I find myself arching an eyebrow at anyone who tells me they don’t suffer from negative self-talk from time to time especially in the early hours of the morning when fears and doubts are magnified.
So what is negative thinking? In many of my training programmes on human behaviour over the years, I used to begin with a simple group exercise to compile examples from personal experiences. The same responses came up each time: anger fear, guilt, worry, sadness, envy, grief, loneliness, not being good enough, shame, blame, despair and so the list grew. When asked to reverse the exercise and consider positive responses, groups struggled to come up with three or four. Why is this?
The brain focuses in on negative thoughts and feelings because it senses DANGER. Without a super human effort to counteract this pattern, we get locked into a downward spiral which is difficult to climb out of. We can’t avoid negative thinking but when it takes over our lives, putting a block on what we want to do or achieve then it’s time to take action.
As a writer, I don’t always want to write. The words don’t flow easily and whispering into my ear is the ever taunting voice. ‘You’re wasting your time. Who do you think you are? Lee Child’s a writer. So is Paula Hawkins. You’ll never be in that league.’
True but I can be in my own league. I have to remind myself that my voice is my own and my narrative is carved from many difficult personal experiences that might help others.
Although I don’t always put my techniques for breaking the cycle into practice, I’d like to share what does work for me, especially when I wake and can’t get back to sleep.
Keeping a notebook by the bed means I can transfer what is in my head to paper which takes away some of the angst. Journaling has long been used as a way to manage feelings and make sense of tumbling thoughts. It helps to contain the catastrophizing and focus on what is really going on. Next to the feelings, I write down an action. It might be small such as make a phone call or write a letter. Taking back control in some form, not of other people but of turbulent emotions is a powerful thing to do.
Break the loop by doing something practical. Bake a cake, tidy a cupboard, clean out your shed, bag up unwanted stuff for charity. Simple actions help to shift focus especially if they involve moving around. Ruminating is best left to cows.
I’m a great believer in getting started on a project rather than planning. Seeing something take shape even it’s distorted and not what you had in mind can lead to something better than you envisioned. Putting it off because you don’t have the right tools or you need to think about it a bit more is a defence mechanism against fear of failure. It’s also self-sabotaging and self-defeating.
Finally train your mind to think, So What? It’s not the fear of losing or not achieving something but more about how you are going to react. Do you have the resilience to cope with anything that comes your way? Actually you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. Some of us are harder on ourselves than on other people.
I’m not into modern psychobabble but there is something to be said for self-nurturing. This doesn’t mean eating your feelings with sugary treats but it does mean respecting your body, giving yourself time and attention and not relying on others to do it for you and above all reprogramming your inner voices.
My children used to sing along to an American nursery rhyme. You can do it, you know you can.’ I’ll leave you with that thought.