Three thoughts that will make bad times worse
We can all get on a bit of a downer sometimes. That’s only natural and it happens to everyone from time to time. The important thing though, is how we explain how we explain those down times to ourselves. This is the difference between having a bad day and sliding into a bad week or month. There are three thoughts we tell ourselves about these moments that will make any bad time worse. The good news is that knowing this, and doing something about it, can lift you out of funk pretty quickly too.
Over the last few days, I’ve been feeling tired and ill and I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself. Needless to say, this affected my mood and I noticed that more and more of my thoughts were turning to what I wasn’t getting done, which turned into focusing about what I’m lacking and that rapidly turned into what I am rubbish at. As I felt my mood sink, I noticed three (incorrect) thoughts creep in that were guaranteed to keep that cloud looming over my head.
This is Permanent
When we experience negative emotions it can be easy to exaggerate the scale of the situation to ourselves. We start to think or act as if the situation is permanent. We are so absorbed in the moment we lose sight of the end or we forget that this is just a small part of a much bigger journey. It feels like the situation is here to stay indefinitely and we might start to think "why is it always like this?" or "Why can't I ever learn?".
What to do:
Ask yourself: How will you look back on this in one month? One year? Five years?
Picture yourself floating out of your body, zoom out and imagine that you can see the whole timeline of your life, all at once, right from being a baby to being old and grey. Now, look at this moment in that timeline. How big is it in the grand scale of things? Can you even see it? This should help put things in perspective.
It is Pervasive
Again, we tend to scale up the problem, apply it to other areas of our lives and make connections where there are none.
Perhaps work feels hard right now and we focus on what feels bad. Now we are focusing on what feels bad, we start to spot what feels bad at home, in our relationships, in our fitness, our diet, our finances and eventually we convince ourselves that we have spotted a theme in which everything in our lives is rubbish, or at least everything feels less rosy than it did before.
What to do:
Shift your focus to what feels good in your life. What are your successes? Make a list or record yourself on video on your phone, whichever you prefer (DO NOT skip this bit, capture it somewhere).
Stick at this exercise for at least 5 minutes. It might feel slow and difficult at first but keep going because once you get going you won't want to stop. Get a friend to coach you through this if it helps.
It’s amazing how quickly “This is terrible” can turn into “I’m terrible”.
When we feel down and we tell ourselves that the bad times are permanent and pervasive, we can very quickly begin to make them personal too. We tell ourselves that it’s not just a tricky situation but that it’s something in our character that is causing the problem. It’s not a challenging situation, it’s just something typical of us. We start to think:
“Why does this always happen to me?”
“Why can’t I catch a break?”
“It’s harder for me than other people because……(insert excuse here)”
“Why can’t I ever get this right?”
“I’m the kind of person that struggles with……”
What to do:
Think about your contribution to the situation in terms of actions or behaviours. Focus on what you can do differently rather than making it a symptom of being you.
Then, take a step back and look outside yourself. What other explanations are there for the situation? List as many as you can, they don’t all have to be true. Simply by exploring all the other stories there are about the situation you will begin to see that you are not the only person to experience this problem and that you are not cursed after all.
So there you go
You might not be able to change the facts of a situation but you can change the story you tell yourself about it. This is the difference between remaining stuck and taking a more optimistic approach that leads to positive action. So next time you find yourself on a downer remember, you don’t need to believe every story you tell yourself.