How I overcame negativity with one simple step
The other day I felt stressed and overwhelmed because I had to prepare for a presentation at very short notice. I watched myself starting to feel negative, a little anxious and unhappy. Then the negative thoughts began. I haven’t had enough time to prepare because of how busy I’ve been. I usually have time to be properly prepared so I feel calm and not too pressured. Now I don’t have enough time. This is stressful. I’ll have to work into the evening. I won’t feel as prepared or relaxed tomorrow. (It sounds so boring when I actually write it down … but anyway.) I could see the potential for this negativity to get into a bit of a downward spiral.
However, and I’m happy to say this, at that point I made a choice. I knew that if I let that negativity and anxiety take hold, it would immobilise me and I wouldn’t be able to do my work. I’d be up working even later … because in the end it had to be done. So, at the height of my negativity, I tried a ‘gratitude experiment’.
I focused on what I was grateful for. Luckily that wasn’t difficult. In this situation, I was definitely grateful at being given the opportunity and I was excited about it. It was just the circumstances surrounding the opportunity that I wasn’t so pleased with. I really focused on that appreciation. I thought about how happy I was to be offered the work. I also talked to myself and told myself that in a matter of hours the preparation would be done and it would be OK. I thought more about all the reasons why I was grateful to have the work. I then consciously started saying to myself, I am so grateful. I am so grateful. I said it to myself about seven times and deeply felt the feeling of gratitude.
A crazy thing happened and this really did surprise me … From feeling unhappy, stressed and anxious and focusing on what was wrong about the situation, I suddenly felt a deep sense of peace, acceptance and gratitude. I felt calm. I was suddenly able to focus on preparing. My stress disappeared and I was able to take the work in my stride. The preparation did take me a while. I worked into the evening, but I felt at peace doing it. I was so amazed at the transformative impact that I even had to discuss it with my mother the next day! The power of the mind …
My mind plays havoc with me at times. From what I’ve seen, it’s the same for all of us. While it can definitely be a challenge to choose the gratitude approach when you’re feeling stressed and negative, if you do, it can be such a relief. At the very least, it can help shift those uncomfortable feelings even a little.
I knew that if I let that negativity and anxiety take hold, it would immobilise me and I wouldn’t be able to do my work.
My gratitude experiment has made me realise, even more deeply, why the people who are considered to be particularly resilient are those that are able to be grateful in spite of the challenges that life presents them. Rick Hanson, an expert on neuroscience of the brain, describes negativity as like Velcro, it sticks; whereas positive thoughts are like Teflon and slip away. What this means is that we may have positive experiences, one after the other, yet we find those hard to hold on to. Give us one ‘bad’ experience, and it can stay with us for days.
How does this knowledge help us? Well I think the key message is that to counteract our tendency to focus on the negative, we need to train our minds to appreciate the positives and practise gratitude, so the positives also stick. Acknowledging and talking about our challenges can be important too. However, if we consciously and consistently focus on what we’re grateful for, even when we’re having challenges, we can potentially lighten the feeling of the load. We can then at least to some extent shift our negative feelings into feelings of acceptance and gratitude.
I’ve been trying the ‘I’m grateful’ approach a lot recently and it’s really working for me. I was at a very busy mother’s day breakfast at school recently. It’s not always something I enjoy that much. This time I consciously and with focus approached it with gratitude. I was grateful for the experience of having both my daughters sitting next to me, seeing a friend and saying hi, it being a lovely sunny day, having a relaxing chat with another school mum and meeting someone new and, best of all, grateful for my daughter spilling the entire contents of her hot chocolate on her uniform and her response … a light-hearted laugh. Beautiful.
Is it possible for you to take a few moments of each day to focus on what you are grateful for in your life? Writing it down can be even more powerful. It could be having a special friend, the tender hug with your child, the shared smile with your neighbour, that you woke up to a beautiful sunny morning or simply that you’re alive today. When you’re experiencing a challenging situation, see if you can shift the focus to what you can also be grateful for.
If you work on this, you can develop this ability and it will help you to be more resilient in life. Always a good thing. Maybe think of it like playing a game with yourself. When you notice those stressed, negative thoughts overtaking your mind, think, I’m going to give this gratitude thing a go and see what happens. Consciously focus on what you’re grateful for, even in the context of the challenge you are experiencing. Once you’ve identified all the reasons to be grateful, repeat to yourself, I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful, as many times as you can. Keep focused on that gratitude and see if you can feel a shift. Even if you experience a small shift, that’s wonderful. Sometimes the smallest changes that you make can have such a significant impact over time. It might take practice but you can do it.
Lead Your Own Change.