We’re always wanting to break habits. Unless they’re good habits! Foster those!
But most bad habits involve thinking. All that negative self-talk leads us to do things we don’t really want to do. I always love the definition of addiction that says, “Not being able to get enough of what you never wanted in the first place.” That about sums it up.
And that’s addiction to, well, just about anything. Excluding chocolate.
Many years ago (back when I didn’t think I had negative thoughts. LOL! What planet was I on?), I was challenged to write down all of my thoughts in one day. Man, did that ever get old quick. But the shocking thing was how, ahem, un-positive they actually were.
Me, a pessimist? Perish the thought! But when you see it in black and white, it’s pretty tough to dismiss.
And when you start paying attention to all the pessimistic reactions to oh, just about any event, whether it’s losing a job or the mailman skipped your box that day, it’s quite the eye opener.
Like any habit, this one can be tough to break. But in the process, it changed my life.
I love the work of Martin Seligman, MD. A professor of psychology at the U. of Pennsylvania, he is also the director of the Positive Psychology Center there. Link He’s authored many helpful books, and Learned Optimism is one of my favs. Although I can take a new thought and chew on it, my best way to digest that is to read the science behind it. And his work about pessimism and depression amazed me.
It also showed me how that even though I wasn’t a born optimist, I could become one. Who knew!
He has a quite simple 3-step, ABC process to turning your thoughts around, replacing bad thinking with good habits.
1. Record the Adversity.
When faced with adversity, we react by thinking about it. We are the ones who give meaning to what happens. The ice-cream man missing our block is, well, just that. And although many events may seem more personal, sometimes they are but usually they’re not. By recording when something you don’t like occurs, you begin to see the emotional valance you give it. Because,
2. How we think about it forms into Beliefs.
This is usually such a habit, we’re not even aware of it. Unless we pay attention, stop, focus on them. These beliefs are the true causes of how we react, what we feel and what we do next. Because you know, the beliefs you hold may not be true. Who knew! Most are not provable. You can’t know that the ice-cream man specifically dissed you when he passed your street. Maybe the heat caused him to have a brain glitch. Because only in the rarest of cases was he thinking anything about you in the first place!
- I.e., these Beliefs have Consequences.
They produce the differences in if we become dejected and give up, or have a sense of well-being and find a constructive action regarding the adversity. If you believe said ice-cream man missed you on purpose, you’ll feel dejected and helpless. Which leads to the idea that no one likes you. This is all going on quite subconsciously, but you know when it does—your day turns depressing, and you can’t remember exactly why . . .
But if you challenge that belief, anything from, ‘Stupid ice-cream man!’ To, ‘Oh, well, I’ll get two red bullets tomorrow,’ the consequences will be entirely different.
This took me time and effort to get good at. ‘Old habits die hard’ is a platitude for a reason—they’re entrenched.
But once you start paying attention to these ABCs, how easy it is to see your own disasterizing. At least, it was for me! And then replacing the bad ones with healthy habits becomes, well, a habit in itself.
How do you deal with negative thoughts?