It is New Year’s Eve day.  I am supposed to be happy and excited.  Instead I wake up very agitated.  My mind is teeming with negative thoughts.  I have been sick for two weeks.  I feel behind.  I feel unaccomplished. I feel tired even though I just got a full night’s sleep.

Then I catch myself.  I realize that, because I have not done much for my soft skills blog lately, the voice in my head is scolding me.  Negative thoughts fill my mind.  I feel deflated.  These feelings had been building up for a few days already. I knew I had to do something to break this pattern.  Instead of letting my negative thoughts control me, I decided to go for a run and de-stress a little.

empower yourselfRunning was hard.  I was coughing.  But I told myself I didn’t have to run fast.  The fresh air helped a lot.  As I ran my mind cleared.  The run also gave me some quiet time to investigate what was going on in my head.  As I ran I recounted how I was feeling this morning and reviewed my negative thoughts objectively.

Here is what I discovered.  There were four categories of unproductive thoughts and behaviors that plagued me in the last week.  Can you relate to these?

  • Over-planning and under-executing.  I like planning certain things in my head, but I noticed that when I don’t act on my plans, I start to build a mental backlog of to-dos.  After a while I feel so overwhelmed by my backlog of to-dos that I have no room to think ahead.  This has a snowball effect on my ability to accomplish anything.  I knew that I had to break this pattern.  That is why I sat down to write this article right after my run.
  • Avoiding and procrastinating.  I realized that once I felt overwhelmed, rather than doing something to get back into control, I would repress any thoughts related to my now daunting to-dos altogether and distract myself with other activities.  Earlier this week, I went ice skating with my daughter, napped a lot, shopped a little, and watched TV.  All was fun, but I found myself feeling guilty. There was a critical, nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me of what I have NOT done.
  • Doubting myself.  Without action, my mind started feeding on “what if” questions – What if no one signs up for the Soft Skills Gym after I launch? What if I am still sick next week?  Is there something wrong with me?   This just made me feel even more miserable.
  • Comparing myself to others and being self-critical.  To add to this cloud of negativity I also had the occasional feelings of inadequacy.  Again I was criticizing myself as I went.  Career – What I have accomplished professionally versus others? Fitness – I used to be able to run farther and faster than my friends. What happened?  Family – Am I a good mother/wife/daughter? Am I spending enough time with my kids, my parents, my husband?   As I write this I realize how ludicrous and unproductive these thoughts are.  And yet there they were – all luring me to dwell on the negative.

As I ran I asked myself what I could do to quiet, rather than feed, these self-defeating thoughts. It seemed as though my attempts to repress the thoughts just gave them more power and energy.   A good friend once told me, “Don’t fight the dark; just turn on the light.”   That wisdom applied here.   Telling myself to stop thinking these thoughts was like fighting the dark.   No matter how hard I fought, it would still be dark.  Instead, I needed to turn on the light and take productive action.

I know I am NOT my thoughts.  I can have all kinds of thoughts, but I can consciously choose what I want to focus on and not allow negativity to take over.  So, here are the three actions I took to break the pattern:

  1. Know why I need to change this pattern.  Before I can make any change I need to believe that I must change.  This morning I reached my tipping point for change. I cried when I woke up on New Year’s Eve day for no apparent reason. Then I declared to myself that I had enough.  Regardless of why I might feel miserable, I refuse to feel miserable anymore.   I can choose to dwell in my own “pity party” in my head or I can interrupt my pattern by doing something different.
  2. Take some small action and feel a sense of accomplishment.  My first action was going on a run.  It got my blood moving and my mind clear.  I also immediately felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished.  Everyone has their own definition of accomplishment.  Mine includes trying new things, learning, and contributing to others.   I am also taking action now by writing and publishing this post today.  I realized that when I am doing something creative or challenging, my mind has no room to think or dwell on the negative.  The more I focus on actions that I can take now or soon, the more I shine a light into the darkness.
  3. Appreciate myself and others.  Gratitude requires active awareness and a shift in thinking.  I realized that my negative thoughts all stemmed from a sense of under-achievement.  Comparing myself to others never really helped anyone.   It only discouraged me and kept me from recognizing and appreciating others’ accomplishments.  Just writing this paragraph triggered my active self-awareness.  It was time to appreciate what I had been able to accomplish this year.  Last January I made a resolution to make this year not about goals but about experiences.   I am making a list today to recount all the experiences I have had in 2013 and what I have learned from them.

As I write this I am still sick, but I know I will recover.  While I was dwelling on how sick I was earlier this week, my doctor put things in perspective. She said, “Think of what an amazing immune system you have now.”  There I was thinking I was so sick and weak compared to others and she made me realize that the exact opposite was true.  I am stronger than I think.   This is one example of finding the silver lining and appreciating the positive. These two weeks of illness were not wasted. I am healthier than ever because of it and I will recover.

I ran very slowly today and had to walk the last mile.  But, I finished my 3 mile run/walk.  It was a great start.  I am ready for the new year and all that it has to offer.  2014 will be a year of learning and feeling empowered.  Are you ready?

Thanks for reading this post. It’s because of readers like you that I write these articles.  Writing this post helped me re-focus and I hope reading it helps you feel empowered.  Best wishes in 2014.

Your comments: How do you break the pattern of negative thinking?  I look forward to your questions and comments below.

I am always in your corner.

Lei

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