Back in 2015, I was writing a newsletter called Laugh & Learn. I was doing a bunch of teaching at the time, and for each newsletter I’d collect and share curated links that I hoped would be useful to students. The feedback I’d gotten so far was overwhelmingly positive. There was a problem, though — each edition would take ages for me to compile. I spent way too much time editing, tweaking, and polishing each and every word. I found the process really overwhelming, and just couldn’t keep it up.
The third edition was the last one I ever sent.
Fast forward to a few months ago, when I started writing Quick Brown Fox — I promised myself that this time, I would write more freely, and not stress about being perfect.
Although I had good momentum, I also had this irrational fear that somehow I’d never make it past the third newsletter. The inner critic in my head came alive, and taunted me that I’m probably going to give up again, just like I did with my last newsletter. The longer I waited to publish, the louder this voice got…
Yet, here we are — the fourth edition went live last week. I made it! 🎉💪🏽🦊 Quick Brown Fox has officially jumped over the scary dog.
I’m happy I overcame this obstacle, but it made me wonder about the power of that ‘inner critic’. You may have had run-ins with an inner critic of your own, lingering on your mind from time to time. Sometimes, it may even be someone else’s voice (family, friend, or arch nemesis, perhaps?) playing in your head.
Why does this kind of negativity hold so much power? It’s worth taking a moment to consider the heightened influence even a single one of these negative thoughts can have on our lives.
Negative thoughts have significantly more power, weight, and longevity than positive ones
When a negative thought penetrates our mind, it can linger for days, weeks or more. Often, it can become a constant distraction. Worse, it can be debilitating, compromising our ability to function.
By contrast, positive thoughts are fleeting. We typically enjoy a compliment, happy moment, or joyful exchange briefly… and then quickly move on. So, even if we have the same count of positive/negative thoughts, the imbalance of weight causes negativity to hold far more staying power. For some, this effect is so powerful that they start to believe they’re a negative person. In reality, their perception of their own thoughts is distorted due to the magnified impact of negativity.
So how do you counteract negative thoughts?
- Pay closer attention to yourself via regular check-ins. Ideally, this is a daily activity, such as journaling. To begin with, just notice and log — don’t judge or analyze too much.
- Once you have a significant amount of “data”, take a moment analyze it and notice any trends. Are you in a “down period” right now? How often do these happen in a month? In a year? Start to make correlations between these periods and events in your life — this can help you identify the sources of negativity in your life.
- Celebrate the positives. A regular gratefulness practice is an excellent way to highlight moments and feelings of positivity in your life. Sit with these, and absorb them to their fullest. Give them the time to take up space in your mind.
- Make time for emptiness. Take some time to just sit, watch the leaves in the wind, and get bored. When your mind is constantly overwhelmed with inputs (social media, TV, etc.), you have no time to process anything. Every single thought that comes in gets the same (lack of) attention — there’s no prioritization whatsoever. It’s like having a CEO meet with anyone and everyone that walks through the company doors. The time and energy of your mind is a precious resource. Protect it!
Processing is the step that allows you to filter and apply weights to your thoughts, before they capture your full attention (and then linger). We need a layer that allows us to look at thoughts as they happen, and then choose which ones hold power over us. It takes time and effort to build this layer.
Meditation is the most effective tool I know of to create a mindful processing layer for your thoughts. With regular practice, you’ll be able to give more power to the contextual side of your brain, and less to the reactive (often emotionally-driven) side.
But this isn’t just about processing thoughts. Once you start observing your thoughts, processing them, and thinking contextually rather than emotionally… your behavior will change drastically. Your interactions with others will benefit from these changes, and you’ll naturally attract more positivity.
Change your thoughts, and you’ll change your life.