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Overcome Negative Thinking

A lot of my Wellness Coaching clients want to stop negative thoughts, because they are feeling overwhelmed and want to learn how to be more positive.

So I’ve written this article to share the simple tools and tips that have worked for hundreds my clients to create more positive and healthy thoughts.

You’ll learn:

  • why we have negative thoughts,
  • whether you’re a glass-half-full or -empty person (take the quiz!), and finally
  • how to rewire your brain, so you can calm down and start being more positive.

To help you start taking action, I’ve listed the 10 most powerful tools you can use to neutralise or stop negative thoughts and start cultivating more positive thoughts.

Startling Facts About Our Thoughts

My fact-finding mission revealed some crazy and startling facts about our thoughts:

Our brains are busy:

  • we have 50000-70000 thoughts per day (Bruce Davis, PhD, Huffington Post online) – that’s 35 – 48 per minute!

Our brains are predictable:

  • around 98% of our thoughts are the same each day. Our brains like operating efficiently, on low power. This is why we form and follow habits.

Our brains run mostly on autopilot:

  • about 95% of our thoughts, decisions, emotions and behaviours are unconscious (Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, Auburn University

Our brains are wired to the negative:

  • Up to 70% of our mental chatter – our thoughts – are negative (Psychology Today online).

So, how many negative thoughts do you have per day? About 42,000 – or 29 per minute.

Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff says that most of us have the ability to catch and re-focus our negative thoughts and make them more positive.

But some of us are in an entrenched habit of ‘throwing more logs on the fire’ and this can affect our happiness, health and wellbeing.

So let’s ask the $100,000 question – if it feels bad, then WHY do we do it?

The positives of negative thinking

  • The first positive is that it helps us to identify threats to our survival and keeps us safe.

Back in the day it saved us from wild animals.

These days, it means we’re on alert and we more easily notice negative words, images, situations, conflict, atrocities and people to be wary or mistrustful of – including ourselves.

  • The second positive of negative thinking is that it teaches us self-compassion, empathy, appreciation and gratitude when things go well. It makes the bright side brighter.

Your Natural Wiring

Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff says that we are all wired slightly differently.

Some of us are glass-half-full people, while some of us are glass-half empty people.

Your personal wiring is influenced by:

  • genetics (50%),
  • your environment (30%) and
  • other things you can control (20%)

In other words, you have control of 20 – 50% of the things that influence your natural wiring.

Etcoff also says that your natural drive to seek happiness is affected by how you respond to stress, so this is also something to work on.

How are you wired?

Take this quick quiz and find out or download this worksheet.

For each pair of statements, pick the ONE statement that best describes you – A or B.

Q1 – Thoughts

  1. I tend to notice roadblocks, challenges, obstacles and what’s wrong in life
  2. I tend to be amped up and see the positives in life and the good in people

Q2 – Language

  1. I tend to talk about things I don’t want or want to give up, cut out, restrict or get rid of
  2. I tend to talk about the things I want, love, need and truly desire

Q3 – Feelings

  1. I often feel judged or criticised by other people, based on their words or body language
  2. I don’t notice how other people act around me, or think about what they might imply

Q4 – Actions

  1. I often use food, alcohol, shopping or other tools to shut down my negative thoughts
  2. I often use journaling, coaching, reflection, meditation, yoga, walking, being with nature or connection to redirect my negative thoughts.

For the first three questions:

  • mostly A’s means you might be more of a glass half empty person.
  • mostly B’s means you might be more of a glass half full person.

For the last question:

  • if you answered A (using unhealthy tools) – it means you might lack self-awareness or the skills to change your negative thinking on your own.
  • if you answered B – that you use healthy tools – it means you have the skills to redirect your thinking most of the time.

If you’re one of my self-coaching students, your workbook for this topic has a few extra questions to give you a bit more clarity around how you’re wired.

Why Else Do Your Thoughts Matter?

