We all know that guy. The one who’s had it tough, who’s faced some major challenges, but is just not able to shake them off and start again. It’s that guy who experiences a setback, but instead of getting up, just hangs out on the corner complaining about a big conspiracy by life, an institution, government – you name it – that’s holding him down.
It’s a slippery slope to those levels of pessimism, but if you have started to pick up that your negativity is beginning to define you, it’s time to break the cycle. This starts with identifying, understanding and changing your thought patterns.
So, how do you avoid getting trapped in negativity? “Take control of your thoughts,” advises life coach Kirsten Long, who suggests the following ways to do this:
Develop awareness of your thinking patterns
Set a reminder on your phone to go off every few hours. Stop, remember and write down the recent thoughts that were in your head. This way you build awareness of the kind of thoughts you’re having, and you’ll notice patterns in them.
When you become aware of a negative or destructive thought, or a bombardment of bad memories, be calm and tell yourself you don’t need them. Then let them go, without berating yourself. Now purposefully think of a more constructive thought on the same topic.
Be aware that anything in life can be explained as good or bad
You were going for a big contract, but you didn’t get it. You could suspect that the system was rigged, or you could see it as that your pitch just wasn’t good enough, and use that as an opportunity to do better next time.
Train yourself to choose the most positive explanation. Practise this in one or two situations every day and tell it to yourself consciously. Compound the effect by finding realistic reasons why the positive statement is true. Over time, you’ll develop the habit of seeing the positives in situations, rather than the negatives.
Executive Coach Savannah Steinberg agrees. “Realise you’re not a victim of your circumstances – you can actually choose the way you see things and the situations into which you put yourself.”
She offers these tips:
• In any situation, pause and ask yourself: “What do I want?” Learn to follow this desire: “I want this to end positively, so that we’re both/all happy.” Ensure your actions are in alignment with this.
• Ask yourself: “How do I want to feel?” For example, if a situation’s stressing you, that’s how you’re choosing to react. Most times we assign blame to others for making us feel a certain way, but in fact, nobody has the power to make us feel anything. It’s always our interpretation that determines how we feel, which, in turn, determines how we respond.
• Realise that pain comes from the story we’ve created. We never suffer when we focus only on the facts. Learn to distinguish between the story and the facts. For example, the story: “My manager is picking on me” puts you into victim mode. The fact is that you’re allowing that to happen. Choose a different role – for example: “He’s upset about something that has nothing to do with me – and I’m not going to take it personally, or this will become an argument.” Powerful questions to ask yourself are: “How am I contributing to this dynamic? How am I enabling this?”