We all want to have a more fulfilling life, of course we do. But it isn’t likely that we will feel satisfied with our circumstances if we entertain lots of negative thinking. Curbing our tendency to focus on the negative is a prerequisite for becoming more positive. I know, DUH! But for anyone who has made a sincere effort to be more positive and to turn off the stream of negativity, it is not as easy as it sounds. (Simple, yes; Easy, no!) The negative thoughts seem to arise spontaneously. In fact, we are wired to place more emphasis on the negative than the positive. The truthful answer to “how do I stop the negativity” is practice, practice, practice. Your everyday life and situations that arise are the perfect training ground for this practice.
Besides your inborn negativity bias, you have had lifetime unconscious programming that drives your thoughts and behaviour, so don’t give into the temptation to browbeat yourself when you notice you are being negative again. A good way to make this training a more pleasant experience for you is to praise yourself when you notice the unkind or negative thought – how wonderful that you spotted it! You are getting better and better at this! You don’t have to deny the thought you just had; in fact, after praising your marvellous mind for noticing the “bad” thought, then acknowledge what you are feeling and try to discern where in your body you are feeling it. Is it in your jaw (yep, that’s my place), or in your neck and shoulders, or in the pit of your stomach? If you can locate it, really feel it for a few moments and breathe long and slow a few times, placing your attention on this unpleasant sensation. It will usually begin to dissipate on its own. If you cannot determine where in your body you are feeling the emotion, it is still important to stay with the seemingly all-pervasive feeling for a few breaths. Remember that you probably will not want to do this; our tendency is to either suppress the feeling, or blame ourselves or someone else for it. But stay with this practice anyway, because it is the one thing that will work to shift things for you. I promise, it will not last long.
It never works to notice the negative thought, and then quickly say to yourself, “oops, there I go again, that’s not very spiritual. I’m not going to feel angry, I feel happy and blissed out.” Not only will you not help yourself, but you run the risk of becoming very annoying to people because this is disingenuous. To be whole and complete, you must be authentic within yourself. You are always free to not act on your anger; just acknowledge and feel it in your body. Be present for the pain – this is the terrifying part for some of us. We are so adept at smoothing it over, sending it down, down, down – or, sending it out by being reactively angry -that it can feel overwhelming to sit there and just feel the hurt. As strange as it may sound, this is what is needed to set it free. This very simple action of pausing before you jump into the usual chain reaction of anger to others or yourself and breathing in the feelings, and breathing them out….this is choosing a fresh alternative and will eventually stop the habitual re-activeness of negativity. If you don’t do this, you may get through this moment seemingly unscathed, but the pain will be back another day. In the process you can become disassociated from yourself as you repeatedly deny how big the hurt really is. Just take it in small steps and take a couple of minutes to feel the unpleasant feeling as it arises. Stay in your body and do not follow your mind on this one. Your mind will want to have a lot of narrative about the feelings, and the story about how or why you feel the way you do is not important for recovery. Feeling the feeling in your body is the only thing that is important in releasing it.
A short summary and cheat sheet:
This is not a practice that you do once and then you’ve got it. It will take many repetitions to weaken the negativity but stay with it. Every time a new trigger happens, think of it as another opportunity to practice. And, when you fall into the trap of reaction, don’t beat yourself up, just begin again. As many times as it takes.
The big, deep, long standing emotions may take some repeated acknowledgements as they circle back again and again. This is not a failure on your part but just indicates the size of the wound that you have. Don’t deepen the wound by being unkind to yourself. Stay the course of pausing, breathing, and feeling emotion when it comes up and it will soon dissipate. Repeat every time it happens, and come back to this practice if you veer off course. It really is a work in progress, as all of us human beings are.