For most of us, we’ve had the unfortunate experience of being stuck in a circling vortex of negativity, self-doubt, frustration, and exhaustion. When caught in one of these spirals, it can feel impossible to break free.
Why is this?
One of the reasons could be that these feelings seem to compound on each other. Exhaustion can lead to negative thoughts. Thoughts such as “Why am I not good enough to do a thing?”, “Why can’t I keep up with my peers?”, “Can I do anything right?”, or “Why is this hard for me to do?”
These thoughts can deeply frustrate us, as we don’t want to be stuck thinking these things. These thoughts can also be heavy, stressful, or debilitating, thus exhausting us even more. You might see how a pattern can develop.
Another reason could be that we are innately programmed to give more attention to negative thoughts rather than positive ones. This is called Negativity Bias. As humans, we are inclined to attend to, learn from, and dwell on negative information more so than positive information. Negative events usually evoke a faster and more critical response. During our hunter-gatherer days, negative events posed a threat to our survival. They were burned into our brain so that we would learn from them.
So, how can we stop this spiral? How can we work against this Negativity Bias? How can we ultimately break this pattern once we are stuck in its cycling negative winds?
I want to share three helpful tips that I’ve learned about in regards to working our way out of negative thinking spirals.
1. Forgiving Yourself
Try to forgive yourself for spiraling. Forgiveness isn’t always easy. We might find shame and guilt present, wondering why it’s so hard for us to get out and see the brighter side. Try to hold yourself with love and self-compassion. As mentioned earlier, we’re working against thousands of years of mental conditioning. This is tough work. The fact that you’re here reading this shows you’ve already made the first and most pivotal steps. First, it shows that you are self-aware of your own negative thinking patterns. Second, it demonstrates you have a desire to change. Know that getting caught in these spirals is normal and is part of the human experience.
2. Savoring the Positives
Since our brain is cognitively wired to focus more on negative thoughts, we have to work towards reprogramming it to focus on more positive thoughts. This requires turning short-term positive moments and feelings into long-term memories. Next time something positive happens in your life, try to savor it as much as possible! Stick with the moment or feeling for as long as you can. Savoring a moment could look like extending a hug with your friend for a few more seconds, journaling your feelings after a really awesome experience, or recalling moments in your life where you felt truly loved. Notice the sensations and feelings in your body. The more you’re able to practice savoring these positives, the easier you might find it gets to pull yourself out of a spiral. This is reprogramming in action.
3. Challenging the Negatives
The goal here is to question the validity of negative thoughts. Quite often these negative thoughts happen so fast and automatically that we just believe them. We don’t even think to question them. Challenging these thoughts can be tricky, as it requires you to narrow down on certain negative thoughts while they are coming up. Practice asking yourself the following questions:
· Are these thoughts respectful to you?
· Are they useful to you?
· Is there any evidence that supports this thought?
· What evidence do I have that disproves this thought?
· Have I ever faced this situation before? How did it turn out?
It’s no picnic getting caught in negative thinking spirals. Though it may feel hopeless escaping these gloom-ridden hurricanes, there are tools that can help us. Just remember to have patience and compassion for yourself as you start navigating these winds. You’ve got this!