During times like this – it’s essential to change our negative thoughts for positive ones.
In fact, a global pandemic seems like a fantastic time to try and save ourselves from negative thinking. While I’ll admit, it’s pretty impossible to not trip and fall into a puddle of worry, anxiety, fear, stress, sadness or anger during the shitstorm that is COVID-19, it’s in our best interest to at least try to change negative thoughts and shift them into a more positive direction.
In case you need to be convinced: here’s an article that details some not-fun side effects of negative thinking, and here’s one from the Mayo Clinic that details all the benefits of positive thinking!
So, let’s get started on how you can eliminate negative thinking and replace it with positive thinking!
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Flip the Premise
Let me guess: You spend a lot of time mulling the question “What if none of this works out?”
As a longtime veteran of this line of thinking, I’ve got this process down.
*Clears throat* It goes something like this:
The sturdy part of your chest suddenly gets tight. Your cheeks get a little flushed. Breathing isn’t as easy as it was five seconds ago. And then…and then…things start to spiral. What if this doesn’t work out? What if nothing EVER works out? What if…what if…what if….HOLY SMOKES. Wait a minute. Is NOTHING in my silly little life EVER going to PAN OUT?! In that case…WHAT’S THE GODFORSAKEN POINT?!?!??!!
Whew. And there goes the rest of your afternoon.
Your mood plummets, you don’t find the point in doing anything productive, you’re short-tempered with your support system, and basically you turn into a massive bummer of a human.
All of this could have been avoided if you had just asked yourself a different question:
“What if it does?”
Instead of wasting your energy on what *could* happen if something doesn’t happen for you – focus your energy on what could happen if it does happen.
Human beings are resilient. We have setbacks all the damn time.
I don’t buy the whole “but…but…but then I will get my hopes up” excuse. You’re going to feel disappointed if something exciting doesn’t pan out REGARDLESS if you were prepared for the worst or not. So you might as well spend your time focusing on what amazing things could come your way if your dreams actually came true! Not only is it much more enjoyable, but I believe positivity attracts more positivity. So even if “the big one” doesn’t work out – I am willing to bet other positive benefits will sneak their way into your life.
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Bring Some Perspective
Perspective. My dear old friend.
Perspective cures almost everything. It brings humor, laughter, love, honesty, vulnerability….the works. I LOVE IT.
Therefore, I’d like you to light yourself up with perspective when you are going drenched in negativity and can’t get out of it. The easiest way to do this, is to ask yourself “Will this even matter in five years? Ten years?”
For example, I remember *freaking* the eff out during my junior year of college over my chemistry final exam. I was horrible at chemistry, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and particularly anxious about my future. (I was majoring in psychology, which plenty of assholes wouldn’t let me forget “is a useless degree”). Therefore, I had severe anxiety about keeping my grades up in case graduate school was inevitable.
Turns out, I was so anxious that I completely blanked and didn’t fill out the scantron.
That’s right. I just turned in my test without COMPLETING.THE.FREAKING.SCANTRON. Meaning I turned in an exam that was bound to receive a zero.
Can you imagine tightly wound baby Kali’s reaction when she found this out? I can barely remember it – which means I probably blacked out from anger, embarrassment, shame…the works. Good times.
But something saved me. I distinctly remember telling myself “You are not going to remember this in five years. This isn’t even going to matter in five years.”
Turns out, I actually remember it TEN years later (lolololol) – but for all the right reasons. I don’t shudder when I think about my nervous little self turning in a doomed exam. I laugh. And I also try to replicate this reaction as much as possible in other cringeworthy moments in my adult life.
That grade didn’t matter at all. I got into a decent graduate school, started a business, and as it turns out, none of my clients give a hoot that I suck at chemistry and made a doofus mistake as a result. In fact, I think they probably love it because it shows I’m human and I can *relate* to crippling anxiety that makes you do stupid shit.
