At work recently, we completed an exercise where we wrote down three anonymous complements on a sticky note for someone in the office. One of mine I received: ‘always happy‘.
Initially, I was taken aback, whilst mentally reviewing each-and-every interaction I’d had with every person in the office to see if it matched up with this claim. I came to the understanding that, yes, it was reasonable that those I work with would think this: I view myself as an optimistic person and go out of my way to smile, say hi, spark up conversation – particularly with those who I know may really need it.
Social contagion is a real thing. How you act and treat others is then internalised by them, and they go on to treat others differently due to your interaction. So, with the option to spread positivity available to me at all times, obviously I’m going to choose to do so.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the assumption that, due to my innate desire to spread positivity, that this would create the perception that I’m ‘always happy’, when I know – obviously, due to being a functioning human being – that this isn’t the case. This caused me to think about how I think. Is how I think about myself the same as how others think of me?
Thinking about how you think – metacognition – is a weird topic but nonetheless, an important one. Even weirder: your thoughts don’t actually belong to you; they are replicas of things you’ve been told, or have heard or seen. You internalise these beliefs and if you think about them long enough, your brain believes them to be true. For example, someone makes a remark that only people with blue eyes are beautiful: you then start seeing blue-eyed beauties everywhere you go. These blue-eyed people seem to have it all, good looks, charm, humour. You start to question yourself and your boring green eyes, and your looks, your personality. Before long, you’ve taken it to mean that your green eyes suck, and you’re googling blue contact-lenses.
If you’d caught this thought early on, before it had built like a tornado picking up debris in your brain, you might have had the chance to squash it, and instead, think about how bloody incredible your green eyes are. You have to observe and question your thoughts, and decide whether they’re fitting the beliefs you want to be true for yourself. I’ve struggled with negative thoughts and self-doubt, just like everyone else, but never before had realised I might be capable of influencing that.
I’d started toying with meditation around the same time I got the note. This helped me begin examining and observing how I think. Sitting on my yoga mat following a meditation app, I have no choice to do nothing but focus on my thoughts for a whole 13 minutes. Meditation is HARD. The aim is to focus on your breathing, observe your thoughts and guide your thoughts back to your breath, emptying your mind of incessant chatter, just for now. When doing this, when giving myself the time to really observe the mindless thoughts that appear in my brain, I realised that actually, the thoughts weren’t too positive after all.
Making the decision to stop drinking removed a lot of my anxiety and helped me gain clarity to identify, through meditation, which of my thoughts were negative. This was initially a surprise: I noticed my default mechanism was to notice the bad before the good. On my mirror is a sticky-note which reads: “I can what-if the positives”, because by observing my thoughts, I know I’ve been “what-if-ing the negatives”.
Like anything, you don’t know what you don’t know. Now I’m in a position to have the power to adapt my thoughts, to re-wire them to think optimistically & positively as a default. It’s a breath of fresh air. I feel like I’m learning to treat myself how I treat other people. I deserve to look at the good things. I deserve to find the silver lining rather than over-analysing the one-in-a-million chance of something going drastically wrong.
So, have I started to achieve this? It’s been a process of self-discovery. It started with yoga, which led me to spirituality and faith, which led me to meditation, journalling, breath-work, crystals, tarot, sobriety… All of these little things added up to the overall understanding that I can connect to myself and really learn about me. I want to examine my approach to life and make each interaction, each decision, each thought, a positive and refreshing and joyful one.
Here are some things I’ve added into my daily routine which you might like to try:
- As of May 10th 2021 (which happened to be a new moon) I started writing a list on my phone of every positive thing that happens. It includes things like doing a really great yoga and meditation session, getting a free coffee, waking up early and making the most of being hangover-free, seeing friends and family for the first time in months, sunbathing in the garden, going horse-riding, our kitten coming home… every single thing I have enjoyed and that’s brought me positivity and happiness. By making note of these, I’m tuning into the positives and noticing more of them every day. This also means negative interactions and thoughts don’t take centre-stage anymore. They get happily swallowed up by the bigger, more meaningful interactions that take place.
- I’ve got a list of positive affirmations stuck on my mirror and I read them every morning. Seeing reminders that I can “what – if the positives” and that “I’m surrounded by genuine people who want me to succeed”, and “I’m doing everything just as I need, at just the right time” reminds me that I’m doing the right things and can find the positives in every day.
- I’m using a journalling app called Jour. It’s a really simple way to note down, in two minutes, how your day has gone, what you’ve done well, and what you’re proud of.
- I use the calm app for sleep stories and meditation, and as you probably know by now I use down dog app for yoga.
- Podcasts have been amazing, my two favourite currently being: Josh Trent, Wellness Force and Ashley Stahl, You Turn. Ashley has also written an incredible book which I highly recommend for anybody seeking guidance on finding their true career path.
- I’ve learned my entire birth chart. This was pretty intense, and took a long time, but I’m so glad I did it. Analysing my personality, areas of weakness and areas of strength, what grounds me and where I flourish, has made a lot of sense and keeps me in check.
I love learning and developing my understanding of the world. Through studying Psychology, it’s been so invigorating to turn that learning inwards to develop a deeper understanding of me. My tattoo which reads ‘Gnothi Seauton’ – know thyself – has never had more relevance. Most importantly, I’m really proud of removing the burden of negativity from my shoulders, and am loving every second of seeing the world as the world sees me.
My experiences are not representative of those facing prolonged challenges with their mental health. Adapting how you think is not always possible for those battling mental health problems and I don’t wish to reduce the difficulty of doing so. For those who are struggling with anxiety, depression or any other mental health challenges, please reach out to a Mental Health professional to receive sufficient support:
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