It happened again. I got so mad and was busy blaming others for my upset. It was the lady who messed up the appointment. It was the man who didn’t listen to my directions. It was the lady who hadn’t returned the call.
Did these things occur? Yes, they did. And the results were definitely inconveniences. But, at the end of the day, none of these things were such a big deal and I didn't need to let my emotions get the best of me. Yet, still, I found myself with a brain that was running away with negativity, and it was taking me with it. Continually yapping at me about who did what, who and what were to blame, what wasn’t good enough, what would never be enough to resolve the situation, how I didn’t see a way to make things better, and how I could never be enough of something to remedy the situation.
Until it hit me. None of these events were worth the power I was giving them. Things happen to all of us, but we are the ones with the ability to decide how we’re going to respond.
You’re not the boss of me!
Little kids have been screaming this sentence for years and years. And here I am, having trouble remembering to say those words to my brain. A brain that science has proven, as the result of centuries of overestimating threats and underestimating possible solutions, now has a negativity bias. And this inclination toward negative thinking is so much stronger than our memories for anything positive that it takes real effort on our parts to focus on the possibilities.
To combat this propensity for negative thinking, we have to be mindful of how our brains are wired so that we can be aware of what tends to set off our negative thinking.
- Consider the degree to which negativity seems to overtake your thinking.
- Does this happen to you often, or is it more of a random event?
- Who or what seems to set you off?
- Are there situations you can avoid, or modify, so the interactions occur less often, or can be avoided altogether?
- What can you do or say in those situations to diffuse the events before the negativity rolls in?
And, finally, establish a daily practice of quiet, reflective time. It’s such a simple practice, but it’s just so hard to take the time to actually do it each day.
- Notice your breath. Count each inhale and each exhale as you breathe normally. You are not trying to reach a certain number, but to simply pay attention to each time you breathe in and out. Imagine the breath going in at your nose or mouth, traveling all the way down to your toes, and then traveling until it is out of your body again. When you find yourself at a number and you don’t know how you got there, that means your mind has been wandering; just start over again with the number 1.
- Make a silent list in your head for each sound you hear. If there are words in a conversation or song, don’t focus on the words but list those as “man talking, woman talking, music playing…” If you find yourself thinking of something else, just go back to listing the sounds. Do not get upset with yourself when this happens; remember that each person has over 50,000 thoughts per day; just notice the thought (I see you…) and then continue listing the sounds (I’ll take care of you later, but I’m gong to do this right now.)
We all encounter upsets. But we have the choice of how we will respond to them, and how we allow them to impact our lives.