Maybe you’re sick or feeling achy. Perhaps the day hasn’t gone your way, or you’re frustrated with a situation involving a friend, coworker, or even your spouse. Perhaps your plans were canceled, or someone backed out on you.
What do we do when faced with frustrating situations? We start a reel of tape looping in our heads, a voice saying, “You’re a loser,” or “you’re lazy,” or “no one really likes you.” Call it depression and anxiety, stress, or negative thinking, it’s no fun, and it can become quite damaging to our mood, mental health, and outlook.
No matter how old we get or how much we attempt to stay upbeat, it’s hard to get our little voice to shut up sometimes—especially when we’re feeling down in the dumps. We’ve all had those moments when we feel down and crummy. We get stuck in negative thinking patterns, and it’s hard to break out.
When we get stuck in this negative self-talk and spiral of negative thinking patterns, we refer to it as “stinking thinking.” Why? Well, because these thoughts really stink!
This tape of beliefs is part of our makeup, or what we call our matrix. As I work with people on their personal growth, exploring their matrix is a crucial step. When we’re in the process of growing and learning more about ourselves, we often see and start to explore the side of our matrix that’s not-so-positive.
In fact, the more we examine our thinking, try to stop negative thought patterns, and work on shifting our mindset, the harder these negative thoughts seem to fight their way up to the surface. These misbeliefs and negative thinking patterns especially come up when we experience setbacks, frustrations, and mistakes that make us want to throw in the towel (or at least start listing off excuses).
These mental roadblocks are perfectly normal and part of the process. Change is difficult and often a little scary. However, the more we lean into making personal changes and focusing on our growth, the more our minds will throw up resistance. After all, it’s easier to go back to the status quo—it’s more comfortable for our brains (but in the long run, we’re not doing our mental health any favors).
It’s simple to write off our potential future as requiring too much work or being too painful to achieve. It may feel safer to keep on going about our business as usual.
But the reality is that change is constant, and it’s part of life. Whether we’re evolving into our next best self or becoming more rigid and set in our ways, we’re still constantly changing and growing. We have a choice to embrace this shift as an opportunity to learn and to become even better, more engaged, and more confident, or we can choose to resist the change, rely on our old thinking patterns, and zone out with soft addictions and time wasters. It may easier to sit back and take whatever comes our way, or we can open ourselves to the possibilities and gratitude from making the most of our lives.
Your matrix isn’t going to like it when you start exposing it. It’s going to assert itself when you think, I have unique gifts; I can go further than I ever thought; I’m not inherently unlovable; I’m desirable, and there’s someone out there for me, or maybe I’m a lot more spiritual than I think; I can try to find a connection with a higher power. This is why stating positive affirmations alone doesn’t work—in your conscious mind, you say to yourself, I am loveable, and your matrix reacts and fights it with an unconscious response of disbelief that, if translated, might sound something like, Yeah, right. That’s why you’re sitting home watching reruns on a Saturday night instead of being out on a date.
Your matrix will reflexively attempt to restore its version of reality when it hears these positive thoughts. It will be especially assertive when you try to do something that breaks from your programming, and it doesn’t work out. It may even resort to trickery, lying low until it can subtly reassert itself. For instance, you’ve been programmed to believe your limitations, such as you’re unlovable, but…you start a relationship you think might turn into a long-term one. Then the other person breaks up with you, and your matrix says, See, you are unlovable.
It’s common to fall back into these negative thinking patterns about ourselves, especially when doing the work. When we start to feel hopeful about the future, we set up expectations. Once these expectations go awry, it confirms our fears. We become discouraged.
The truth is, these negative thinking patterns hold us back. They don’t move us forward in a positive direction. They don’t bring us happiness, fulfillment, or satisfaction. They stink. If we want to stop o negative thinking patterns, we must rally ourselves to keep pushing through. We can focus on the deepest desires of our hearts—our yearnings. It also helps to remind ourselves that we’re working toward getting those deep needs met. In other words, we should keep our eyes on the prize (our yearnings!).
