Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking Patterns

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Ever watch two kids get in a tussle and be given a time out? I witnessed this occurrence recently. Sentenced to separate spaces two little boys tearfully dragged their tiny feet to the appointed corner to wait out the clock. What happened next can only be attributed to the blissful innocence of childhood. Thirty seconds into the time out Little Boy A became totally entranced in the scurrying of a large ant as the insect traversed the wall. Meanwhile, Little Boy B found his neon green shoelace an interesting object to remove from his shoe and twirl around his fingers. What was supposed to be a quiet time of reflection and repentance was quickly converted into exploring other options.

When the bell went off signaling punishment was over, both boys were told to apologize and shake hands. They did so grinning and giggling probably not even remembering or caring about the earlier disagreement. It never occurred to them to hold a grudge or debate who was wrong.
Four-year-old boys of twins, in white linen shirts, one embraces another, isolated on the white

Children have the innate ability to quickly move on. No muss, no fuss, no hard feelings. They simply resume fun and frolic. Not always the case with adults. We sometimes dwell on frustrating situations long past the event. Ever catch yourself replaying an incident over and over in your head like a bad dream? Complaining about the injustice to anyone who will listen? How about the inability to quickly rebound from making a mistake, losing a sale or missing an important deadline?

Whether you mentally beat yourself up for a blunder, or cling tightly to the memory of an unfair situation, it’s time wasted! Not only are you running down the clock when you could be doing something far more productive, pondering over provoking incidents can lead to depression. The technical term for getting caught up in a cycle of negative thoughts is rumination. Stop and think how counterproductive this is.

The late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, who taught psychology at Yale, noticed women, more than their male counterparts tend to spend countless hours over-thinking negative experiences. Replaying the scene over and over in your head is like repeatedly watching a bad movie. Not only are you punishing yourself, the act of ruminating accomplishes nothing because nothing changes.

When you find yourself cohabitating with this negative intruder inside your head it’s time to take action. You can get from stomach-in-knots anxiety to peaceful calm by applying one or more of the following strategies.

• Reframe the situation by examining it objectively from 30,000 feet. If you lost the big sale, make a physical list of the reasons your customer said no. Perhaps there were things you could have done differently. Make note of those actions and consider it a lesson learned. Next, remind yourself the past cannot be changed. It’s over, time to move on.
• Change the scenery. Get out of your head and make plans with the most positive person you know. Being around an optimist will help you shake the negative cobwebs from your psyche.
• Change the channel. That’s right, do something to distract yourself. Dive into that novel on your night stand or head off to the gym. Bake some cookies, go for a bike ride or watch a silly sitcom. Surely there is something more worthwhile that requires your attention.

Side shot of woman on bike

If all else fails and you are determined to ruminate on a situation, time it out. Get out the kitchen timer and allow yourself 45 minutes to acknowledge your displeasure. Then, when the bell rings signaling you’ve spent the better part of an hour fretting and employing negative self-talk, stop the nonsense. Come out smiling like the little guys after their time out. Let your negative thoughts evaporate and focus on the positive. Now, go do something that makes your heart sing!

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Big dipper at Southend funfair

The other day a client’s email crossed my desk: “Sunny…I am in the process of spending a few days in Orlando enjoying my favorite theme park. Yesterday I waited patiently in line to board a roller coaster –which is something I never do! My purpose was to execute one of the items on my ‘Facing my Fears,’ list, a topic we discussed in coaching. They strapped me in. Closing my eyes I said a quick prayer and as I was instantly plunged into the air at a frightening speed…you were the last image I remember before indulging into my terrifying journey. At the end of the ride I was happy to have survived and thrilled with myself for dealing with the unknown.”

I laughed heartily and applauded my client for stepping far afield of her comfort zone to deal with fear. Then I added “take a roller coaster ride at the next opportunity” to my fear list. It is something I haven’t done in years probably because I’ve turned chicken. Riding a coaster is not the important part, it’s about dealing with fear. Without challenge a comfort zone will continually shrink.

Dealing with fears holding us back from reaching our goals is a common theme in coaching sessions. When we met, my client mapped out a list of her fears. That was a good starting point. Obviously, riding a roller coaster had nothing to do with her greater goals, however, conquering a fear, any fear, gives us the confidence to maintain momentum. This was clearly evidenced by her closing sentence. She boldly wrote: “I’m off to face my next fear.”

Want to work on eliminating your barriers? Recognize that fears are formed in our minds. We associate doing something with danger, or perhaps we view the outcome as ending in embarrassment, disgrace, failure, etc.

