Thursday, February 5, 2015

Negative Thinking Snuggies

Give me a show of hands: How many of you, every new year or perhaps every Monday, vow to start a healthier eating or working out regiment? (Ooo me, me!) I'll be honest, I know the choices I need to be making to be healthy, fit, and feel better in those damn skinny jeans I bought a couple weeks ago in an impulse indulgence of my midlife crisis (but let's not get into that). Ahem. Anyway, it’s easier to resort to foods I find comforting—basically anything carb or sugar based-- than try to change my habits. Comfort foods are like a drug on my brain, wrapping my psyche in a cozy endorphin Snuggie.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the solace we find in our habits.  As Edgar Rice Burroughs said, “We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.” That’s a lot of fancy wordsmithin’ for saying it’s easier to nestle into our comfort zone, even if that’s not the healthiest or happiest option.

But more insidious than the in-your-face behavioral habits we cling to, are the more subtle attitudes and emotions that almost become a part of our personality. Negative Eeyore habits remind me of a pair of sweats I own: the elastic is so worn out they slip off me; they have a hole melted into them where I stood too close to the wood burner stove one time, and they have zippers around the ankles (I know; dated fashion statement right there) that scratch my legs. But they're so comforting to slip on, I'm loathe to part with them.

In my previous post, I coughed up the explanation of why I’ve been MIA for the last six months. It’s been two years of one angst-filled drama and hurdle after another. What I didn’t realize was that after a while, anticipating crisis, waking up and lacing up my emotional army boots to trudge through another day, became a habit of thought—an expectation of life. Weird how something so negative could be a place I go to so easily, and worse, maybe even find a bit of comfort in! How is it we find comfort in being miserable?

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology offers this evolution explanation of negative thinking, "Fear is a signal that danger is lurking, sadness is a signal that loss is impending, and anger signals someone trespassing against us. In evolution, danger, loss and trespass are all threats to survival itself." (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment)  This makes sense to me.  I faced a lot of threat to my survival-- my kid's life, my life, and my lifestyle-- in the last two years. I was, in a sense, living the results of fear. He continues to say, “All of this culminates in a quick and decisive action: fight, flight, or conserve.” That was me. Life got tough; I put on my boxing gloves. Waking up and girding myself for whatever the day dished out became my modus operandi. 

The other morning, I woke up and stretched out in bed. My mind, still fuzzy and soft from sleep, wandered. Out of habit, I scanned the landscape of my day and circumstances, preparing myself for the 24-hour battle before me. Then it occurred to me: I don’t have a battle today. I feel good. My health is great. I have a good job that is providing for me. I am making friends. I like where I live. I like my cozy little apartment. I have solid relationships in my life. My kids are happy and healthy. Maybe I should worry about… I did a quick survey of what I might have to worry about for the day or week, reflexively reaching for my boxing gloves, trying to find the emotional foothold that had become so familiar to me. But, as I lay there in the morning quiet, there just wasn’t one. Wow. I was…gasp… content! So I started worrying about how fleeting and false contentment can be. Ahhh, there was that gnawing feeling I've come to know so well and cradle close to me over the last several years.

Oh brother!

When did this cloak of negative thinking become such a friend? I didn’t realize, until that morning, how familiar the feeling of angst had become. But then a great thing happened. As I tried to find a reason to be stressed or launch into my usual problem-solving mode, I got on my own nerves. Enough! Quietly, before getting out of bed, I acknowledged the good place I am in in life with a prayer of gratitude. I may not be able to claim this tomorrow or next week but for today, it was good.

As Seligman says, “…feeling positive emotion is important, not just because it is pleasant in its own right, but because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.”

Life can hand out legitimate difficulties-- grief, sadness, hardship, sickness. But it's important to take a step back and make sure a negative attitude isn't just a habit of thought. Clinging to a defeatist gloom n' doom outlook can be a way of insulating against life. After all, something bad can't catch us off guard if we're expecting it, right? On the other hand, living like the sky is falling sure can rob us of a lot of joy and of a happier, healthier relationship with life and people.




25 comments:

  1. Hey, J,

    Great post. You, probably more than anyone, know some of the hardships I've faced over these...crap, many years. Yes, the days did have me "bracing" for what lay ahead, and I became acclimated to the situation

    Not to say I liked it, but it became rote. And I suffered from the "fight, flight, or conserve" syndrome, fighting the battles I could, running from those I couldn't (ack!) until finally, worn and battered, I had to stop and conserve.

    The power of positive thinking (and I will check out the link--thanks) takes a new mindset (at least for me) to get out of that negative rote. I have to consciously stop the negative train of thought as it's happening and think of something positive. And hey, it's working!

    Lots of changes planned for 2015, and these changes will erase many old tapes I've allowed to play for way too long. I'm grateful you've been there to listen to me whine. Have you noticed it's lessened? Ha.

    Again, wonderful article.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

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    1. Mike, you said this so well. And I know you STILL have a lot of tough life stuff on your plate. The last two years definitely taught me that life will sling mud. I'm just enjoying the reprieve and want to make sure I'm not missing it because I'm anticipating the worse! I'm so glad you have a couple positives in your life now to balance it for you!

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  2. Five years ago I would not have understood what you are talking about here, but I sure do now. I have only recently come out of 3 years of yuck and the habit of worry and dread had become a part of my night time and morning time train of thought too. So weird huh? Why do we actually LOOK for the problems?
    But we are in a NEW place in our lives now and must build new and healthy habits Julie. Your post shows that you are doing that and it is a lovely thing to watch. Blessings on many more luxurious mornings! Susie

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    1. Susie, sorry you can relate! I wish life's ick could be avoided. I know life will be tough, but as you said, I just don't want to be looking for the worse when it's not there. Life without ick can be fleeting and precious. I want to savor it!

