How do I deal with negative thoughts?
We all have a dark side. Inner critic, demon, saboteur, gremlin, shadow self… whatever you call it, you know the one I mean. It’s the one who whispers (and sometimes screams) those horrible things in your ear. ‘You’re selfish. You’re a bad person. You’re lazy. You’re too shy. You’re dumb.’ It’s that part of you that is literally beating yourself up and making you feel ashamed and just plain bad about yourself.
For some, the critic is up-front and center pouring its poison blatantly on everything in sight. But for most of us, the critic is a subtle force that creates a low-level discontent we’re barely conscious of. Sadly, it’s our constant companion showing up to dampen our highs, invite us into deep pits of despair and make our dreams seem unattainable. It has catalogued our every misstep over the years and brings up painful memories of past failures to create fear, doubt and shame.
Sound familiar? First, please know that you are not alone. This is part of the human experience and every single one of us deals with a shadow self. Second, there’s plenty you can do to quiet (and yes, even silence) this damaging voice so you can enjoy more peace of mind and actually feel good about who you are.
This is arguably some of the most important work you’ll do in life. It’s an integral part of your basic well-being, the key to not just surviving, but THRIVING! We eat well and exercise to nourish a healthy body. Similarly, we disarm our saboteurs and nurture a solid sense of self to create a healthy mind, heart and spirit. The idea is to live from that powerful you at the core, what I call your ‘essence.’ From here, you not only sparkle… but you see your own unique brilliance and the gift you are in this world. And from this feel-good place, you’re able to step confidently and sure-footedly on the path to your goals and dreams.
The danger (and sadly the default for most of us) is to live at the mercy of our dark side. And to believe the evil things it tells us. It’s a downward spiral that has us putting ourselves in a box labeled ‘dumb,’ ‘mean,’ ‘dorky.’ Which just sets us up to live even more into these unwanted qualities. Giving our little demons more proof to skewer us with.
I know what you’re thinking… "But the things it says are true. I really am selfish, bad, lazy, … And I’d just be lying to myself if I didn’t admit it." So maybe you are. But you’re also generous, good and hardworking too. And I bet if you looked back over the course of your life, you could identify at least a few instances to prove my point. So, you, my fellow human being, can go ahead and jump right out of that box because you’re wonderfully multi-faceted and rich in character(s). And the wonderful thing is you get to decide which one you want to be!
The truth is we are whoever we choose to be right now… and Now… and NOW. Every moment is a brand new opportunity to create ourselves. To make a choice and take action that either honors who we want to be or doesn’t. When we look from this angle, our shadows become a useful guide, pointing us to our values and showing us a higher version of ourselves that we want to live into. So instead of getting sucked down by it, we can thank our shadow for its direction and LET IT GO!
And what’s so wrong with being selfish, bad, lazy, shy, dumb anyway? What if we let go of the assumptions that some qualities are inherently ‘good’ and others are ‘bad.’ What if we cared less about being good and more about just being whole. In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Deborah Ford explains "Most of us are living with a narrow vision of what it is to be human. When we allow our humanity to embrace our universality, we can easily become whatever it is we desire." I know this may feel like a stretch. But, our seemingly ‘bad’ qualities are often gifts in disguise that help us more authentically be the unique individuals we are. My selfishness helps me realize when I’m overextending myself and needing to take care of me! When I listen more closely, my laziness is just my inner voice telling me I need more down time and that I’m better off saying no to that great opportunity that I just don’t have the bandwidth for. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have that bit of bad girl sass. And, the way my brain freezes up around technical stuff can leave me feeling dumb. Or I can trust in my creative smarts that I exercise to a good degree of success as a coach and songwriter. And embrace the fact that my dumbness creates a cool opportunity for me to lean into the techies in my life who are happy to help nuke my computer or get music flowing on my ipod. It helps me receive their love and appreciate their talents.
And here’s where we drop into the luscious heart of it all… the PURE POTENTIALITY of our humanity. We have infinite colors, textures, layers. So many parts and facets that comprise who we are. A kaleidoscope of expression available to us. It’s boundless. When we really get this, we’re in the awe of what it means to be human. Rather than feeling shackled by our past, we are present and connected to our creative powers to show up however we choose now… and Now… and NOW! Life feels juicy here as we become artists painting ourselves into vibrant sparkling aliveness.
So what does this look like on the ground? You can think of it like a workout. You’re training your mind/heart/spirit to be strong and healthy. And it takes regular practice. Here’s a simple technique that may work for you. Remember to breathe through each step.
- Notice when your saboteur shows up and clarify what it’s telling you. If you have trouble identifying it, just dig underneath any bad feeling. Try to distill its message down to a simple statement. (e.g. "You are selfish.")
- Release the saboteur’s judgment. This can be done in all sorts of ways: exhaling it out, shaking it off, hurling it out into the atmosphere or simply telling it to go away. Then, take a breath feeling into the space you’ve cleared free.
- Declare out loud your commitment to honor who you choose to be. (e.g. ‘I am committed to being generous.’) Take a moment to listen and really land here. It might take repeating a few times until you really own that this commitment is who you are! As you breathe, imagine your commitment filling the open space. Envision yourself living fully into this chosen way of being. In your mind’s eye, see the ways this could play out in your everyday life. For example, if you’re choosing to be generous, you might imagine yourself offering to help a friend, buying girl scout cookies or volunteering at a local organization. Keep nurturing inspiration and possibility. And, smile.
- As you step back into everyday life, look for opportunities (big or small) to honor this way of being you’re committed to. Follow the urge to act. And acknowledge that you are living into who you choose to be! Affirm it by saying it out loud. "I am generous."
If you think this is hokey, this may not be the practice for you. That’s totally fine. There are lots of different ways to bust your saboteur and/or embrace your shadows. You’re best off working directly with a coach who can help guide you in a technique that suits your style.
If this practice works for you, awesome! Practice this regularly several times a day and listen as your critic gets quieter. And the true powerful you, your essence, expands to fill you up. Just keep in mind that this work is like an upward moving spiral. There will be highs and lows as you do the work. Just remember that your general trajectory is upward. And like growing physical muscles, you’ll see the cumulative results of your practice over time.