All that said and done, your thoughts matter because your thoughts and beliefs are what create your feelings.

Following on from that, your feelings dictate how you act, and therefore the results you get in life.

On top of that, the way you respond to stress determines how well you bounce back from negative thinking and get back on your game.

So if you want to learn how to calm down and start being more positive and happy, your best approach is to:

  • learn how to change your thinking and
  • actively build resilience.

After all, the one thing you CAN control in life is what you choose to think.

How often should you work on rewiring your brain?

Positive Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson gives us some clues in her book, Positivity.

She says that we need at least 3 – 5 positives to outweigh each negative thought or feeling we experience each day.

The number of positives we need is higher when the negatives are experienced in a relationship with another person.

Based on that, I think it’s fair to say that:

  • a daily thought-rewiring practice of at least 10 minutes is a good start (‘housekeeping’), and
  • you’ll get better results if you do resilience-building activities for at least 60 minutes per week (‘preventative’).

The 10 most powerful tools to rewire your thinking and build resilience

Best Ways to Rewire Your Thinking

1) Affirmations and Inspirational quotes

When it comes to affirmations, I personally think it’s important to create your own positive affirmations using words that are meaningful to you.

That’s because part of your learning is becoming skilled at developing your own believable, authentic, meaningful and relevant thoughts and statements.

I believe it will help you to rewire your brain quickly and more easily if you choose your own words.

2) Clean up your environment

Your surroundings have a huge and largely subconscious effect on your thoughts and feelings. We are intrinsically wired to respond subconsciously to the people and things around us.

That’s why Marketing Psychology is an industry – it’s about using sights, sounds and words to appeal to our inner decision-maker.

The important thing is that we can change our environment to trigger more positive and helpful thoughts and feelings, and avoid environments that are unhelpful.

I recommend you start with an audit of your work-space, bedroom or main living areas.

What are the sounds, colours, clutter or objects that support positive thoughts, or create negative thoughts? Identify them and make a plan to change.

Consider what you wear and your personal grooming. How do those things make you feel? What works, and what needs to change?

I know that having a shower or putting on stylish clothing makes me feel great. 

Having a good hair day makes me feel way better than having a bad hair day. 

And so on.

Look at your media diet. Where are the negative influences coming in? How many positive podcasts, books or magazines are you exposing yourself to?

I feel fantastic when I listen to inspiring podcasts, and anxious when I go near email and social media, or read the news.

For me the decision is simple – get rid of the negatives and connect with the positives.

Your environment potentially influences up to 30% of your wiring, according to Nancy Etcoff. That’s a big chunk of your mood and it’s something you can change.

3) Using a thought-change model like ABCDE, or Brooke Castillo’s CTFAR

A subtle but extremely powerful exercise is spending just 10 minutes rewiring your thoughts in writing.

Follow this 3-step process to get started simply and easily:

  • At the end of the day, write down one negative thought that came up for you
  • Then, write an alternative thought statement – neutral or positive
  • Make sure the new statement is something you feel you believe

This exercise it will plug this into the GPS part of your brain as a new instruction.  Like brushing your teeth each day, the result will be a powerful shift in your thinking habits.

4) Self-coaching, gratitude or appreciation journaling

This is another writing exercise, because writing and seeing what you wrote has the most impact on your brain wiring.

Writing down three successes, achievements, things you are grateful for or that you appreciate helps bring an intentional, positive perspective to counteract your automatic negative thinking.

Try it and you’ll see the difference.

5) Make plans for fun

When you feel overwhelmed it means you are lost in a spaghetti bolognaise of intangible thoughts and have no concrete direction or clarity on what to do next.

The simplest thing you can do is make a short list of things you can take control of or do within the next 24 hours. Like washing the dishes, or folding the tea towels.

Even better, make a longer-term plan for a wonderful holiday break, or to attend an event, or to meet up with a friend. The good feelings will flood in immediately and help you to calm down in that moment, so you can function again.