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  3. An extremely important post today, Julie! Another victory story for you! I know your words will help someone today.

    I agree whole-heartedly with your observations. We can indeed become accustomed to negativity. I've known families whose lives are so full of drama that it becomes a driving force. What a terrible waste of time! It eats their lives away.

    I've learned over the years to watch what I feed on. I watch very little television. I read news headlines only, just so I can keep up and not bury my head in the sand. I pay no attention to what the media says about what someone else said about what someone else said about what... ad infinitum.

    My mother used to say, "Don't go looking for trouble. You'll find it if you do." She was one wise woman.

    Sending blessings from here on the farm where I've already had to scrub the dog. (He had a little encounter with a skunk around 6 a.m.!) All is well, just as it is where you are.

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    1. Mary Ann, now that I'm pulling my nose above the water line, I can't wait to get back into reading some of my favorite blogs-- I need to find out how those donkeys are doing! :)

      Yes, in much the same way negativity can be a habit, I think living in drama can also be a habit. Sometimes it can't be avoided, but a lot of times we become codependent on it-- it begins to be the "normal" we know. Anything else is scary.

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  4. Very positive post, Julie. Sometimes when we dig deep, we do realize we are our own stumbling blocks. Troubles will come, but how long do we wish for them to stay is up to us.

    The quotes you inserted are fitting for the piece.

    Glad I came here today. I kept searching for you and just found this blog.

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    1. Hi Peaches-- thank you! I dropped my other blog when life started its avalanche, but am keeping this one. Not sure where I'm at with my writing these days, but wanting to keep my toes in the water, so to speak. I'm glad you stopped by. As I said to Mary Ann above, I am looking forward to returning visits now that life isn't bombarding me so heavily!

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  5. I'm glad your life has smoothed out. Now the positives can become your new habits. Have a great day.

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    1. Thanks-- and congratulations on your book!

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  6. I think after going through so many trials, we tend to take on a PTSD reaction bracing ourselves for what's next when it could be a perfectly wonderful day. We all have our Eeyore days from time to time. Enjoy the upswing. :)

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    1. You know, funny you should mention this. I gave the thought of PTSD a little consideration-- there are some similarities, but I hesitate, at least in my case and what I experienced, to label it as such. But it surely gives me a better inkling and sense of compassion for what people who experience trauma on that level must go through.

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  7. I'm so glad to see you writing again. That in its own is a good transition. Yeah. Think of VW buses and many a road trip.

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    1. Travelling is still my preferred method of "flight" behavior! Yeah, feels good to be playing with words again but without all the "I AM A WRITER" bravado and pressure! Thanks, Mac.

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  8. I'm glad you're back, and hope the positive improvements continue! Love the Tigger quote.

    I don't think we have to have major issues to fall into the negativity black hole. Hormones and the normal insecurities of parenthood seem to be adequate :p I've struggled a bit lately, and trying to note that my life is actually quite good, even thinking about 3 friends whose lives have fallen apart lately, doesn't seem to stop me. I think you are totally right about the Eeyore snugglies.

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    1. Ugh-- I'm glad I'm not alone in this habit pit I can fall into so easily. Not that I anticipate the worse (tut tut it's raining) but I do realize it's rarely all sunshine and roses-- stuff happens. It makes the chapter I'm in now even sweeter.

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  9. Julie, it is great to learn you are blogging again. I have always enjoyed your blog. What an inspirational post. I went through my own crisis year in 2012 and 2013 when my marriage broke up. While I was shell shocked I tried to focus on taking care of my mental and physical health and staying positive. I came out on the other side as a stronger person--and a better writer. I wish you all the best in your journey.

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    1. Chris, you bring up a great point about taking care of ourselves. Maybe I'll work on that concept for another post. One of the first things I did after I move was find a church (important for me) and find a fitness center and try to get myself back in shape. Both helped feed me. Thanks for sharing with me too-- I wish you the best as well!

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  10. This is more profound than my brain can process after a 13-hour workday, but your logic and awareness is impressive. There's wisdom to be found here, so I must revisit this in the days to come. Contentment is a most excellent place to dwell.

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    1. Jeff, doesn't take away from the legitimate sadness that life can dish out, as I know you understand, sadly, all too well. But, at least for me, it nudges me from a habitual pattern of thought.

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  11. I'm glad to see you're blogging again, Julie. I am constantly battling my habit of negativity, for years it was my comfort zone and best buddy! In fact I couldn't help but laugh at your worry about how fleeting contentment could be - that is so me. Or was me, in the past few years I've finally made strides in learning to appreciate and enjoy what I have.

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    1. Hi Julie, oh I'm so glad someone can relate to my weirdness! Good grief it can be such an insidious habit to cuddle with! Like you, I'm trying to adjust my mindset. Go us!

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  12. Julie, you've been through so much - no wonder it has become habit. But time to shake that negative habit of negative thinking. You can do it!

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    1. Hi Alex, I can-- the "renewing of my mind" ;)

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  13. Jules,

    I didn't read these out of order but I am commenting out of order. Before I make my last cheesy 80s video recommendation, you need to know the backstory of this song. The songwriter,Ivan Doroschuk, was kicked out of a dance club because he was doing a dance called the pogo. It is just jumping up and down to the music. The club manager said that his dancing was unsafe and could hurt someone. He got his revenge later because everyone was doing this dance in clubs all around the world.

    His words inspired a generation of people like me because we can be anyone we choose to be. I bet they still inspire you.

    "Ah we can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind

    Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance

    Well they're are no friends of mine"

    Here is to friends who dare to dance when life tells us to stand still!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nM4okRvCg2g

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