One of the things I used to do with kids who came to see me was I would switch the lights off in my office and give them a flashlight. They were asked to move it around until they found some pictures of faces on the walls. I had one happy, smiling face and one angry, scary face. When they found each of the faces, I asked them to notice what thoughts or feelings came up for them.
Inevitably, the positive face triggered positive thoughts and emotions and not surprisingly, the negative one did the opposite.
Then we would talk about how BOTH faces are ALWAYS there, but our experience of any given moment depends on WHERE WE SHINE THE LIGHT.
The same is true for adults. On any given day, there will inevitably be positives and negatives, but which we choose to focus on completely changes our experience! This isn’t to say that we should ignore the negative stuff when it comes up, by all means, FEEL IT and then do whatever needs to be done to DEAL WITH IT. This is more of a discussion about what to do when we find ourselves getting STUCK in the negative stuff.
As we have talked about in the past, our present is interpreted through the lens of our past experiences. (See the 3 min video of the hand model of the brain by Daniel Seigel for an illustration of it).
This means that if we grew up in a home where people focused on the negatives, we learn to do the same. Similarly, if we grew up in a home where people focused on positives, we learn to do the same. It all gets incorporated into our Survival Maps (click here for more about this) and these form filters- mental short cuts that help us organize all the information we are bombarded with every day. It directs what we notice and what we ignore.
So how can we get UNSTUCK?
We intentionally CHANGE OUR FILTER
There are many ways we can do this, if we are prone to be being very negative, we can start a GRATITUDE JOURNAL (click here for more about this) or a LIFE LESSONS JOURNAL (where we write what we learned from situations and what we will do differently next time, instead of focusing on the crappy situation itself). If we are very self critical, we can start an I’M AWESOME JOURNAL (where we write about our accomplishments in detail so we can anchor to them when we need it).
Another option is to do a worksheet! Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helps people REFRAME things by cueing them to look at the evidence for or against a harmful thought. I adapted one to include a focus on our values and attached it below, try it out! (click on it)
Here is a real example: (used with permission)
- What kind of life do I want? What are my VALUES? I want to be confident and authentic in my relationships
- How COMMITTED am I to living my values: 8/10
- What is the TROUBLING THOUGHT I’m having? People don’t like me, I’m a bother to them
- What is the WORST that can happen? They won’t talk to me and I will feel stupid and alone. It will be awkward and everyone will see that I am a loner.
- Rate my DISTRESS/ ANXIETY thinking of that: 10/10
- WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR that thought?
- My friends in high school ditched me all the time
- I am single, so clearly my boyfriends didn’t like me
- I barely have any friends or go out right now
- WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE AGAINST that thought?
- I do have a few good friends
- They call me sometimes, so I am probably not bothering them if they are calling me
- People talk to me at work and when I am out and about and it seems good for both of us
- What is a MOST LIKELY INTERPRETATION of the EVIDENCE? Some people like me and like being around me, maybe I haven’t found my right tribe yet
- What will it COST me to keep investing in my troublesome thought (to AVOID or live in FEAR)? I won’t ever feel confident or have the courage to be authentic if I am always worried about being rejected
- How does the cost of investing in my troublesome thought fit with my VALUES? It doesn’t
- RATE my ANXIETY when investing in the most reasonable interpretation instead: 4/10
Notice how just by doing the worksheet, taking a few minutes, DROPPED THEIR DISTRESS SCORE FROM 10 to 4!
Give it a try, let us know how it goes. As always we love hearing from you, so tweet us @DrAdrianaWilson, join us on FB (purple bat above) or share this with a friend (icon on the side). You can always also just drop us an email through the contact page.