How to turn negative self-talk in a new direction

The thoughts in your head define who you are. They steer you left or right and forward or backward on the road of life.

Constant negative self-talk floods your brain with fight or flight type chemicals and hormones, which create a sense of urgency and heightened levels of attention and distress. Within seconds those chemicals and the feelings they elicit can take you off the path of positivity and get you running around a cul-de-sac of negativity and keep you circling it until you completely run out of gas.

Don’t do that to yourself, okay?

When you find yourself mentally beating-up on yourself, interrupt the cycle by noting:

“Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried.”

Then ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Let your mind wind its way through:

 “I’m afraid I will be late . . . My boss will be furious . . . I will get fired.” (Or wherever your imaginary worry is taking you.) Give yourself a green light to ride it until you exhaust your thoughts and reach a dead-end.

Next, ask yourself if your ultimate feared outcome is really likely to happen. Most of the time the answer will be a resounding “NO!” (The majority of our worries are simply our imaginary thoughts gone wild!)

Now, think of at least one positive thought related to your particular situation:

“Yes, I’m late, but I really don’t think I will get fired over it.”

“Yes, I’m late, I hate this feeling, I guess it’s time to start getting up a few minutes earlier.”

“Yes, I’m late, but other than that I’m doing a great job at work. I need to figure out a way to get better at being on time.”

If you find yourself going back down a negative path, simply start over with “Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried”, and continue from there. DO NOT under any circumstances ask yourself WHY you are late (or whatever your current worry is), that’s a tricky little way we have of making a u-turn back onto our path of negativity. Don’t be fooled!

The key to turning negative self-talk in a new direction is to become more aware of what you are thinking. Most of us feed ourselves negative thoughts 17/7, without ever questioning them. We let our minds ramble down roads that take us away from our destination – happy town – and around curves and turns, that while familiar, truly are leading us nowhere.

Negative thoughts are a habit, and habits can be changed. Here’s a quick review of how to redirect your thoughts.

  1. Start with gentle awareness: “Ooh, that sounds pretty harsh. I must be worried.” (Create the perfect signature phrase for yourself, so when you are saying it, it sounds right to you.)
  2. Ask yourself if your ultimate feared outcome is really likely to happen.
  3. Then jump on the highway of positivity: “Yes, I’m late, but I’m good at lots of other stuff at work.” (Note: this isn’t an excuse, or just a cute way of ignoring the situation, it’s a way to create a new path for your mind to follow. )
  4. Be aware of the danger signs: don’t ask yourself “Why?” – we are not coming-up with solutions at this point, we are simply shifting gears.
  5. When you make a negative u-turn, start again with Step 1. (Please note: Do not misconstrue starting over as failure, you are really doing something quite brave and resourceful, you are practicing something you value and will have a positive impact on your life. You are creating change and that is courageous and impressive.)

Give it a try, the road of life will feel much less bumpy and you just might find yourself ready for a whole new journey.

If you are ready to shift gears and create a happier, less stressful life,

contact Patrice Koerper to start your Wishful Thinking Works life coaching today.

Here’s what Patrice’s clients have to say about their journeys.

Psychological tipping point

I’ve mentioned Dr. Barbara Fredrickson a couple of times in previous posts. She’s the researcher, who developed the “Broaden and Build Theory” of positive psychology, which states that positive emotions broaden our awareness and perception thereby increasing our curiosity, creativity and choices.

The “Broaden and Build Theory” is the other side of the coin, so to speak, of the “Fight or Flight Theory”, which notes that we are designed to focus and narrow our vision and responses in short-term, quick-decision, dangerous situations. Both emotional responses have value – there are times when we need to react quickly, with precision and almost instinctual intent and when we need to allow ourselves the freedom to fully enjoy and explore life and its options.

The good news is, our brains are hard-wired for both. The bad news is, many of us have allowed the occasional need for fight and flight responses to spill over into many or all of life’s everyday activities. We are constantly on the lookout for emotional and physical threats, or have come to believe that bad news (i.e., psychological danger) is lurking around every corner. Our preoccupation with all things negative, stresses our bodies and may be leaving us feeling frustrated, angry or depressed.

Not to worry, after identifying and qualifying the value of positive emotions, Fredrickson took her research one step further and in her 2009 book Positivity, she quantified their value. Fredrickson and her team of researchers formulated the 3:1 positivity ratio of positive to negative emotions. The ratio is a simple but valid mathematical equation for revealing happiness levels. I like to think of it as the psychological tipping point between getting by and soaring high. 

“80% of Americans fall short of the ideal 3-to-1 positivity ratio.”

Yikes! According to Fredrickson, 80% of us are not at our best. That’s not to say we are miserable, we’re not, but we are also not as happy or fulfilled as we could be.

Fredrickson’s research shows that we need to have 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative emotion to flourish. I like that. Her work indicates that our world’s do not need to be perfect for us to flourish – negativity can still be present (as represented by the “1” in the 3:1 ratio), but as long as the ratio is 3 to 1 we are good to go. 

Fredrickson notes that a 2:1 ratio means we are getting by. We might be happy, but not at our best. Is the difference between 3:1 and 2:1 important? Here’s what Fredrickson has to say on the subject (I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.):

” . . . experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions leads people to achieve what they once could only imagine. Far from frivolous, tapping into one’s own unique sources of positivity is a wise and healthy investment in the future.”                   

And, here is the truly important aspect of Fredrickson’s research, with simple changes and targeted tweaking we can move ourselves from a 2:1 to a 3:1 ratio – proving it is possible to create the life you really want! You can improve your internal environment and enhance your external landscape by:

  • becoming more aware and savoring what is good in your life;
  • focusing on your strengths and what you and others do well;
  • predicting better for you and your loved ones;
  • adding a bit of mediation to your daily mix;
  • doing more of what you love – even the simplest little things,
  • and maintaining and enriching your relationships. (See also PERMA.) 

If you are interested in assessing your positivity ratio, Fredrickson has created a free online survey to help take our emotional “temperature”. (My word not her’s). To get a true “temperature” reading, Fredrickson suggests taking the survey once a day for two weeks. The survey only take three minutes to complete. If you would like to give it a try, click away. (Taking the survey even once, provides valuable insight because it shares specific examples of positive and emotional states; I highly recommend it.) 

If you would like to learn more about the “Broaden and Build Theory” or the positivity ratio, click here to listen to an online interview with Barbara Fredrickson discussing her theories and research.

In the meantime, spending five minutes a day reviewing what you do well or is going well in your life can raise your positivity level. I think that’s a wise investment, even in the current market situation.

PS I know I am a day behind, but for the moment, I’ve decided to focus my attention on all the things I am doing well in my life . . . There, I feel better, already, which is kind-of refreshing and actually makes me feel more confident about tackling my to-do-list. Hmm, this stuff really works. 🙂

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