Your Future – Optimism vs Pessimism

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Let’s focus on the future. I don’t care if you call it forward thinking, ripping the rear view mirror off, or not looking back, the point is; the future is coming and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Unfortunately some people have negative self-talk, and sometimes it is because of events or instances in our past that now put a dark shadow on what is going on today, and the future just gets lost in that shadow. 

Now don’t get me wrong, your history is important – this is your story. You must remember the successes you had: so you can replicate them. You must remember the mistakes you made, so you won’t repeat them. Your history helps you make decisions. 

Some people get stuck in the past – and they focus on the bad times – they remember the mistakes, going over them – reminiscing about them. Their internal voice starts writing a story of things that are going to go wrong, they soon can’t find anything positive and they give up. Focusing on the future is about getting into a different head space and seeing where you are going, not reliving where you have been.

“We should honor the past, we should remember it, and we should respect what it has taught us. But we don’t have to keep living there. That house is crumbling and toxic and far too small to contain you. It doesn’t support your present experience and it sure as f#ck doesn’t fit into your future goals.”

Dr. Faith Harper, Unf#ck your brain,

I have already written a post about regrets, so this post is not going to be about what I regret, but more of how we can look towards the future in our endeavors, and not get so stuck in the past. 

One of my biggest areas of improvement is the tendency of negative self-talk. My internal narrative is rarely positive. I am constantly berating myself over some decision I have made, or something I haven’t done or accomplished. I also tell myself tragic stories of my life and what will happen under different scenarios. Quite frankly it sucks, because these episodes will lead me down the path of depression. 

According to the Mayo Clinic website, negative self-talk is a pessimistic viewpoint. Some of the different forms of negative self-talk are: Filtering, Personalizing, Catastrophizing and Polarizing. Just to give you a brief rundown of what each of these different forms are:

Filtering – basically filtering out the good that happens and only focusing on the bad. For instance, you are complemented on a good blog post, but your focus is on the feeling that you should have written more. Another one, you are complimented on your clothes at a party, but you are concentrating on how much better everyone else looks.

Personalizing – When something bad happens, automatically you blame yourself for the problems. Such as, you haven’t heard from your friend in a few days, you start to think that it is because you must have done something wrong, and your friend now despises you, when in fact your friend has a lot to do at work, and just has not had the time to talk.

As it turns out it was not domestic terrorism, but it was weather and squirls that caused the power outages… poor squirls.

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Catastrophizing – Only the worst possible scenario is what is happening. As it turns out, I spend a lot of time in this category.  Last week for instance, our power went out. I woke up a little before 2:00 in the morning and after I realized that the power was out up the I-5 corridor spanning Oregon and Washington. I started my negative self-talk, and the first thing I started thinking about is that since all the problems in the Nation’s Capital and around the United States, we were under attack from “Home grown terrorists.”

This made me think about the food stores that we have stocked up, and how we have almost exhausted them. I was thinking about our lanterns that weren’t charged, about how we didn’t have enough home protection. I was getting so worked up that I could hear my own heart pounding in my ears.

Polarizing – You only have two degrees of thinking, there is no grey area it is only black or white.

However, the Mayo Clinic says we should focus on positive thinking… well duh! But even though that seems simplistic, they give things that one should do if they are being pessimistic. 

Identify areas to change – Think about what needs to be changed, focus on those areas and if they are large or it seems overwhelming, break it up into smaller pieces.

Check yourself – stop and self evaluate your thoughts periodically throughout the day. If you are talking to yourself negatively – focus on something positive. Find a way to turn the negative thought into a positive thought.

Be open to humor – try to find something funny in the world around you, when you can laugh, you aren’t stressed. Sometimes when I am feeling especially negative or depressed and I cannot break out of it, I will look up funny videos on YouTube. I don’t know why, but watching a cat leap through the air and missing their targeted landing spot always brings a smile to my face.

Follow a healthy lifestyle – The mayo clinic says that exercising for about 30 minutes on most days of the week should be a goal. I like Dr. Faith Harper’s take: Grab a cookie!

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Surround yourself with Positive People – Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot escape negative people. Plus not everyone is going to be positive all the time – that would be just plain boring. However, if someone is more positive then negative, they are the people you need to bring into your circle of friends. Positivity can be infectious, so let them infect you. This might be upsetting to your negative friends, and we will discuss how to deal with negative comments in a later post.

Practice positive self-talk – Another good suggestion from the Mayo Clinic Website is: Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Be nice to yourself.” As my youngest son would say, “Don’t be such a d***!”

Think about the future positively – We don’t know what the future holds, but being negative can bring about a self fulfilling prophecy.  My wife didn’t have the issue of negative self-talk when the power was out. While I was having visions of domestic terrorists dancing in my head, she was future thinking. She started talking to me about a plan she had formulated to go into the kitchen and put items into the ice-chest to keep them cold, yet accessible, so that we could keep the refrigerator closed.

Now the difference between how my wife was thinking and how I was thinking is simple, she was forward thinking – problem solving, whereas I was stuck in pessimism. 

Pessimism is horrible for your body. It causes stress, which can cause multiple health problems and early death. However, being positive can increase your lifespan, lower levels of distress, lower depression, have a better feeling of wellness, your heart will love you better.

My point is this, if you are not focusing on the future, but you are living in the past  you are not being part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If your experiences in life have caused you to have a pessimistic attitude and negative self-talk; you need to fix your attitude and check yourself daily and focus on something positive.  This is something that I have to work on personally, it will not be easy or fast, but with time and attention – I will be able to overcome my negative self-talk and start to think positively. If you are having the same problem, join me – we will walk this path together.

Reference:

Unf#ck your Brain, Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, ACS, ACN, MicrocosmPublishing, November 7, 2017

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