Watch your language!
No, I’m not talking about those expletives you let out in the car (personally, I don’t really see the harm in that kind of language every now and then). I’m talking about that language you use with yourself that is harsh, negative and critical – that voice that tries to tell you that you’re not good enough, or that life is too hard.
Those niggling worries, relationship discontent or general irritability. With social media and constant phone access, things seem to be getting worse (oops, am I being too negative?). But, unfortunately research shows that our brains actually notice negative thoughts more than positive ones. This is what is known as ‘the negative bias’. Scientists believe it’s down to our survival instinct – it made sense to learn to pay more attention to danger than to the good stuff.
Yes, it’s too easy to forget the good stuff…a touching moment with someone we love, a genuine hug, the feeling of being understood or listened to, or the feeling of appreciation from someone in your life. We seem to dump these from our brains when we sink into negative thinking – it’s like they’ve never happened.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say I constantly battle this balance of negative and positive in my head. But, according to psychologist Maureen Gaffney, when it tips into predominantly negative, it’s a red flag; this is when depression can occur or when relationships often break down. Click here to find out more.
So what is that negative voice actually saying? Examples include black and white thinking such as ‘It’s ruined now’; worst-case scenario thinking ‘something bad is going to happen’; ‘should’ statements, such as ‘I should never make a mistake’ or mind-guessing such as ‘I can tell she’s judging me right now’. These are just a few of the thoughts we can all have each day – of which scientists believe there can be literally thousands (and research shows that 80 per cent of our thoughts are often negative).
The problem, though, is not about us having these thoughts. The real problem is when we believe them to be reality. Remember YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS. If you are on a journey of change, this could be the biggest leap you could make, with the biggest reward. The first step is to become AWARE. Then you have the power and choice to decide whether to believe your thoughts, or to cast them aside as distortions that will not serve you well.
The next step is to do what Maureen suggests, by trying to combat those negative thoughts with more positive ones. The ideal ratio that she suggests for people to ‘flourish’ in their lives is five positives to every negative (but she recommends that a good place to start is just three positives at the beginning).
People who struggle with negativity often find a gratitude journal also helps them to remember the good things in their life – actually writing those positives down can be very helpful (you could try this at the bottom of your ‘daily diary’). There is so much pressure and stress around in the lead up to Christmas…we could all focus on that. But instead, let’s try together to look at the really great stuff – the cosy nights in, the candles, the smiles on our children’s faces, the hugs from family – let’s start to really notice what is good in our lives. If you find you really struggle with this time of year, don’t forget to read our top tips to help you’re your mood.
I’d love to hear from anyone who finds the ‘five positives (or three!) to every negative’ useful. Watch your language and if you like, email me to let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org