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Episode 124: Navigating Negative Thinking

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Episode 124:

Navigating Negative Thinking

Welcome back to the show! It’s been a long time. I took a much needed break and I’m back with LOTS of good things to bring to you. I just want to say a huge thank you to those that have reached out and begged me to come back. I can’t express how much I just love you. It means a lot to me that so many of you are loving the podcast and benefiting from it.

So let’s dive in.

We all have negative thoughts. In fact, our primitive brain is wired for negativity. This isn’t a problem or at least it doesn’t have to be a problem. It becomes a problem when we don’t know how to navigate through these negative thoughts.

So today, I’m offering you an easy way, an easy system that will help you navigate through these negative thoughts.

This is an idea that I’ve adapted from another brilliant coach, Corinne Crabtree. This system is the 4 N’s of navigating negative thoughts. It’s simple yet profound and wildly effective.

So the four N’s are:

Notice

Normalize

Neutralize

Next Best 

Let’s go through them one by one so you can practice these on your own.

The first is just to notice the negative thoughts. This might be the biggest hurdle you’ll face.

If you’re not used to observing your thoughts then a lot of your thoughts will just seem like facts. I love how Eckhart Tolle describes it. He says that we need to be the watcher of our thoughts. He likens this to a fish in the sea.

The fish doesn’t know that it’s a part from the sea. That there is the fish AND the sea. It just assumes that it’s one with the sea. It can be like this with our thoughts. We are separate from our thoughts. But when we don’t pay attention it can feel like we’re just one with our thoughts.

But when you take a step back and isolate a thought – Like this: I notice I’m thinking the thought…

I notice I’m thinking the thought that they might not like me.

If you can distance yourself further from it – even better:

I notice my brain is thinking the thought that I might not be enough.

I notice my brain is offering the thought that I might fail.

When you do this it’s no longer YOU but your brain thinking thoughts.

We’re just noticing.

Now if you notice – we’re not doing anything other than just noticing and observing at this point. You’ll feel the urge to have thoughts about that thought. Please don’t yet. What I mean by this is you’ll have thoughts like, “I shouldn’t think that thought” or you might want to add to that thought “I’m not good enough AND this is how I know” giving yourself all kinds of evidence to kick you even more while you’re already down.

At this point all you’re doing is just noticing. 

 I notice my brain is thinking the thought…

That’s it.

Just notice.

Now from here you can move on to the next N: Normalize.

This one is often overlooked and not taken advantage of. This is a mistake to skip this step. We want to make space for that thought to exist. I know that seems counterintuitive because you want to eliminate the thought but what I mean is that you need to normalize that this thought exists and that it’s okay to. 

When you try to ignore it or punish yourself for thinking it you make things worse. You add shame to the mix and that’s a hard place to recover from. You can recover but it’s painful. Best to skip that and instead normalize that you are a human that has human thoughts.

This happened. This thought exists. Nothing has gone wrong – it just is. This step is about accepting – not endorsing but accepting that this thought IS.

When you do this you teach your brain and body that nothing has gone wrong and that everything is okay.

Think about it this way. If you’re on a flight and there begins to be turbulence you’ll probably look to the flight attendant for reassurance. If the flight attendants look unbothered like this is a total normal occurrence then you feel more relieved and able to move forward. If they look like they’re freaking out then you start to worry a bit, right?

Normalize the thought – accept, not endorse.

Something happens when we normalize our thoughts. Not only does it take the “drama” and spice out of the sentence. It’s not so triggering anymore but it also starts to calm down your nervous system. When you’re contending with negative thoughts youre not disconnected from your physiology. You have a mind body connection and your body is taking note. 

Negative thoughts leads to stress in the body which can start to take a toll on your body because your body is bracing for some unforeseen catastrophe. So when you start to normalize the thoughts you also are sending a message to your body – it’s safe. Everything is going to be okay. This thought is normal.  I am normal. Nothing has gone wrong. My brain is doing what my brain is supposed to do and it is.

You are wired for negativity.

A part of your brain – the primitive brain is wired for negativity called the negativity bias. Its whole job is to scan for any potential perceived negatives. Which can be anything, right? The primitive brain is in charge of keeping the human alive and it detects a potential negative it could be a threat to survival. Evolutionarily speaking it can’t tell the difference between a saber tooth tiger and your partner giving you a look. 

It just senses that something is wrong and wrong could mean catastrophe.

I always say that the primitive brain is a drama queen – and this isn’t a title for some – like some are drama queens – every brain has an inner drama queen and it’s ultimately your job – the higher brain to disarm the drama so you can take a more rational approach. 

This more rational approach is in the next N – 

Neutralizing the thought.

Like I mentioned, our brains love to be dramatic and add color and spice to our thoughts. We only have a portion of the story and so your brain tries filling in the blanks. 

I like to say this often we as humans are both really good at people reading and also really bad at it.

We’re good at noticing energy and like, noticing that something is off.

We pick up on subtle cues about others and notice minute details but we’re really really bad at interpreting what those cue are.

This is where your brain starts to add spice to the story.

You only have a portion of the story. It might be that something seems different. But then your brain goes to work filling in the blanks and often because of that negativity bias it fills in the blanks with the worst interpretations – not because your brain is against you but because it goes to extremes to try and protect you.

So you can brace for the worst – even though the worst rarely happens.

So notice this – your partner – your husband or wife they’re not home when they normally would be.

You have a portion of the story – they’re working late – or they’re working later than they usually do.

