There’s a secret that so many of us share. This secret takes up a TON of our mental energy, and we’re battling it every hour, or at least every day. We say we’d do anything to get rid of it, but still, it has hung around for decades. It’s that negativity that so many of us have on repeat in our minds … that low-grade “blah” factor that makes everything feel a little heavier, a little harder.
For some of us, negativity comes in the form of catastrophizing (thinking that everything will turn into the worst-case scenario). For others, it’s overthinking (like when I stress about the physical step patterns I’m taking through the kitchen to ensure that I’m picking up ingredients and kitchen tools in the most efficient order – seriously!). For others, it’s putting ourselves on a continuous guilt trip for things that aren’t even our faults. For others, it’s mind reading (“I know she thinks I’m the biggest idiot ever”). For others, it’s all or nothing thinking (“I already had the donut; might as well have the French fries, too.”). There are many uncomfortable thought patterns, but if you feel negativity, you might just feel like life is a bit heavier.
Do you relate to what I’m saying? If so, read on … I have tips for you! I wrote in this post about how to improve our negative self-talk, specifically related to our bodies, but today’s post is about using your thoughts to create more joy in your life every day. Sound woo-woo? That’s OK, give it a shot anyway!
The first step to changing negativity
The first step to changing negativity and using our thoughts to create more joy is to simply realize we have the power to do so. Often, negativity feels like a rainstorm – we don’t like it, but we don’t have any power to get rid of it. But we forget that we can take out our umbrella, put on a raincoat, or even dance in the rain. We do have tools to combat negative situations, and acknowledging that you have the power to change your negative thoughts takes bravery and courage.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Rainstorms
I study a lot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (through coaching programs, books, podcasts, and more) and use a lot of it in my 1-to-1 coaching sessions (link) with clients. CBT uses a lot of complicated words and paradigms to explain this, but I just like to use the basics:
- Situations Sometimes, they are uncomfortable. This is like the rainstorm.
- We have thoughts about those situations. They might be automatic. This is “ughhhh, it’s raining. This stinks!”
- These thoughts create feelings. This is “I’m so unlucky! Every time I go outside, it rains. I feel bad for myself.”
- The feelings create behaviors. This is not going outside regularly, even though you want to, because you assume it will rain.
- The behaviors create results. This could be long-lasting negativity, weight gain or health issues from not going on a walk, or any other of a slew of possibilities.
So, which of the above can we change? Most people would say that the “behavior” level is the first thing we can change. We certainly can’t change the situation (the rainstorm), but I argue that we can impact everything else.
Changing Our Thoughts
I’m not a Jedi of the mind, so I can’t claim to control every thought I have. Sometimes, thoughts just pop up. I might think, “uggh, it’s raining. This stinks!” instinctively, and it feels out of my control. But I CAN control how long I let that thought linger, and how I react to that thought.
I call these instinctive thoughts “ANTs” for automatic negative thoughts. (I took this from Dr. Daniel Amen’s Book). If I have an ant problem in my house, I want to squash them! Of course, I want to do work that will prevent ants from coming as often in the future, but when they’re there in the moment, I want to squash them! So that’s the first step.
As soon as we notice ANTs, we practice nonjudgmental awareness of the thoughts, and actively dismiss them. Let’s break that down:
- Nonjudgmental is the most important part. Often, when my clients (link) start this journey, they judge themselves for having negative thoughts. This is not part of the process. We all have negative thoughts – it’s OK. Forgive yourself, congratulate yourself for doing something about it, and move on.
- Awareness is the next part. Simply being aware of the thought as it’s happening is a HUGE undertaking! Most of us passively think “Uggh it’s raining. This stinks!” without presence of mind. I’m asking you to be aware of this thought.
- Finally, active dismissal. I like to visualize a red “STOP” sign as soon as I am aware that I am having a negative thought. This helps me realize that the though isn’t serving me, and I simply try to choose a new thought. Sometimes, it’s about the situation (like, “hopefully I’ll see a rainbow!” or “at least I brought an umbrella!” or “this will be funny on my next Zoom call!”) and sometimes it’s totally unrelated (like, “I’m so glad I got to talk to my sister today.”) Regardless, it’s a thought that feels more comfortable to me. I choose to think thoughts that make me feel better.
Changing our feelings to create more joy
Sometimes, we might notice uncomfortable feelings even when there’s no rainstorm. No situation or thought made us feel the “blahs,” we just do. In this case, I choose to infuse joy into my life.
- Blast a positive playlist and dance for a full song (yes, I really do this!).
- Snuggle my puppies.
- Go for an “awe walk” (link to podcast episode 5).
- Do anything I can that makes me smile.
- And I do this proactively, too – my morning routine is a way to infuse joy into the start of my day, before the rainstorms can even get to me.
The recipe might be different for you, but I highly recommend having a list (I recommend a physical list! Sometimes we need to make it super easy on ourselves!) of 3-4 things you can turn to when you’re feeling the unexplained blahs.
A caveat for clinical depression
I fully understand that many people suffer from clinical depression, and that negativity lies on a continuum. I am not implying that you can snap your fingers and wash all problems away. If you feel under a fog, or are irritated by the little things, the tips above can help tremendously. But if you require medication or professional assistance, these are not a substitute. Going off of depression medication for me personally took years and years of work, and for me it was the right decision, but for many, it is not. If you have deeply negative thoughts or are in a true state of depression, please seek professional help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a hotline to help you find a professional at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
A positive, uplifting program to help you combat emotional eating!
Look, I get it – sometimes the rainstorms lead us headfirst into a gallon of ice cream or a bag of Cheetos. And while I’m not condoning that, that doesn’t mean you’re broken … it means you’re human! I want to help you use some of the above tips on a consistent basis to be more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors … and to help you break the emotional eating cycle.
To that end, I’m offering a reprisal of my popular 10-Day Emotional Eating Challenge, “Fueling or Feeling. This challenge starts February 16th, and sign ups are open today! Join us for $29 and be part of a supportive and dynamic group with tons of resources, daily challenges, thousands of dollars of prizes, 3 group coaching calls, and more!
Now it’s your turn … Do you have negative thought patterns? What will you take away from the above post and implement?