It's a problem we all face from time to time, some more than others. That little voice in your head, the critic that predicts disaster. Or the one who likes to belittle everything you want to attempt, even downplaying your accomplishments.
For some of us it might be predictions of disaster. For others it could be self-criticism of the harshest sort. There are those of us facing this all the time, and there are others who only deal with it when attempting to tackle something new or seemingly insurmountable.
For me it used to be a frequent occurrence, and by no means have I exorcised that little voice entirely. As a severely disabled wheelchair user, my thoughts often involve self-criticism that could easily limit my true potential.
I have often felt like I am not good enough. I've told myself that other people are not interested in knowing me. That they have already made their decision about me.
I'm actually imposing a negative self image on other people, when I do this I am assuming they see me the same way I see myself in that dark moment. I don't have to take any chances on finding out what they really think of me.
How Meditation Makes the Difference
Mindfulness is about training yourself to watch and, to some extent, regulate your thoughts. It is about learning to pay attention to, or ignore, where your wandering mind settles.
You could say that I've had three mindfulness meditation mentors over the years, when I wasn't teaching myself. Two of them were highly trained Buddhists in the Tibetan tradition, but the third was a counselor I was seeing after my daughter died.
Over the years, mindfulness has helped me with dealing with grief, anxiety, and other less severe issues having to do with negative self talk.
Mindfulness is effective because it is a practice of observing and learning about our own minds through meditation or passive observation. This gives us space and allows us to be less reactive.
Among other things, mindfulness teaches you to:
1) Be able to objectively observe your thoughts.
You can imagine them to be leaves passing by on a river or clouds passing a mountain. Practice remaining separate from your thoughts, keep a certain amount of emotional detachment. Try not to judge what is negative or positive, merely be the observer.
2) Remember thoughts are not facts.
We do not control the thoughts that populate our minds, but we can control the energy we put into thoughts. When you energize a thought with your anger or sadness, you empower it. Don't waste your resources.
3) Understand it is our interpretation of events that trigger feelings, not necessarily the event itself.
When something happens in the outside world, we immediately want to label it and assign it positive or negative value. For instance, if a friend neglects to smile, we can sometimes decide that it was personal and allow our feelings to be hurt.
Examine feelings and ask yourself what you told yourself that inspired that feeling. In the same situation, can you also tell yourself that your friend was having a bad day and use this as an opportunity to cheer them up?
4) Be able to shift perspective.
I have to go to class versus I choose to go to class because I enjoy learning. Practice looking at a situation in multiple ways. This can be helpful in relationships, try to see things from the other person's viewpoint. Consider it a daily mental exercise.
5) Balance negative thoughts with positive thoughts, or affirmations.
Diversity in thought can prevent your brain from reinforcing negative thought pathways. Try answering every negative thought with three positive ones.
6) Bring yourself back to the present moment,
rather than worrying about the future or practicing negative feelings about the past. Going to the future can be positive for planning, just as going to the past can be good for learning from mistakes, but otherwise staying in the present moment is more helpful.
7) Learn to be accepting of reality in order to be more effective in the present moment.
Shoulds and what if's can be a waste of time, unless you are able to change the facts. We have a tendency to get caught up in possibilities during times when practical action could benefit us the most.
This partially goes back to seeing thoughts as just thoughts, rather than facts. Practice action and avoid thoughts that are not plans attached to practical benefit.
A Little Mindfulness Every Day Goes A Long Way
Sit for five minutes a day and just observe your thoughts as they appear in your mind. Don't judge them, don't cling to them or push them away, just watch.
If you find your mind wandering into strange or unhelpful places, that's okay, just do your best to not get sucked into the drama. Observe, if you can, as a third-party might.
The idea is to, at the very least, create a pause, a delay, between the thought and the associated emotions. From there you can try some of the exercises discussed above. If you want, mini mindfulness exercises like this can be done throughout your day.
If you give it a go, let me know in the comments. Also, please share any thoughts you have about other ways to deal with negative thoughts and emotions.
I look forward to hearing from you!