How to Break Out of a Defeating Negativity Loop and Boost Your Happiness
Have you ever been called out by a 5 year old? It’s been awhile; actuality it was quite a few years ago during the dog days of summer. My kids and I were on a quest for the proverbial dream family vacation. The plan was to start out in Oakland, California drive to Los Angeles, fly to St. Louis, on to Chicago, then back to LA and finally drive 300 plus miles home to Phoenix. Believe it or not, the kids were shockingly all on board for this adventure.
I really could have doubled as a 5 Star Tour Guide for the stellar lineup that was planned. Our itinerary: in St. Louis we would catch a 3 game baseball series at Busch Stadium, visit the iconic 630-foot Gateway Arch, and spend an afternoon at the Magic House Children’s Museum before we headed back to the airport.
Then it was off to Chicago. We would go to yet another 3 game series-this time at Wrigley Stadium, visit Millennium Park, take the Chicago Architecture River Tour, and shop at the Magnificent Mile. Did I mention the fact that we would be eating Chicago-style pizza at the famous Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria?
Wisdom from a 5 Year Old
Sounds like a star-studded vacation for a 5, 13 and 17 year old. You would think that with a solid All-Star line-up of activities, everyone would be happy, right? We almost pulled it off without a hitch except for one tiny detail. Everything went smoothly until we picked up the rental car in St. Louis. That started the domino effect of cascading negative emotions. Little did I know that a mini-van was an inappropriate vehicle for two teenage girls to be caught dead in. I heard this little 5 year old voice from the back of the “hideous” mini-van say,
“M — o — m — m — y, Sissy and Tressie don’t have a thankful heart.”
I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my two daughters rolling their eyes in disgust; not at their little brother for ratting them out but at me for renting a mini-van. They were dying in their seats thinking that somehow someone would recognize them 1,451.4 miles away from home and classify them as having the shape of an L on their foreheads.
Forget the Major League baseball games, the shopping, the cities, the museums, the pizza, the classy hotels; suddenly the success or failure of this dream vacation rested exclusively in the hands of a mini-van. Who would have thought?
The Power of the Mini-Van
So what kind of mini-van are you giving your power away to? What elicits a cascade of negative emotions from you that pushes you into an inevitable downward spiral? Truth be told, we usually encounter far more positive experiences in a day than negative ones. However it doesn’t feel this way because of what scientists call life’s “negativity bias.” This bias is the belief that our brain is built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant things. In other words, negative experiences tend to have a greater impact on us than positive ones.
A Lifestyle of Gratitude
Have you ever stopped to consider what this bias might be costing you? What must you do to overcome it? The answer is very basic and begins by responding to the observation posed by a 5 year old, “Do you have a thankful heart?” Thankfulness is a fundamental stepping stone to developing a mindset and then a heart and eventually a lifestyle of gratitude.
Why develop a lifestyle of gratitude? Let’s look at some of the benefits. According to Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, people who cultivate and practice gratitude consistently report the following physical, psychological and social benefits:
Benefits of Gratitude
- Stronger immune systems
- Increased optimism and happiness
- Greater feelings of connection in difficult times
- Expanded capacity for forgiveness
- More pleasure and joy
- Decreased stress, anxiety and depression
- Less feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Heightened Spirituality
Gratitude truly is a superhero; it’s not only healing it also has tremendous superpowers to transform your thinking and your life. Science has shown that cultivating certain personal virtues such as gratitude strengthens us during adversity and leads to greater happiness and resiliency.
Gratitude also magnifies positive emotions while blocking negative ones. Think about it, can you feel resentful and grateful at the same time?
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
Exiting the Negative Mindset Loop
So with the evidence stacked so highly in favor of developing a spirit of gratitude, how do we overcome our petty mini-van mentality and stop focusing on the negative aspects of our situations so we can appreciate the good?
It’s as fundamental as creating a new habit. Awareness is always the master key to unlock new growth and potential. Once you recognize that you are in a negative mindset loop, stop. Take a deep breath. At that point become aware of how you entered the loop, what triggered you to step into the negative loop: was it a setback, a memory, a limiting belief, or habitual negative thinking patterns? Make a soft mental note of it to be aware when it happens again.
The next step to break out of the negativity loop is for you to reappraise the situation. How can you put on a thankful lens when assessing your circumstances? Find one blessing. Once you’ve done this, stop, breathe again and give thanks for what you now see. Just like that, you are out of the negative mindset loop.
Focusing on what is right in your life is essential to begin experiencing the transformational power of gratitude. Let’s look at some ways researchers suggest to cultivate gratitude.
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Count your blessings
- Reframe your negative experiences into positive ones
- Choose positive emotions
- Foster positive relationships
Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal
Believe it or not there truly is a science to keeping a gratitude journal. Once again let’s look to the research Emmons has conducted on gratitude journals:
- Be intentional; don’t just go through the motions
- Look for depth; elaborate in detail on particular things rather than what is on the surface
- Focus on people rather than things
- Subtract; think of what your life would be like without certain blessings
- Frequency; don’t overdue, writing 1 to 2 times a week is more beneficial than daily journal writing
If you are out-going, love challenges and community driven, here is a link to an online Gratitude Journal Community: https://www.thnx4.org/about-thnx4
At Thnx4 you can be connected with like-minded people seeking to up their gratitude game. There are two programs to choose from: a 10 Day Intensive or a 21 Day Gratitude Challenge.
Gratitude profoundly impacts the quality of your relationships; it strengthens and deepens your connections with others. When you pay attention to people and appreciate them, it’s less likely that you will take others for granted. On the flip side of the coin, a lack of gratitude is a key villain that plagues relationships. Ask yourself:
- When was the last time you made a conscious effort to thank a co-worker for something they did?
- How often do you tell your spouse or a child that you truly appreciate them?
- Who was the last person you went out of your way to thank?
- What do you value in a loved one? Have you told them you are grateful for them?
Gratitude truly is a gift but it’s not one meant to be used exclusively for your own benefit. The gift of gratitude is for giving back to those around us. Those who have made gratitude a way of life understand that gratitude is more about giving than receiving.
“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”
Choice and perspective is everything. You can focus on an all-expense paid vacation for 10 days in St. Louis and Chicago or you can pout about having to be in a brand new mini-van for 3 days. The choice is always yours. In the words of the Ancient Knight in Indian Jones and the Last Crusade, “You must choose but choose wisely.”
Originally published at www.transformuniversity.net on November 20, 2017.
Impossible, Difficult, Done
I am a single mom and the Founder/CEO of Transform University, a company that specializes in lifestyle transformation. As an Internationally Certified Coach through Coach University, an accredited institution by the International Coaching Federation and a John Maxwell Certified Coach/Trainer I always love helping entrepreneurs/ achievers make positive changes for greater success.
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