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.
Maybe you’re sick, the day hasn’t gone your way, or you’re frustrated with a situation. Perhaps your plans had been cancelled or friends backed out on you.
What happens? We start playing a reel of tape looping in our head. A little voice that tells us, “You’re a loser,” or “this is horrible,” “I can’t handle this,” or “no one really likes you.”
No matter how old we get or how much we attempt to stay upbeat, it’s hard to get our little voice to pipe down sometimes—especially when we’re feeling down in the dumps.
We call these negative thinking patterns “stinking thinking.” Why? Well, because they stink!
Not only do these negative thinking patterns make us feel bad about ourselves, erode our confidence, and bring down our mood, but they’re hard to turn off. In fact, many of us have been programming our brains for years – our whole lives – to play this negative tape.
The truth is, we never really get out of our stinking thinking or “turn it off” completely. Part of the challenge is instead to simply recognize that you’re having it in the first place. When we have negative thinking patterns coming up, they masquerade as truth, but they aren’t really true.
The goal shouldn’t be just to “get out of it,” but to understand what’s going on when stinking thinking comes up. Because usually, what’s happening is that somewhere underneath that stinking thought, there are feelings—you’re sad, you’re angry, you’re stirred up. There’s an emotion that’s triggering that stinking thought.
It’s not about getting rid of it but exploring it. These thought patterns are stemming from our beliefs about ourselves or the world around us. Maybe you have a belief about yourself that says, “I’m not okay,” “I’m not worthy,” or “I’m not enough.” The situation you’re facing has caused these stinking thoughts to come up.
In fact, the more we examine our thought patterns and work on shifting our mindset, the harder these negative thoughts seem to fight their way up to the surface. Stinking thoughts, like a bad smell, attract our attention. These mis-beliefs 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).
It’s simple to write off what we want as requiring too much work or being too painful to achieve. It may feel safer to keep on going about our business as usual. We may tell ourselves we’re not worthy, or don’t deserve it, because we’re really feeling fear.
But the reality is that change is part of life. Whether we’re evolving into our next best self or becoming more rigid and set in our ways, we’re still growing. We have a choice to embrace this change as an opportunity to learn and to become even better, more engaged, and more confident; or we can choose to resist the change and rely on our old thinking patterns. 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.
It’s normal to fall back into these negative thinking patterns about yourself. When you start to feel hopeful about the future, you set up expectations. Once these expectations go awry, it confirms your fears. You become discouraged.
But stinking thinking holds us back. It doesn’t move us forward in a positive direction. The thoughts don’t bring us happiness, fulfillment, or satisfaction. They stink. If we want to counteract our negative thinking patterns, we must rally ourselves to explore the underlying emotion. Focus on the deepest desires of your heart—your yearnings. Remind yourself you’re working toward getting those deep needs met. In other words, keep your eye on the prize (your yearnings!).
Awhile 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 what 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 as 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. There’s no emotion that’s “bad” or “wrong.” If you’re feeling fear, sadness, anger, or hurt, it’s an important message your brain is sending you. Our emotions are a gift; a piece of the fabric of our human existence.
So, when you feel stinking thinking, or negative thought patterns coming on, you may feel guilty about it. But guilt actually isn’t one of those core emotions. When we distill it down, our guilt may be rooted in anger, sadness, or hurt. When we name that feeling, it really helps.
Naming or feelings help so much. When we “name it, we can tame it.” Naming our feeling to say, “oh I’m sad,” or “oh, I’m angry,” brings our higher-level thinking back online. We can process what we’re feeling and explore it more clearly.
Don’t beat yourself up (falling back into our old line of thinking). Tell yourself, “I feel this way. Why?” Acknowledge it and explore it.
Now, it’s hard to overcome negative thinking patterns when we’re feeling down. When something goes wrong, we’re unhappy, annoyed, or irritated, we start to fixate (or ruminate) on these thought patterns.
When I’m struggling—like when I was feeling 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 to re-set 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, lean on an ally to help confirm and remind you of your importance. You 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 you bring to the world is only yours; your personal potential.
Turn down the volume on your stinking thinking and pause the loop of tape. Acknowledge your feelings and attune yourself to the underlying emotion. Give yourself credit for all 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 visit us at the Wright Foundation. We have many of our courses available for download on our website. Don’t miss out on our special introductory price on these great courses!
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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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.