Not many people would admit that they have a negative mindset. I am talking about the negativity that does not only start with a negative view on life, but also with self-doubt, being affected too much by your past. This is the kind of negativity that disempowers you. Even the happiest person has shadows of past mistakes, feelings of guilt and grievances that are not often resolved. These negative memories keep us paralized during times when we need to shine, they whisper “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t” and prevent us from taking a risk, from doing the right thing, from speaking up when it matters.
The good news is that these negative thoughts, fears and emotions control you as much as you let them. If you don’t make a habit of reflecting and rationalizing your thoughts, then your fears, anxieties and doubts can keep you in a “mental prison” for a long time, denying you happiness and enjoyment of life. You are your own creator of your life, and just like you have the power to create these fears and anxieties within you, you have the power, the choice not to listen to them, not to give in. Happiness is a choice. However, real happiness is not a choice to ignore every problem or self-doubt but to actually deal with it. Address it in your mind and you will be surprised how relieved you will feel.
Some ways to address these offences or grievances (includes bad memories, bad experiences, things you want to change if you could, mistakes, etc.) :
- Identify them. You cannot address or deal with them if you don’t know what you are dealing with. Write them down. There is magic in writing things down- you no longer have to keep all these bad memories in your head. In Harry Potter, wise Professor Dumbledor placed his thoughts and old memories in a special pitcher so he could deal with them later when he had time. However, since you may not have a magic wand, I would recommend dealing with your memories sooner rather than later. Just write them down on cards or as a list in your notebook.
- Once you have identified your negative memories or disappointments, you need to realistically evaluate if it makes sense to spend your emotional energy on them. You can rank them, for example from 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst experience (i.e. not just the worst experience, but also very important), with 1 being something slightly awful or something that took place a long time ago when you were still going to kindergarten. The thing is, we create our notion of reality, the way world works and our values and beliefs based on our experiences. However, sometimes the things you believed in when you were a teenager no longer seem to make sense when you became an adult. You may even interpret the same situation in a different light. For example, if someone mistreated you when you were a kid, you could interpret it as the person who mistreated you was evil and so you avoided this person ever since. Or maybe you associated a specific action you’ve done with this person’s reaction and you stopped doing it (e.g. you were painting when your teacher screamed at you and so you never painted again to avoid people screaming at you/or maybe you began avoiding art teachers). However, when you write your memory down, you can easily see if it your interpretation and actions that followed are rational or not. Perhaps your worldview changed and you no longer fear people that teach art (using previous example) are evil, or perhaps now you don’t see yourself as a victim but just another student in the class stuck with a tired impatient teacher.
- Once you ranked your negative memories, address them starting with the lowest. If you continue viewing negative memories that scored the lowest as some kind of unfairness you need to let them go. Just forgive these silly people and cross these memories off your list. There is no need for silly things to hold you back from achieving your success and becoming who you were meant to be.
- For negative memories ranging from 3-4 you need reflect some more. If you consider them to be your mistakes, remind yourself about the reason that guided your actions at that time. Was it fear, a doubt or because it felt wrong to act differently? If that was fear or self-doubt, remind yourself that you may not have known what you know today, you may not have experienced then what you have experienced much later, and you may not have believed in yourself back then because you were still in the beginning of your journey. Nothing is final, and most things can still be fixed. So don’t beat yourself over it, forgive yourself instead. You need to be your own best friend, mentor, coach and a cheerleader. If you feel anxious about something you’ve done that reflected your values – trust yourself, you were right. Even if you ended up not benefiting from this situation, the most important is that you stayed true to yourself and your beliefs. If you are still beating yourself over your mistakes, write letters to these people, explain how they hurt you, how wrong they were. Forgive them. Write it down at the end of the letter. Just let it go. Negative emotions and resentment towards them will hurt you more than they hurt them. Once you write down these letters, just burn them or tear them apart. Think of your mind as a house. Old grievances and bad experiences are like old ugly furniture that only takes space and blocks the light. If you want to have a better life that is happier, that is free from negativity and self-doubt, you need to get rid of these negative feelings as they take space in your “mental house”, a space that your dreams, confidence, positive memories and warm feelings toward yourself and others could be placed. With some people, you can almost tell if their “mental house” is filled with positive memories or feelings of resentment and blame/guilt. What kind of person do you want to be? The choice is yours. Just remember that if you cannot control the outcome the problem, it is not your problem. Let your worries go and make some room for positive things.
- For negative memories that ranked as “5/5” – these ones will require the most mental work, but will also give your mind more freedom than other memories or things on your list. If to use the example with your mind being a house, then “ones” would be small things like old umbrellas and other trash that you stumble through, “threes and fours” would be old broken chairs and arm chairs, and “fives” would be big heavy furniture like a sofa-bed, two-door fridge or a grand piano. Imagine how much room you will get in your “mental house” if you get rid of something big like this! To deal with it, you will need to take the following steps
- Break the situation down into small parts. What happened? Who said what? What was the background? What happened that contributed to the conflict? What were your thoughts and choices available to you at that time? The more questions you ask yourself, the easier it would be for you to deal with it.
- Learn to reflect on your problem by writing it down. Stick to the facts and be open and honest – hide nothing.
- Ask yourself many probing questions. Try to limit emotions that you get by thinking about the problem and focus on the situation. Imagine you are an investigator who is trying to figure out what happened. You won’t be too affected by emotions and you’d really focus on facts and relevant evidence.
- Stop thinking about the problem on an emotional level – otherwise you will go in circles and keep reinforcing your anxieties instead of dealing with the problem.
- Ask yourself what a possible solution could look like if you are to get into a similar situation again. Really focus on what you can do differently in the future.
Remember, your past does not define you. What defines you is what you choose to do about it.