Best Ways to Build Resilience

1) Plan Your Time, Schedule Everything

Overwhelm is when we have seemingly so many things to do and no clear path to complete them. 

It happens because most of us have no plans, or inadequate detail in our plans, and/or unrealistic expectations.

The first step is to break down a bigger task (like building a website) into the many small tasks that are involved.

The second step is to schedule each sub-task or any small tasks into your calendar.

Three important master planning principles are:

Keep it keen (stay on track):

  • At the start of each month, allow an hour to make a detailed plan
  • At the start of each week, briefly review and tweak your plan if necessary.

Keep it lean (focused and clear):

  • Write each task in an explicit, specific way in your schedule
  • Aim to finish ONE task per day and you’ll always feel like you’re winning
  • Some tasks may become redundant or are irrelevant: delete or delegate them

Keep it clean (simple and achievable)

  • Leave plenty of white space in your diary to account for inevitable delays.
  • New tasks always take longer than planned – allow perhaps 50% extra time

2) Meditate – passive or active

Creating quiet time for your brain is a must. Meditation is a great tool for this, and you can create the version that works best for you.

It could be sitting and meditating quietly or with music or a guided track. There are some free apps like Headspace that can guide you through it.

It could be walking in nature, swimming, surfing, fishing or having a warm bath, or listening to music. You get to decide.

Just 10 minutes (as relevant to the activity) is an achievable start. Focus on being in the moment and sitting with the thoughts, or doing the movement, nothing else.

3) Schedule time off

Relentless work, chores and responsibilities wear us all down like soap on a rope.

Being pro-active and planning weekend breaks (even if just a no-chores weekend, with some different activities) is essential down time.

Consider what sort of time off is most energizing for you; when does it happen, how often, and what are you doing?

4) Say no, delegate, delete

Often, we have so many responsibilities because our default position is YES.

I have often realised I didn’t mean to say yes. I meant to check my schedule first and see. I meant to think about how much time that would take, how much energy I would realistically have, and whether I could really do what I said I would.

Thought watching is the first step to noticing those automatic yeses. Then, practice pausing for a moment and asking yourself three questions:

  1. Do I have the energy for this?
  2. Do I have the time for this?
  3. How do I feel about committing to this?

If you get a negative answer for any of these, reconsider what you can commit or what the other options might be.

5) Breathe

Negative thinking is exhausting, and partly because it creates a stress response that can lead to fast, shallow mouth breathing.

That type of breathing is an energy drain!

A quick way to calm down and feel more stable is to follow Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise which is summarised here as:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • Do this a total of four times.

This in itself is a type of meditation!

How to Stop Negative Thoughts - Create a Practice

It’s great to know all of these things, but tools for change are only be effective when you use them.

And if you’ve been an expert in negative thinking for 30+ years, it’s going to take some time to work that out of your memory banks.

Remember that your biology drives you to seek the negative and it does this unconsciously, roughly 35,000 times per day.

While this is a behind-the-scenes occurrence, you need to counteract it with some good stuff.

Think of it as cleaning your mind, working in, or taking control.

Creating a practice achieves all these things.

I recommend choosing one or two of the activities above and scheduling them into your calendar, maybe once or twice, and exploring how it makes you feel.

If it feels good, do it again!

If it has no noticeable effect, choose something else.

Pick just one timeslot to start experimenting and working toward the new you.

After 30 consistent days, I know you will notice a difference.

Expected Results

If you commit to experimenting and creating a practice, building up to at least 3 times per week, you will see these sorts of results:

  • You’ll have fewer negative thoughts
  • Your negative thoughts will be less intense, less severe or less draining
  • You will start feeling calmer, less irritated or frustrated
  • You will feel less reactive and more in control.

You will also enjoy:

  • more positive thoughts and feelings
  • more moments of freedom, relaxation and joy
  • a sense of relief
  • feelings of calmness and wellbeing.