But then your brain fills in the details and it becomes they’re working late because they don’t really care about you. If they cared about you they’d be home spending every waking hour with you. Since they’re not it must mean that they don’t really care about you and thus your relationship is doomed and you’ll be alone forever.

Whoa Nelly.

Right? Slow down.

But when we’re not careful it’s really easy for our brain to spiral out of control and catastrophize.

To avoid this pitfall you need to take the color and spice out of it. Be factual on purpose. No embellishing. No adding interpretations. Just facts. Like this:

My partner is working x amount of hours.

My husband is working right now.

Notice, there’s no drama just facts. Facts are for lack of a better term – boring. We don’t want to add assumptions or continue with the drama. Just stick to the facts. When you do this it neutralizes it. 

Notice how this sentence feels:

My husband is working late because he doesn’t care about me.

It feels awful, right?

Scary

Cues rejection 

But when we take the drama out of it and stick to the facts – notice how this sentence feels:

My husband is working right now.

It’s almost like, so what? Or and…?

And…nothing. 

It’s not negative. Now it’s just neutral.

And let me tell you – neutral feels a lot better than negative.

If you can’t get to positivity yet – just get to neutral.

Stay in neutral and collect facts. No drama – just facts and just notice how it feels. This alone can save your relationships.

This alone is a huge game-changer. 

Interrupt the drama with facts.

Then what?

From here you can focus on the last N – which is where a lot of people try to go first and it doesn’t work because you’re in a position to go here yet. You really need to go through the 3 other N’s first to be able to utilize this N which the NEXT BEST – What is the next best thought?

The next best is going to be a thought that is productive for you. It’s a thought that helps you feel better.

This doesn’t mean positive yet – it can – but if you’re not there yet – that’s okay too. You don’t want to give yourself a thought that you’re not ready for. You can’t go from:

My husband doesn’t care about me 

To

My husband thinks the world of me!

When you try to force a thought like this it backfires.

Your brain will give you loads of “evidence” to prove to the contrary true and it’ll set you back even farther than you were before.

Not a good idea. Don’t do it.

Instead, reach for the NEXT – right next door thought that will put you in a more productive position. 

The best way to give this to yourself is in the form of “it’s possible…”

It’s possible that…

What’s possible?

It might be possible that your partner is working x amount of hours because there’s more work to do.

It’s possible that his working hours have nothing to do with me.

It’s possible that he’s working because he cares and is invested in our relationship.

The beauty of this practice is that you are giving your brain a NEW project. Your brain loves to solve problems. It’s always solving a problem and when you don’t deliberately give it a problem to solve it finds one and it never the problem you want it to be solving. Instead doing this practice- choosing on purpose what the next best thought is gives your brain a new problem to solve – this one. 

It will go to work finding evidence to prove this true for you which in turn will help you feel better.

This is really good because when you feel better you do better and you create better results for you.

Imagine what would happen if you continued to think the initial thoughts?

They’re working late because they don’t care.

Minutes, hours pass and you brain is just giving you more and more “evidence” to prove this thought true for you – it’s not that it IS true – it’s just that your brain is really good at creating a story that you choose to entertain.

So you’re thinking all those thoughts – filled with all those insecure, hurtful, painful feelings and then your husband or wife comes home and then what?

How do you respond when you see them?

You’re full of hurt, rejection, and all kinds of other negative emotions and your actions follow suit. They come home and you give them the cold shoulder or you’re extra short with them and they might be totally confused because they weren’t privy to the private conversations in your head. They have no clue what story has been playing and why you’re acting the way you’re acting.

It’s so confusing and it’s a recipe for a lot of hurt and a potential war.

So one thing about humans like I mentioned – we’re really good at noticing when something is different but we’re really really bad at interpreting what that is, right?

So now your partner notices something is off with you and they might feel attacked. And what do we do when we’re attacked?

We defend. 

There’s a war and we must defend and protect.

So instead of connecting which is ultimately what you both want you’re now both engaged in a war of sorts and it only creates more disconnection and contention.

Instead of going here imagine a different scenario.

This time you’ve gone through the 4 N’s:

Notice:

I’m noticing the thought that, “my partner is working late and my brain wants to believe it’s because they don’t care”

Normalize:

Without trying to argue with it – we want to give it a space to exist. Like this:

Of course, my brain would want to think this – it’s wired for negativity. My brain is doing what my primitive brain is supposed to – it’s scanning for any potential perceived problems.

Neutralize:

What is really going on?

My husband or wife is working later than they have in the past.

My husband is at work.

My wife is working X amount of hours.

No drama. Just facts.

Then NEXT BEST:

It’s possible that there’s a lot going on at work.

It’s possible that they’re being responsible to their work.

It’s also possible they don’t know that this bothers me. We can have a conversation about this later.

Going through this now how does it feel?

It’s more doable. It’s not a problem. It still can be that you don’t like the circumstance. It’s possible you’d like to work on a different form of communication. But instead of making the circumstance mean all kind of meanness and hurtfulness – it’s something that is figureoutable.

It’s what I call MATH – mental math – no drama – just math, things to work on, math is solvable.

Drama…isn’t as much.

When you make it math it’s just finding ways to make it more productive for both of you. Math isn’t threatening. It’s a challenge – how can we work on this? And then it becomes an invitation to work on it together, which creates unity and connection, which is what you wanted all along.

The 4 N’s of navigating negative thoughts can completely change your relationship. It’s a gift you give to yourself that has a ripple effect that enhances your relationship instead of tearing it down.

 

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