I like writing posts the day before so it's currently late-afternoon on Election Day but this will post early in the morning on the day after. I have no idea what the world looks like this morning and I think this topic is helpful no matter what. I found a [new to me] journaling framework earlier this week and already love it. There are three steps and you can implement just step one throughout the day and then tackle steps two and three in a more dedicated journaling session or follow all of the steps each time if you have a little more flexibility in your schedule.
Step one is thought tracking. Every time I have a negative thought, I write it down. On the go? Notes app on my phone. I jot down the thought and the negative feeling that is linked to it. I also note the time and any sort of trigger I can identify (during a rest period in a workout or a scene in the book I'm reading, for example). It's important to write it down instead of just noticing it and letting it go in your mind. I've found myself caught in a cycle of constant negative thoughts and they must be written down in order to be tallied and tackled. No judgement about the number of thoughts, the perceived silliness of the feelings, or the arbitrariness of the triggers. Write it down.
Step two is challenging the belief. Chances are, the thought and accompanying negative feeling are a product of your own mind more than the reality of the situation. Forcing yourself to challenge your negative thoughts and feelings takes away some of their power and starts to break down the negative cycle of rumination. I've found myself sometimes rolling my eyes at the challenging facts at first and later reading them back to finally see the value. It's a way of inserting the logical brain to challenge the emotional one.
Step three is affirmations. A natural cynic, I've never been one for affirmations. But this is an incredibly important step in stopping the negative thoughts that get stuck on a loop. I've always heard that you can simply choose a positive thought instead of the negative one and have thought "well yeah. Easier said than done. I can choose a positive thought but I don't believe it and the negative one jumps right back in and kicks the positive thought's ass". There is an element of "fake it until you make it" here, like the research showing that even putting on a false smile when you're in a bad mood helps to improve your mood slightly. We're tricking the brain.
I'll give one example that's personal to me. But I think this can be applied in all negative thought situations such as "the election didn't go the way I hoped. The world is truly over". While there is value to being disappointed about a less-than-desirable result, the world is not over and you can always list facts to prove that to yourself. As Dumbledore says in my very favorite quote from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, "happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light".
Ok so one of my many negative thoughts from yesterday (this is unedited from my journaling as I think it's helpful to show examples rather than just speaking in vague terms like hey just challenge the belief!): 9:15am I was putting away my laundry and moved the pants I wore to my 30th birthday party. I felt triggered as I bought the pants specifically for my party and seeing them reminded me that the affair was already going on. The negative thoughts that followed: the affair went on for so long, started when I felt truly happy, and I had no idea. I'm incredibly stupid and my husband has never really loved me. Challenging the belief: He threw me the party because he loves me. The affair was separate in his mind - his shameful escape. I'm not stupid because he's a very good liar and hid it well. Affirmation: I can have good memories of my birthday party despite the timing of the beginning of the affair. I am smart, capable, and worthy of love. He does love me and is now committed to loving me more fully and making me feel that love. If I do not feel loved I can now express those feelings calmly and rationally. If I continually do not feel loved, I'm doing my own work to love myself enough to know what I need to do. I will be ok.
Does doing this mean that I'll never feel sad when I think about my birthday party and the timing of the affair again? No. Does it mean I'll never feel stupid for not knowing for so long? Definitely not. It's not a magical memory changer. But over time, the hope is that I can re-wire the neurons to jump from "sad about party" to "but also good memories about party and you husband loves you despite the mistakes he made" instead of the rabbit hole of negative feelings that are triggered now. I can already feel the positive effects of having written down the challenging beliefs and affirmations.
The affirmation piece is the toughest for me as my emotional brain wants to tear all of that goodness down with doubt and worry. But I'm going to continue to fake it until I make it and find the light. I hope today is a good day for you and if it's not, I urge you to try the thought tracking, belief challenging, and affirming steps to turn on your own light. ✨