Do you spend a lot of time thinking bad thoughts and feeling miserable?
Are you waiting for your life to get better?
Depressed? Anxious? Afraid? Miserable? Stuck in bad thoughts? Escaping through television and the internet because that’s the only thing that distracts you from these thoughts? Spending big bucks on therapists who aren’t doing you any good? Going around and around in a cloud of negativity?
“Think positive,” others say, and you want to slap them, because really, how do you just do that?
Try this; it’s based on concepts from the Nurtured Heart Approach, which I’ve written about extensively with its creator, Howard Glasser, and his superheroine sidekick, Lisa Bravo.
(That is, if you want things to change. People often are resistant to positive shifts, because they’re addicted to their own negative self-talk. It gives them something they’re not willing to let go. So if that’s you, don’t read anymore. Come back when you’re ready for something to change.)
I used to be the Queen of Negative Self-Talk and this method has worked better for me than any therapy. I added a hefty dose of yoga study, reading, and other kinds of inner work to this formula, but ultimately it was the main ingredient that made this cynical pessimist a rosy optimista.
Here’s what you do:
Set an intention to Refuse to focus on the negative. Not just an “Okay, I’ll give it a try” kind of intention, but a fierce one.
Doesn’t matter how you feel. Your feelings aren’t the point here; they aren’t the thing that’s hurting you. We’re working with thoughts. Sad, mad, glad, afraid, whatever you are, leave your feeling self out of this process. Acknowledge it if that feels good. Then get on with this thought experiment.
Sit with this new intention for a while, write about it, talk about it with a friend.
Then, act and think in accordance with that intention as though your life depended on it.
Any time you ‘go negative’—and you will, you’ll do it constantly like you have done for much of your life, say “Reset” and intentionally think a positive thought. About yourself. About your life. About your loved ones. About the guy behind the counter at the grocery store.
Say it out loud or write it down or say it to yourself inside your head.
Anything that isn’t negative counts as positive. “I didn’t scream at my kid or slap my wife.” To find something to positively acknowledge about yourself, your world, your surroundings, your loved ones or your work, consider the absence of every calamity, misbehavior, scofflaw attitude and asshole conduct to be a conscious choice on your part, successfully carried out due to virtuous and desirable qualities you possess, on this, the first day of the rest of your life.
This will feel like breaking an addiction, because that is what you will be doing. Something neurochemical happens when we think negative thoughts. We get a little “hit” of the same stuff we get a hit of when we use illegal drugs or indulge in any addictive behavior. If you pay attention, you can feel it when it happens.
Let’s say you catch yourself thinking this about yourself: “Oh my God, I am already [fill in your age] years old and soon my life will be over and I haven’t accomplished anything.”
That’s a thought to reset from.
Not angrily. Don’t banish the thought. Just say “no thanks” like you’re sending back some food you don’t like in a restaurant.
“But it’s True,” you protest.
Is it? Really? Come on now. Reset. Decide what’s true. You get to do that. No power outside of yourself can create this movie that is your life.
Regard each reset as a reminder to see what’s going well. “I talked to so-and-so about a job today. My wife loves me.”
There is no trying, only doing. There is only the present moment. You get a clean slate every time you reset. Game over, start a new one.
Now. Second step.
Find the energy in yourself you’ve been using to beat yourself down, then capture its ferocity and redirect it.
That’s some seriously huge energy.
If you’ve been using it to beat the crap out of yourself, you already know this.
You get to do what you want with it once you can feel it simply as energy—not as the thoughts you’ve habitually attached to it.
In order to do this, you also have to acknowledge that you are not a floating head carried around by a body that has no impact on anything aside from the way it looks in skinny jeans. Listen to your body. Feel the energy. It helps to take a few deep breaths.
Once you find that, start taking that energy and push it into the task of finding what’s going well. Do this as though your life depended on it too.
How about this one? “I am obsessed with results and not appreciative of process or little steps along the way.”
When have you been appreciative of process? I bet it’s been true of you at least 3 times today, at least in some small fashion.
“Uh, well, I don’t know. Sometimes. When I make a new work contact. Or have a good workout.”
The most important part is to Refuse to go negative on yourself. Reset every single motherloving time. Every time.
That is always the first step.
Take this first step as many times as necessary; you may take it roughly 400 times a day in the first days of trying this commando positive psychology technique. That’s okay.
As you forbid yourself to speak negatively to yourself, first will come the void, the panic, and then will come your feeble attempts to acknowledge the positive.
Let them be feeble. Be imperfect at it and praise yourself for your efforts. Start now. You are breaking an addiction. It might take a while. Stay focused. Stay fierce.
Be as specific as possible about positives. “Today at 7:34 am I watched a YouTube video I knew would give me joy. I intentionally made myself happy. I care about myself and my own well-being, and I know that my being in a good mood will make my whole family happier and healthier. Caring for myself means I care for my loved ones.”
Once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to go on forever with this stuff—the same way you can currently bitch and moan without taking a breath for five minutes straight.
I’m not suggesting obnoxious Pollyanna-style positivity. There are shadows, and difficulties, and sadnesses and grief and challenges. I’m not suggesting you disregard all this. The shadow side is something to accept and integrate, not to ignore as you shine your high-beam positivity in the other direction, irritating all who care about you.
But doing this will improve your resiliency. It will help you see the good in whatever is happening. Whatever you are feeling, it will help you remember that at some level, all is well.
Someone tell me what’s wrong with that, and I’ll eat this blog post and go write some erotica instead.
Remember: The only rule is you cannot ever criticize, denigrate, berate, or otherwise talk down about yourself in any way. But there’s no penalty for doing so. No self-punishment. Only the reset.
“That sounds tough,” you might say.
Is it tougher than subjecting yourself to an endless reel of self-criticism? Maybe.
But it’s also a lot more fun.
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