliminal videos with positive affirmations on You Tube. I read books about positive thinking. I recited mantras throughout my day. I wrote a list of everything I hated about myself and turned it all into the positive, opposite.
I sought to bombard my mind with positive messages, multiple times a day, so that there would be no room for the negative. And when I did have negative thoughts, I worked to replace them with positive thoughts, right away. I worked as hard as I could to fight against that toxic negativity.
And I failed, miserably. Changing my thoughts was never, could never be so simple.
After I abandoned my journey toward “positive thinking,” I began a new journey–the journey toward truly understanding my mind.
I learned that in my effort to only think positive thoughts, I was rejecting my own mind. Negative thoughts are an effort of the mind to communicate something, a cry for help. And I was attacking my mind for its cries, because they were “negative.”
The alternative course of action is to make peace with these cries for help, and to answer them. How can you do this? Here are some ways to get started:
1. Let Your Mind Speak
Learn to observe your thoughts without reacting. Try writing down your thoughts in a journal, while reminding yourself that these thoughts are a tool, not reality. That you will be moving beyond them.
2. Look for Fear-Based Thoughts
What did you write that is based on fear? Where are you making assumptions? Remember that what-if's are not reality. Any thought that is based on fear can be reframed in a way that is less "negative."
3. Look for Clues to Your Basic Needs
Are you grumping for a reason? Is it possible that you are tired, hungry, or sick? Having too much on your plate can easily lead to negativity and burn-out. Sometimes doing too much is simply too much. Use your thoughts as clues as to where you should pare down.
4. Look for Conflicts that Need Resolving
Is it possible that you are angry at someone? Sometimes negative thoughts are due to boundaries that need to be set and communication that needs to be open. Rather than trying to suppress anger, look for possible solutions to the situation that is upsetting you.
5. Look for Clues that You are Unhappy
Sometimes negativity arises out of an inability to say "no" and to set aside time for yourself. This can be part of a cycle of guilt. There is nothing wrong with limiting obligations and taking care of yourself. Making that a priority can help reduce negativity.
For help with working through negative thoughts, consider a low-cost e-mail, chat, or video session!