Many of us know the story of the little engine that used the phrase “I think I can” to help it power up a big hill. This is an example of an affirmation and it works in real life as well as children’s stories.
I just realized a few minutes ago that I was feeling guilty, like I had done something really wrong. Upon reflection, I saw that the feeling was not tied to any real life event. I have been a “good girl” and have no reason for guilt. “Ah Ha” I said. “This is time to search for what my negative thought was that got me feeling guilty.”…But I didn’t feel like thought searching at that moment. And I didn’t want to continue to feel bad.
So I thought, “why not skip to affirmations?” Affirmations are a powerful way to change your mood and your behavior. It’s a mental version of “if you build it they will come.” So I repeated to myself, “I am doing everything right and I am a really good person.” Wow! I can actually feel my chest puff out a little bit.
Repetition is key to making affirmations work. We reprogram our brain to think positive instead of negative. And thinking positive leads to feeling positive. I’ve written some generic affirmations below. You can personalize them to better fit your needs.
I forgive myself for not being perfect
I choose to smile and enjoy life to the fullest
I eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest to help balance my life
I am healthy, fit and attractive.
I feel up beat and exuberant.
I could go on but so much has been written about affirmations. Let me refer you to a few good sites to start out with.
If you’ve been trying to catch your negative thoughts, you know it isn’t easy.Thinking about what you were thinking is difficult because we do not reflect on everything we think, and thoughts pile up and are quickly covered by new thoughts. You have to follow associations like a rat in a maze, turning up blind alleys, retracing your steps, and trying a new path.
But, like so many other things, it gets better with persistence and practice. BUT…just when you think you have a good ability to trace your thoughts, you may discover that there is at least one other layer of thoughts beneath the ones you have been attending. These thoughts are more slippery, subtle, and sometimes supersonic. All you may initially be aware of is a vague change in your mood.
This is the clue you need to follow. When you notice a mood shift, stop and investigate. Get out your mental magnifying glass and be deliberate in your sleuthing.
The automatic influence of thoughts on moods can keep you down even when you thinking you are in control. So keep digging. Use mood change as another cue that it is time to investigate. I’ll post more on thought catching and negative thoughts next time.
To fight depression and anxiety, you need to become aware of what you are thinking. This is usually not easy. We can think in shorthand, in images, in feelings. Memories can flit through your head and trigger negative emotional states. These thoughts can happen so quickly that you may not even notice them. But they can deeply affect your mood, sometimes changing how you feel for the rest of the day. They can prompt you to think other negative thoughts and the downward spiral begins.
So the first step in catching negative thoughts is self-reflection.
Becoming aware, noticing, and thinking about what you are thinking is tricky, especially when you first start. It is sometimes called metacognition – thinking about your thinking. Taking time and practicing is the best way I have found to do this. You can be astounded at the thoughts and impressions that fly through your head. For instance, if you never got over being a poor athlete in grade school, something could trigger that memory and you could think and feel the same type of thoughts you had when you were waiting to see if you were going to be picked last to be on the dodgeball team. Then you feel down and don’t even realize why.
I’ll post more levels of excavation in the thought catching process in later posts. First, work on catching your thoughts. I should warn you it is a life-long endeavor, but it does get easier with practice.
Last week I felt like I was getting beaten against the rocks. For whatever reasons, the week was hard on me emotionally and it felt like surviving was all I could do. As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes that is a good enough goal to reach. Forget self-actualization for the week! Let me just get by.
The thing that sometimes surprises people is that, as a highly trained psychologist and counselor, I can make bad choices just as easy as anyone else. Knowing what is good for you and what is bad for you is not enough. It is a good start, but you have to find a way to actually get yourself to do the good things and resist the bad.
A big one for me was noticing how negative thinking was creeping in through the cracks in my sanity.When I could catch myself, I would remember that I do not have to pay attention to those thoughts. I can just let them drift away like the worthless debris that they are.
I also engaged in distraction: mainly reading and TV. I kept up with my yoga, a true life-saver, and my husband and dogs helped me get outdoors for walks and a hike. I forced myself to take my vitamins and supplements and eat fairly healthy.
OK. I also slept a lot, drank a little alcohol, and ate chocolate. BUT, I didn’t beat myself up for doing so. I did recognized that depression was starting to sneak back into my life. I have struggled with depression much of my life, but have been depression free for months. More than anything, I do not want to go there again.
I made the decision to change my environment when I start feeling depressed. Instead of the long nap I crave, I will go outside, meditate, or clean something up in my always untidy house. I encourage you to do the same. Fight the darkness! Turn on the lights however you can. Call a good friend. Go to a movie. Put on dancing music. Just keep fighting. I promise you I will.
Sometimes it is a grey day outside. After my last post, I wanted to write something for those whose situations are so bad that finding inner peace impossible. Sometimes it is hard to find inner peace if a commotion is going on around you. Sometimes you feel you are walking an emotional tightrope.
This makes things so much harder. Finding inner peace at a warm, supportive spa is much easier than in the midst of conflict, money troubles, and other problems.
Some days you need to redefine success as survival. Just getting by can be a huge accomplishment when you have lots of outside stressors. These are times to lower your standards of what you should be accomplishing. You can apply compassion and understanding to yourself when you are about to be blown away troubles inside and out.
This is also a time to evaluate your surroundings and the people you spend time with. A bad relationship, a bad job, living in a community that is not right for you are just some of the things that can cause you to be unhappy.
Start a list of toxic people in your life. You know, those people who make you feel bad about yourself or life in general. Get away from friends who complain about other people and situations. Look for people who are generally positive and into making things better. This may take time and delicate conversations as you drift away from negative and toward positive people. You may be comfortable being negative and will have to adjust slowly to being more positive. Change is not a short wind sprint, but a slow, long distance run.
If you are in a bad relationship, job, or community, it can take months of planning to get yourself safely into a better place. The sooner you start planning, the sooner a change for the better will happen. Be logical, orderly, and realistic about what you will need to do to make a change. But don’t wait for it to happen by itself! Begin planning today!
Some people seem to be able to maintain a calm, positive, cheerful mood without struggle. I HAVE NEVER BEEN ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE! I have struggled personally and explored professionally many ways to create and maintain positive moods. I hope to share much of what I have learned with you while I push myself to keep up the good work.
I think one of the big things to remember is to pay attention to your mood every day and to remember that you have control of how you feel emotionally. This is a huge change in mindset for some of us. To actually accept that it is not only possible to change your mood, but to then DO IT! You may have to do it many times a day on really hard days.
I’ll start talking about ways to find moments of peace next post!