A while back, I came down with the flu. It was miserable. I was congested, tired, achy, and I felt awful. I came home, and there I was, all alone. I was left with me. In bed. Sick. Feverish. Tired. Listless…but my mind was still active, thinking…
What value do I have if I am just in bed? I’m worthless unless I’m doing something. I’ve got to go to work…
As the thoughts were swirling in my mind, my husband, Bob, called out from the kitchen that he loved me. I heard myself thinking: How can you love me if I’m not doing anything?
So, I asked him exactly that question, and he responded with a smile, “I love you just for being here. You are the sweetest little being I know, even when you piss me off. Right now, you don’t piss me off; I just want to hug you.”
Bob often helps me re-program my mistaken beliefs about myself and my value, which is a process we call rematrixing. All the stinking thinking I have, such as I’m not valuable if I’m not doing something, comes from my mistaken beliefs about myself.
One of the categories of stinking thinking I am most prone to is called emotional reasoning: I feel bad, so I think I am bad. When I am sick and feel bad, I’m especially susceptible to this form of stinking thinking. I realize I need to take this message in: I am valuable and lovable. I matter. I don’t have to earn love. These are the thoughts I need to let in. I repeat them to myself like a mantra, imagining Bob’s loving expression as I say them, soaking it in.
And what happens when I do this? Well, suddenly, I’m relaxing and actually thankful I’m sick. Being sick is a good reminder that I am valuable, I am lovable, that my being is as valuable as my doing.
It happens. We get sick, and we have bad days. Getting through it means reminding ourselves (and listening when others remind us) of our worth.
We all experience a range of emotions on a daily, even hourly basis. No emotion’s “bad” or “wrong.” If we’re feeling fear, sadness, anger, or hurt, it’s an important message our brain is sending us. Our emotions are a gift, a piece of the fabric of our human existence.
So when we feel stinking thinking, or negative thought patterns coming on, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up (falling back into our old line of thinking). Instead, we can think, “I feel this way. Why?” Acknowledge it and explore it.
Now, it’s hard to stop negative thinking patterns when we’re feeling down. When something goes wrong, we’re unhappy, annoyed, or irritated, and we start to fixate (or ruminate) on these thought patterns.
When you feel defeated or unhappy, you find that all sorts of distorted imaginings—what we call stinking thinking—get in the way of your insights. You’ll tell yourself you’re being naïve or that you’re just wasting your time. Being down is your matrix’s way of reasserting itself.
Therefore, reveal to others that you are stuck and ask them to help you create a more objective, more positive sense of yourself. If you are optimistic about yourself and your future, you’ll keep these distracting thoughts at bay and actually be rematrixing. We all need support to be emotionally focused and hopeful as we gain insights into our matrix. We’re not talking about mindless Suzie Sunshine ways of being, but instead genuinely engaged ways of living life.
When I’m struggling, like when I feel sick, I’ll often ask Bob or even my close friends for affirmation. Sometimes it’s as simple as hearing I’m loved. Other times I’ll ask for a deeper, “Why?”
This affirmation helps me reset my negative thought patterns and reminds me of my value. It reiterates that I don’t need to earn love—I’m a person worthy of love just as I am.
When this is affirmed for me, I often really take time to soak the message in. I may repeat it to myself, envisioning my loving ally in my mind as I repeat the thoughts that I’m valuable. I’m loved, just as I am. My yearnings are being met.
So, when we’re feeling down, negative, and frustrated, we can lean on an ally to help confirm and remind us of our importance. We ARE important. Each person is a valuable gift with endless potential. Rather than focusing on our mistakes and shortfalls, which we all have, remember within each of us lies a unique, special person. What we bring to the world is only ours; our personal potential.
Turn down the volume on your stinking thinking and stop the loop of tape. Instead, acknowledge the ways you are growing and evolving into your next best self.
For more ways on how you can break your negative thinking patterns, please explore our courses available at Wright Now. We have courses to help you explore your potential, boost your relationships, move forward in your career, and live the life of your dreams.
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.