It also didn’t matter that I didn’t get those jobs I wanted during graduate school. It didn’t matter that I got a lousy LSAT score. It didn’t matter that a stupid boy broke my heart. Because instead, I worked as a bartender and learned more about life than I ever could at a “normal” office job. I went to graduate school for counseling and allowed society to breathe easier knowing I wasn’t a god-awful lawyer. I married someone who is incredible by pretty much every standard, and have to clarify who someone is talking about when they bring up that ex-boyfriend (he has a common name, but still, little victories!!!)
If you cannot convince yourself without a SHADOW of a doubt that whatever is going on in your life right now will matter in five years, then it’s time to grieve and let it go. For every horrible setback I remember, there have got to be hundreds that I don’t. Assume you’re in the same boat, grieve a bit, and move forward.
More on that later.
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Is This Serving You?
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Negative thoughts aren’t serving you.
You may have tricked yourself into thinking they are, though. We are clever little boogers.
You have probably deceptively convinced yourself that thinking negatively will spur you into brilliant action. That if you let go of the negative thoughts, then you’d slide into horrible habits with little to no motivation. You like using negativity as a weapon against yourself – and you crack that whip every chance you get.
But you’re wrong.
The reason you don’t feel motivated to be brilliant on a daily basis is because you are constantly under the fog of negativity. Negative people, in my humble opinion, have to work twice as hard to get anything done because they have so much resistance pushing against them.
Positive people, on the other hand, like doing things. They get encouragement from within, so they don’t have to drag themselves out of bed.
This isn’t to say “SO SNAP OUT OF IT!” Not at all. Negative thoughts have to be escorted out over time. Sometimes they require medication to get the boot. Other times they just need practice. And they usually require some sort of guide to help you kick their ass. (Yes, I’m talking about a life coach or counselor.)
But the first step is acknowledging that they aren’t helpful. If you can admit that to yourself and actually *believe* it, then eliminating them will be that much easier.
Experience it, And Let it Go
Sometimes life just sucks. There’s nothing we can do about that.
While I don’t condone negative thoughts taking over your life, I do believe they deserve some attention now and then. We have to feel the bad in order to appreciate the good.
You’ll know when some negative thoughts are worth your time. The typical “Wow you’re so dumb why did you do that?” type of jabs are never useful – but the “I’m sad, this is really painful” thoughts could be you processing your emotions – not beating yourself up.
We unfortunately can’t shove every sad emotion we have into a backpack and bury it in our closet. We have to experience pain. And if we try to avoid it, consider what a boomerang does when you send it out into the world. Yup. It’ll just come right back and smack you in the face without any warning.
So when negativity comes our way, ask yourself, “am I processing something? Do I need to experience this to move on?”
Sometimes the answer will be”no.” You don’t really need to experience “Wow you are such a loser and no one likes you and you’ll end up in a van down by the river” in order to *process your emotions.* That’s just self-bullying. But you do need to process and label uncomfortable feelings, such as envy, jealousy, sadness, fear, anger, and disappointment.
Sit with them. Ask why they infultrated your happy state. Ask if they need to be evaluated. Give them a name.
And then tell them they’ve overstayed their welcome. It’s time to resume back to your normal, happy self.
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The process of changing negative thoughts into positive ones will not happen overnight. This will be a weeks/months/years long journey that you constantly have to work on.
I know. Ugh. Take a deep breath. You can do it.
Practice can mean a lot of things. It can mean actively trying to catch yourself engaging in negative thinking. It can mean saying your thoughts out loud so you get a better hold on your inner monologue and what it’s saying to you.
And, it can absolutely mean working with a professional to reframe your thinking and practice positive phrases. This will absolutely help to push you in the right direction.
Furthermore – there could be some deep-seated roots as to why your inner critic gets so much attention. In order to figure out what’s happening there, it’s a good idea to work with someone who is skilled at assessing these pathways. Trying to do work by yourself can be a painful and isolating process. Never forget that you are deserving of support and encouragement when trying to change yourself for the better.
I commend you for being brave enough to change your negative thoughts.
It’s not easy work – in fact, it can get ugly – but it’s so, so worth it. Try your best to be kind and gentle to yourself – you will experience setbacks (that’s normal) and you will experience incredible victories. Enjoy the process, and we are here for you if you need it!