We have to create habits that drown out some of the anxiety and bitterness of our experiences, so we have to train our brain to be more optimistic

We have been talking about mindset in The Healing Academy workshop these last few weeks. Among other things we covered ‘Positive Thinking’,  and how it can help our healing.

We already discussed some of the importance of positivity when discussing Shawn Achor’s Super Soul Sunday talk last week. You can find that here if you missed it, but let’s recap. By adopting a positive mindset, we let go of our constant state of fear and survival and are able to make better choices for ourselves. We are able to live more compassionately, become more creative around our lives (including our healing) and we just become better company to hang out with, to ourselves especially.

Yet, far too often, the power of positivity is hugely misrepresented, or perhaps just misinterpreted. We start simply suppressing everything we deem as negative or uncomfortable, and that is simply not healthy. Because all our emotions matter, all of them have a part to play and we have to honour and acknowledge them. In The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren explains that we have come to use our emotions in a way to make other people comfortable, rather than interpret and use them to navigate our own way through the world.

“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.”
― Germany Kent

So if we are not supposed to stop ourselves from feeling the negative emotions, then what is the actual point? Because we don’t want to become emotionally stagnant.

The “negative” emotions, the ones that trigger our survival more, they scream at us. They demand attention because they need us to take action. There is no point to the panic of a tiger on the path if the feeling goes unnoticed and we continue to stroll along, right into the tiger’s claws. Positive feelings like joy or hope, don’t have the same volume though. Besides, we are used to listening to our shouty emotions. As abuse survivors especially, but news, marketing, Facebook… there is lots of noise in our lives that creates worry, anxiety, fear, and anger.

We have to create habits that drown out some of that noise, so we don’t get lost in the anxiety and bitterness of our experiences. Because, as much as we have to process the complicated stuff, we shouldn’t get stuck in that place either. In order to become unstuck, to get out of that constant survival mode, we have to train our brain to look for the positive stuff. It’s like Finding Waldo, but with optimism.

This whole exercise of positive thinking, is much more about our overall attitude, than our individual emotions. So the focus on our positive emotions, is more about being mindful of the moments, people and activities that make us feel fulfilled and joyful. Creating habits to focus our attention on these positive and fulfilling moments, will help us adopt a mindset of abundance and optimism and will help us get unstuck from the learned helplessness we have internalised during the abuse.

#1. – Compliment Your Mirror

A few years ago, Stewart and I moved into an apartment that had a built-in wardrobe with huge floor to ceiling mirrored doors. I was horrified! I hated looking in the mirror, and the prospect of having to do so every time I entered the bedroom freaked me out. Especially since the main switch for the heating was in there, and the wardrobe included our coat rack. So, I could not even limit my mirror exposure to morning and evening.

At the time, I had just started reading into affirmations and mirror work, and I decided -rather than rush passed them with my eyes averted-  to embrace the mega mirrors. I decided to see them as a great opportunity to talk to myself for a bit. It was actually that mirror that really made me aware of how much negative self-talk was going on in my head. I was constantly criticizing my appearance, but not just that. Those critical thoughts were often followed by little remarks like: ‘How can anyone take you seriously’ or ‘No wonder you are struggling in life’.

It actually surprised me that I was so hard on myself. I really hadn’t been aware of that inner-monologue, I was gob-smacked when I became aware of it. I knew I needed to change that, and that is why I started to compliment my mirror.

Now when I pass my mirror in the mornings (it is considerably smaller in my current home) I smile at myself and say something like: ‘Morning gorgeous’ or ‘Rocking the mission, my dear’.

Let Louise Hay explain this in more detail:

(click to tweet)

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#2. – Say Thank You More

I spotted a meme on Instagram the other day, that suggested saying “thank you” instead of “sorry”. I just LOVED that! Especially because as a survivor of abuse, I tend to say sorry waaaay too often (I recently apologised to someone for the existence of gravity!). Here’s how it works:

Instead of: Sorry, I’m late!
Try: Thanks for waiting for me!
Instead of: Sorry for dropping the ball
Try: Thanks for picking up the slack for me
Instead of: Sorry for talking so much
Try: Thanks for listening

Feel the difference? This is huge! It shifts you out of the place where you are apologizing for your very existence, and into a place where you are thanking people for making space for you in their life. Hey, you are even reminding yourself that you are allowed to take up space (which you totally are!).