Small things can create big results.

I invite you to try, experiment, and work out what’s best for you.

If you would like to explore a framework and system to manage your thinking, that’s part of what we cover in my monthly Habitology Membership – where you learn to develop and stick to the habits of a calmer, happier and more fulfilling life.

You can learn more here.

References

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Getting Whelmed

getting whelmed

Are you starting the year with a bang? With gusto? With a huge rev up? Or, are you planning on getting whelmed this year, like me?

Being an Entrepreneur

Lately I’ve been thinking that the definition of an entrepreneur is this:

You’re someone who can’t stand to work for someone else and just wants the freedom and flexibility to march to the beat of their own drum, and write their own rules.

Still, being an entrepreneur means you take the entire responsibility for everything in your business.

That means you are the face of your business, you are IT, and you have to generate your own momentum, schedule, energy, gusto and enthusiasm.

Which is all great stuff, but you can find yourself in a bit of an energy crisis at times.

Getting Excited….and Overwhelmed

Once upon a time, I would be geeing myself up at this time of year, creating massive energy and excitement, planning, and firing myself up to work relentlessly like a trojan for the next 12 months.

It’s a great way to start the year and it feels really positive.

In this state, I am able to crank out HEAPS of work, produce HEAPS of stuff, and keep my finger in 100 different pies at once.

People say to me, “I wish I could be as productive as you.”

“I wish I could get as much done as you.”

“I wish I could work and achieve as much as you do.”

Thanks everyone!

But when I realised this praise didn’t really resonate with me, I had to question why.

The answer I got was this: “Is THIS what I want to be known for? Getting heaps done at a rapid pace?”

Thinking about that made me feel kinda tired.

And the reason is this – working this way starts well, but it ends up exhausting and overwhelming.

You start on a big hype, get heaps done but you just cant sustain it.

You struggle to maintain that level of energy and quickly go from peak to trough.

Then nothing gets done for a while.

Then you just assume you’ve failed or done something wrong, or are missing something.

Then you might start comparing yourself to others and saying….”I wish I could get as much done as her.”

OH NO! We’re ALL in this together! ha ha ha.

But…what if this weren’t true, and we didn’t have to work this way?

Sure, starting super high feels energizing at first, but it invariably means you end up feeling panicked, overworked and overwhelmed.

Then comes the anxiety and insomnia.

I DON’T want to work like that anymore. Do you?

Plan B – Getting Whelmed

Maybe you want to join me in getting whelmed.

Getting whelmed is my plan for 2018.

I coined this term, and it simply means that I am working:

  • mostly on important but not urgent stuff,
  • intentionally,
  • in pomodoro
  • on purpose,
  • with balance and ease,
  • with calmness,
  • in a well-organised way,
  • making well-thought plans,
  • with clear focus
  • with direction on where my business is going and what I am doing in my life.

 

In other words, I am mindful, calm and productive.

 

It isn’t as exciting as the excitement, BUT…

I am working consistently.

And in business, consistency gets results.

 

So yes, excitement is great (and I do get excited)….but consistent energy, focus and motivation is better.

I am winning.

 

The Payoff

In this calm, consistent, getting whelmed state of mind, I find that I am laser focused, productive, leap over roadblocks, feel balanced and I am totally in command of myself.

I am getting shit done (GSD) – much more than in at the start of my rollercoaster.

The #1 Trick to Getting it Right

Working this way is also 100% sustainable because I have help.

Sure, you can absolutely get gung-ho and ramp yourself up for a big year and do it all yourself.

But trust me, the chance that you’ll crash and burn (at least once) is pretty high.

So I highly recommend you get some support.

I have my own coach, and I have other peers and mentors in my life to help me with specific areas of business when I need it.

As an entrepreneur living in country NSW, with few like-minded entrepreneurs around me, I know that I need support and connection to maintain momentum, headspace and confidence in my business AND in my life.