Begin by striving to eliminate the negative and debilitating chatter in your head. It serves no purpose other than to provide excuses as worthless as a pencil devoid of lead.
Broken head of sharp pencil on a white paper

When those noisy demons begin their chant, dismiss them. With no audience to entertain they will quietly exit stage left.

Breathe through your fear. I recently had an opportunity to fly with a friend in his two-seater Piper Cub. Although I knew the man was an accomplished pilot, I felt uneasy and rather skittish as I climbed aboard the bright yellow aircraft. My friend Dave walked me through each step explaining when we hit 60 miles per hour we would lift off. I prepared for the assent into the azure sky by acknowledging my nerves then dismissing them. Next I practiced taking long, slow breaths. With eyes wide open I soon felt the thrill of slow and steady climb. Grinning broadly as we soared around mountains and over sparkling deep lakes, I congratulated myself for not letting trepidation prevent me from enjoying this rare opportunity.

plane

Practice embracing uncertainty. Take smaller risks on a consistent basis, selecting those that will help you conquer your fear. For example, if you fear public speaking, enroll in a Toastmasters class. The Toastmaster environment is supportive allowing a participant to move at his or her own pace. Within time you can be delivering speeches free of knocking knees and sweaty palms.

We all cling to what makes us feel safe. Perhaps it’s time to graduate from living life in a sanctuary. Get ready to leave your security blanket behind. Have you ever seen the classically funny movie Mr. Mom? There is a scene in the film where the stay-at-home dad, played by actor Michael Keaton, convinces his small son to retire his “wooby” which is the child’s word for security blanket. Try visualizing yourself relinquishing an object symbolizing your wooby. Lay the article down, acknowledging your freedom and independence from the protective mantle.

A final thought…borrow a tagline from the Navy Seals. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” The idea is to remain focused on the task at hand regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Conditions will not always be ideal. Accept that fact and stay the course.

Feeling more secure about taking the plunge? Great! Meet me at Disneyland. I have a coaster to conquer.

Finding Your “X”

Aisalynn Ballerina

I proudly watched my three year old niece, Alina, perform in her first ballet recital. She did a good job executing the steps, although at times she scampered around as if in search of something.  Later, her mother explained what caused the confusion. Apparently Alina was looking for her “X.” The teacher assigned each child a color coded X as a home base. The dancers were to return to the assigned X at designated points in the performance.

Understanding the dilemma, I could relate. It is not always easy to find your place, whether it be in the school auditorium or the world’s stage. Without a plan to guide you, life can be baffling. At times we spin our wheels trying to find the right path. In other instances, we remain happy in a comfortable situation until unexpectedly life throws you a curve ball and shifts. Suddenly we are no longer in that perfect place.

In baseball, a curve ball is a pitch thrown with a characteristic grip causing the ball to dive downward just as it reaches the plate. This pitch often finds the batter swinging at air.

Baseball through broken glass window.

Sound familiar? Do you ever feel like that prized pitch just passes you by and you go down swinging? It happens. Adversity strikes and when it does, how should we regroup? Here are some strategies. Begin by:

  • Accept that life is full of surprises. Change is imminent. No matter how diligent and proactive we are, eventually life throws us a dreaded curve ball making it necessary to change course.
  • Know that your comfort zone will continually be challenged. At times you’ll get knocked off balance or maybe find some other kid standing on your X. Acknowledge the change. It happened. You cannot un-pitch a ball.
  • Spend some analyzing how the occurrence will impact your life. It’s time to take a breath rethink and regroup.
  • Become a list maker. It helps to problem solve on paper. Take a step back and view the situation from a broad perspective. Let your creative juices flow and capture your ideas in writing.
  • Next, put down your pen or save the document on your computer and take a break. Go for a walk, hit the gym or head out to your favorite coffee shop.
  • Once you have cleared your head with another activity, return to your list. Analyze your ideas and rank them accordingly. Which strategies seem the most viable?
  • Time to call for support. Invite a mentor, coach or trusted friend to review your work. It is possible your confidant will see an angle you missed and offer up a solution that did not occur to you.
  • Decide on a strategy and create an action plan by breaking down tasks into bite size pieces. You might be setting off in a direction that seems completely foreign to you. Relax, often making a left turn is the right thing to do.
  • Practice resilience. We are wired with built in survival mechanisms. It may take some deep down digging, but in tenuous situations find the sweet spot that propels you in a new direction.
  • Remain optimistic. There is always something positive to be gained.
  • Lastly, have a little faith. Believe in yourself. When your X becomes hidden, gets usurped or is obliterated by the curve ball, do not give up.

Our tiny ballerina Alina stayed the course until she found her home base.  Although lost for a moment, she recovered. And so can you.