(Click to Tweet)

 #3. – Write A One-Line Diary

Journaling is a wonderful way to process our thoughts and emotions, which in turn is a great way to heal and improve your mindset. I believe in its healing power so much, that I dedicated a whole module to it in The Healing Academy. The one-line diary is a little different from my usual journaling practice (click to tweet), mainly because I generally recommend you write about 750 words. In this version, you only get to fill one line.

At the end of the day, grab your diary and sit down to really think about your day. What did you do? What did you experience? How did you grow as a person? Really get into the details of it, but don’t write anything down just yet. You have to recall everything you did and experienced today because you are going to summarise your entire day in just the one line. Yes, line. Not sentence. So use your tiny writing!

I am sure that, like me, you will begin to focus more and more on all the ways that the day was great because that’s what you want to remember. Or perhaps you will write how the day helped you heal or made you feel more connected, supported or confident… It’s not the noise, the overwhelm and the negativity that we want to add to our summary. This is almost automatic, and it means that -as you sit and consider your day- your mind is automatically drawn to positive experiences.

#4. – News Diet

Like I said above, we can’t be constantly anxious and still in survival mode while also trying to heal. So maybe it’s time to ask ourselves the following: if our Facebook feed, if the news, puts us into survival mode—inducing fear, anxiety, and obsession—then maybe it’s time to step away from it for a little bit.

I know that some people do this by taking—what they’ve so eloquently called—a Facebook fast. And every couple of weeks, they just take a week off from being active on the Internet—more specifically social media platforms. That works for some people. What seems to work really well for me, too, is to go through my Facebook friends list and cull it. If people are triggering us, we are under no obligation to keep them as our friends on Facebook! If you don’t want to unfriend them outright, you can still unfollow them so that you don’t see their posts in your feed. Unfollow some of the news pages or groups that you might be part of to achieve the same results.

If you are a news junkie, though, there are ways to take in the news without all the drama and stress. I, personally, read the news online and in newspapers because I find it less triggering than having the sounds and the images on TV.  I also stay away from the news in the morning or just before bed, because I don’t want the emotional energy to influence how my days start-up or wind down.

Making conscious choices about how and when we take in information and news is very important, as it often affects our emotional energy and mindset in ways we are not always fully aware of. Shawn Achor writes: “Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition” (Click to Tweet). So swapping out the morning negative input gives you a considerably greater chance of having a good day, and good days give you good weeks, months… etc.

Here are some more thoughts on this.

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 #5. – Hand Out Some Random Compliments

Do you ever see someone in the street, the line at the supermarket, waiting for the bus… and think: “Oh wow, that dress really suits her!” Or: “Those shoes are stunning!” Or maybe: “I love what she’s done with her hair!” Yeah, me too! So, what I have started doing is, rather than keeping the thought to myself, say to the person: “that colour really suits you!” Or, “I love your bag!”

Just think how it makes you feel when you receive a compliment like that from someone. It would make you smile right? And you will smile giving the compliment too. So now both of you get a little boost of happy hormones. Your body can’t help but relax, and let go of some survival stress. That’s just biochemistry!

we love to read your comments below

While I may technically be the Director here at SwanWaters, my unofficial title is Healing Cheerleader! I’m a survivor of childhood emotional abuse and workplace bullying. And believe me when I say that I’ve walked the walk when it comes to healing from trauma. I firmly believe that we can undo some of the damage that abuse has done to us, and learn the necessary skills to handle life and all it brings us.

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We have to create habits that drown out some of the anxiety and bitterness of our experiences, so we have to train our brain to be more optimistic

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