It is Monday morning. You woke up late and you have to scrape ice off of your car windows. You make it to work a few minutes late and sneak in without anyone noticing. You log in and begin your day. At this point, you have a decision to make. Is today going to be a stress-filled, glass half empty, just trying to survive type of day or is there an opportunity to change the outcome so that a stressful morning can still result in a calm and productive day?
In my last post, “Say What”: Problem Solving Miscommunication with Your Partner, we explored the filters that we all use to interpret our world and the impact of those filters on our communication with others. It is important to also recognize the filters that we use to communicate with and understand ourselves. When we experience anything in our day from waking up, being late to work, completing a difficult project, arguing with our partner or spending time with our children, it can be filtered through our mind to be either a positive, neutral or negative experience. The beauty is, we have more power over this filter than we realize and it is entirely possible to choose the way that you experience your world. To reference the “you are what you eat” mantra we all know so well, I would challenge that you feel what you think. Your thoughts are powerful and working to find ways to think positively and filter your thoughts to the positive no matter the circumstance is a sure fire way to improve your mood.
So how does one begin to change their thoughts from negative to positive? First, Be Aware. When you are beginning to recognize that all of your thoughts are negative or that you are worried, angry or frustrated, ask yourself what filter you are currently using to experience your mood. Work to recognize patterns in yourself and then challenge yourself to rewrite those patterns. For instance, encourage yourself to think about something positive in the future, the aspects of your day that you enjoy or reflect on a happy memory when stuck in traffic rather than focusing on the long line of cars ahead of you.
Next, Choose the Positive. As stated above, you have power over which filter your day gets to flow through. Be intentional about this choice. Write yourself positive reminders that you can see throughout your day, find a personal mantra or pep talk that you recite to yourself, listen to enjoyable music and ask friends and family to hold you accountable to this choice. It can be difficult, as with any change, to maintain this over a long period of time but if you take it one choice at a time you will find that your thoughts begin to shift to the positive on their own. It is a natural change that you may notice has a positive impact on more than just your mood. When you choose positivity, others around you may notice and potentially enjoy the time they spend with you more than if that time was focused on complaining about that which we cannot control. Choosing the positive doesn’t always change our circumstance, but it does change our experience of those circumstances.
Lastly, each experience is a Fresh Start. It can be difficult at first to recognize your filter and choose the positive rather than the complaint. You can do this! Each part of your day, from your alarm going off in the morning to your head hitting the pillow at night, is an opportunity to become more aware of your thoughts and work to take power over your experience of that day. With each new thing that you encounter, ask yourself “how do I want this to go?” and filter your thoughts accordingly.
Change can be difficult and as with anything you put your mind to, it takes effort and perseverance. Don’t worry or become frustrated with yourself if you have a bad day or feel that you didn’t focus on the positive aspects of each situation. Be gentle with yourself in this process and the change may come more naturally. If it doesn’t come naturally, and you find yourself inundated with negativity that feels out of your control, you may be experiencing what psychiatrist Aaron Beck referred to as automatic negative thoughts. These are intrusive, negative thought patterns that may feel reflexive and difficult to change. Beck developed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for these types of thought patterns. If you have been working to change your thoughts and it doesn’t feel like you are making any headway, it may be time to seek help in your work against the automatic negative thinking that steals your joy. Northstar Counseling Center can be a resource in your journey to positive thought and feeling better with each experience you have throughout the day. For now, think about something positive and hold on to that thought to help strengthen your positive thinking filter today. You can do it and the outcome can be immensely worth it!