Aarrrrgh. There it goes again. You know, that voice that gets after you for yelling at your kids, or leaving the laundry piled on the couch for a week, or wonders if you had offended someone – weeks after you did it. Yeah, that voice.
When it arises, it seems to get front and center, doesn’t it? It just takes over whatever you were thinking about, and suddenly, like bad news on TV, it makes headlines in your thoughts. On CNN they play the disaster over and over again on the screen, and you play out what you did “wrong” just as relentlessly.
It’s as if nothing else matters in that moment except feeling guilt or shame about whatever it was you think you did wrong or didn’t do well enough. A negative thought comes up, and for some reason, it’s much more compelling than the positive ones.
The other night, my daughter was talking with me before bed. She said that sometimes she feels unhappy. I asked her about the unhappiness. She said she felt pressure from school. But as we talked, she realized it wasn’t really her teachers or anyone at school that made her feel unhappy. She became aware that she was thinking about what she hadn’t finished or didn’t do well that day. And then she felt bad – as any of us would.
Why do these thoughts get the worst of us? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. It triggers fear centers in our brains. Worrying about insulting someone causes us to fear losing that person in our life, or their anger, or telling other people what we did. Worrying about not getting enough done at school makes us feel like we’re not good enough, which makes us fear that we’ll fail or be rejected.
We imagine the worst, and it blows up into something that, unconsciously, we perceive as life-threatening. You bet I’d pay attention if a tiger were chasing me down! That’s the level that these little negative thoughts swell to when we’re unconscious of them.
Unless we notice them and then pay attention to something else.
I asked her, what could she do differently? And she realized that instead of focusing her thoughts on what she didn’t do well (yes, you can acknowledge what you can improve upon, but I’m talking about obsessive negative self-talk), she could reflect on what she did do well. She could listen to the good thoughts inside of her!
It was like a light bulb flipped on in her mind. She asked for me to write this down, so we did – we wrote down the plan that every night, she’d think of 3 things she did well or “good” that day, and write them down. She’d let those thoughts be what got her off to sleep that night. A big smile spread across her face, and she after she named those three for the day, she said “I feel much better!”
What 3 things did you do “well” or “good” today? Claim them and share them!
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