Being it the start of a new year with plenty to be grateful for (a new job, career ownership, engagement, health, etc.) I felt it might be appropriate to talk about something I’m continuously working on: getting rid of self-destructive thoughts that keep me from enjoying the amazing life I have.
I’ve been studying this stuff for some time, but it still takes quite a bit of conscious effort to keep negativity at bay. There are two books I’ve been reading, simultaneously: The Science of Positivity & You are a Badass. I recommend both, by the way! They take very different approaches on a similar topic to discuss the power of the brain to “go negative” with emotions like cynicism, guilt, shame, fear, comparison, anger… and they then go into what you can do about it so you can keep those emotions at bay and cash in on a joyous life.
Bear with me, I’m going to go into just a bit of detail on each book because it’s with a greater understanding of some of the science and spirituality schools of thought on the topic, that I am able to stay in a higher state of being- and I hope you will be able to reap the same benefits :).
The Science of Positivity unveils some of the evolutionary reasons our brains have a tendency to scan for problems to promote our survival. It touches a bit on the neurotransmitters that are released (typically mimicking “feel good” feelings) as we grow up and start learning negative thought patterns like “I’m not good enough,” “this is too good to be true, something will come along and ruin it,” “I have a bad voice,” or “they’re all out to get us”. Your brain takes comfort in finding problems (it seems especially in comparison to others, in my opinion) because if it can identify them, then it can prepare an action plan to confront the problem. In the wild these confrontations take the form of fight/flight/fawn/freeze. In today’s world where social threats play a greater role than survival threats those confrontations take the form of negative emotions like anger (fight), fear (flight, addictions to numb & avoid pain like alcohol or shopping or sex), people pleasing & living for the values of others (fawn), helplessness & powerlessness (freeze).
So, all these negative emotions that come from the wiring of our brains are nothing to feel judgy about! It’s literally human (or the author would argue, mammalian) nature. In fact, it’s key to first observe yourself feeling these negative emotions AND to remember not to judge yourself every time you recognize your brain going negative- you are not your brain, you are greater than it.
So what’s going on here and what does it have to do with making the most out of life? The thing is, our brain is very good at generating problems; most of which don’t truly need to be addressed. The result is wasted time & energy spent on dwelling that could otherwise be applied to one of the things that brings us happiness. Some of my biggest negative thoughts right now that are stopping me from crushing it & enjoying some very good things in life?
“I’m not good enough to do well in this new job” -flight/freeze: helpless and overwhelmed
“I squeaked by in the interview process, and it was a mistake for them to hire me” -flight: I should quit before it’s too late
“My new co-workers are all more experienced than me, and I can’t do this” -freeze: feeling like giving up
“Wedding planning is stressful and my partner isn’t contributing enough”- fight: my partner isn’t helping
“Budgeting is hard and I can’t keep up with my expenses with wedding costs” -flight: shopping to numb the feeling of not having enough money lately
“I feel guilty that my family needs financial help right now, while I am saving for other things for our future” -freeze: not enjoying the gifts I’ve been given because of guilt
I’m sure you have your own feelings that are keeping you from enjoying the gifts you have too…this is my attempt at breaking down some of my biggest at the moment.
Now, onto my new favorite tongue-and-cheek spirituality books: You are a Badass. The author is hilarious and so real. She gets down to a truthful question pretty quick- why the heck do we let the fear of the opinions of others stop us from celebrating how awesome we are!? She argues (as do many other spiritual leaders) that we are born with this innate way of believing in ourselves, and as we grow up, we are conditioned to start believing in self-destructive thoughts that prevent us from truly living. This repeated conditioning of negative thoughts is what is biologically wiring our brains at a young age (discussed in the first book I mentioned). She has an array of suggestions on how to balance this, but the one I’m working on currently is “affirmations.”
For every negative thought I have, I replace it with a positive one. However, it’s key to really believe in the affirmation. Why? The more attention and power you have in the belief of the replacement thought, the greater real-estate that positive affirmation will have in your mind, and thus more energy for finding solutions and focusing on the good stuff. The author notes it can be hard at first because you can feel like you’re lying to yourself, but with practice you can RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN to believe it. For me to really get behind my affirmations, I need to first dissolve the negativity by examining it (again, without judgement!). This means analyzing the thought to understand when it is my brain is going negative and determining whether or not that is bringing me any value by hanging onto it. Once, I determine that complaining, or feeling guilty, or being angry, or pleasing others for no reason is of no service to my goals at hand, I let it go and replace it with a more neutral thought.
Imagine yourself looking from the outside in, and write down a response. Be your own best friend who sees how truly awesome you are.
Let’s take a look at my earlier examples:
1) “I am good enough”, because I was hired for a reason. That means several of the people I interviewed with believe in me- because I believed in myself, first. . Action: Identify the biggest challenges I have and develop a plan to overcome them. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for some help. Bring a fresh perspective, and be engaged so people know. I am meant to be here!
2) “I killed it in the interview because I am a badass”. People believe in me, they’re not judging me. Action: Now go and be that badass. Be prepared when I come to the meeting table with questions and engagement; do the necessary research. Offer up ideas- don’t be shy, shine!
3) My new co-workers have been doing this longer, but “I have unique perspectives and beliefs to contribute to this team”. Action: Bring it. Take ownership, offer solutions and be seen as an equal. Be bold, be engaged
4) Wedding planning is a gift and “I am blessed to be taking these steps with my partner” who I’m crazy about. Action: communicate and set time aside for wedding planning when we’re both prepared to discuss. Acknowledge that we think differently, and me dropping a question on him every few hours during his work day is not effective. Make it fun, make it efficient! And even if we’re arguing, make an effort to be grateful for what we’re arguing over…simple things that mark the biggest day we’ll have in unity and are peanuts compared to the meaning of the wedding, itself
5) “Money is a good thing”, I am grateful to have money to budget in the first place. It is not something I need to feel guilty over, but grateful toward. It is not something I need to fear not having enough of. Action: Create a spreadsheet, and look at money realistically according to my goals: 1) wedding 2) long term saving 3) saving for my business 4) visiting home to see family. I don’t need new clothes, or fancy gadgets- they’re not serving my greater goals. Find free ways to treat myself like a bubble bath and candles
6) My family has everything they need, and more we are “filled to the brim with love”. Feeling guilt for having money to save is not reason to put a bandaid of cash in their bank account, visiting more often will better serve my goal of wanting to be there for them. Action: commit to visiting more often, investing time instead of money. Always offer my help, in non-financial ways and treat them when I can 🙂
So there you have it, those are some of my biggest affirmations right now that I’m using to neutralize negativity that isn’t serving me so that I can attract more of what I love. These change constantly as the chapters of my life-book change, and as new “obstacles” that aren’t really obstacles arise. I make the effort to be grateful for even the things I find myself complaining of, and it seems to be making a big difference in how I approach life.
To steal a line from a favorite song of mine, this New Year: “My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to,” and when it does, that you don’t let your mind/brain stop you from enjoying it.