Now, I have people to bounce ideas off (so I don’t go off onto a mad, frivolous tangent).

I have people to reflect with (to get different perspective).

I have tools and support to make worthwhile, high-return plans.

I have the aura of calmness and having it all together (which as we know is the key ingredient for being a super-attractive client magnet and person of interest).

I have the energy to enjoy my personal life.

Now you know what getting whelmed is all about….will you join me?

What will you do to get there?

 

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Two Secrets to Help You Commit To Your Goals

Commit to Your Goals | Melanie J White

With summer in the air, are you suddenly excited and committed to better eating, exercise and self-care habits?

There’s something so motivating about the warmer weather and sunshine. It helps us commit to the things that we want so badly – to look and feel great.

But for one reason or another, it can become a struggle to maintain in the long term. At some point, the excitement and motivation wanes.

What’s the secret weapon in maintaining good habits, once the initial excitement fades?

I’d like to share one powerful strategy that really works – “connecting your focus to your feelings.” 

Here’s how it works.

Being Open

Deb came to me with concerns about some ongoing health issues: bloating, lethargy, IBS symptoms and other digestive issues.

She knew what to do to fix things and in the past, she’d been a regular exerciser and a healthy eater, feeling fit and energized. But for a myriad of reasons, all of that had fallen by the wayside.

Even thinking of her past success wasn’t enough to help her get started. She was despondent and felt like she could never make the change that she could stick to for the long term!

After some reflection, Deb realised that she really wanted to make it work this time, because making these changes would lead to a happier, better quality life as she got older.

What she did next was what really sealed the deal.

Firstly, she committed to experimenting for just one week. Not one month, or six months, but one simple week. This was a chunk of time she felt confident she could commit to.

Next, she devised some food and exercise experiments for the week.

Experiments help you to avoid that feeling of failure, because you’re just testing to see if something works (or not). There are no expectations (or feelings of perfection) around experiments.

So for that one week, Deb was flexible and experimental with her choice of foods, eating patterns and exercise approach. She was delighted to find a few things that really worked well – that she enjoyed, that fitted with her lifestyle, and that she could confidently commit to in the long term.

Being Mindful

What really made the difference, in fact Deb’s key factor for success, was mindfully observing how her body responded to the experiments. She connected her focus (healthy habits) with her feeling (how her body responded).

When we met again, she was excited about discovering what works, but more so, that she was strongly connected with the consequences of her habits.

On the days she ate right for her body type, she felt comfortable, energized and light – with enough energy for exercise. On the days she ate too much or the wrong foods for her body type, she felt heavy, despondent and limited.

Deb was suddenly aware that simply being mindful of the consequences of her habits – the physical, mental and emotional feelings they created – made it far easier for her to find the motivation for choosing the better option, more regularly.

And as Positive Psychologists say, strong motivators are essential for successfully making long-term change.

Connecting your focus with your feelings is a simple approach and is a core of Ayurveda, which has been around over 5000 years.

Simply being mindful – being in the present and noticing the consequences of your actions in an objective, non-judgmental way – is a powerful secret weapon for long-term change.

What is ONE thing could you pay attention to this week?

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The Benefits of What You Don’t Want

Knowing What You Don't Want | Melanie White

Picture

You’re probably wondering – how could you benefit from something you don’t want?

One of the things that spurs us to make change is the sense that something isn’t quite right.

It makes perfect sense that the knowledge of what you don’t want opens the door to discover a new and better way of being.

At her first session with me, a recent client was vehemently describing all the things in life that she didn’t want, and wasn’t happy with. The conversation circled these things like a buzzard around roadkill, seemingly with no way out.

When we shifted to discussing what she DID want, a light-bulb moment was born.

 

 “Oh. I’d better think about that!”

 

The wonderful thing is that dissatisfaction opens the door for change, and by flipping our dissatisfaction 180 degrees, we might actually find out what we really want more of…and then we can reach for that with open arms.