When people talk about addiction, they’re usually referring to alcohol and drugs; but negative patterns of thinking also can become a self-sabotaging habit. Often we don’t even realize when that happens to us because there are so many negative influences in today’s world—sensational news programs, gory movies and TV shows, overblown political rhetoric, and nasty gossip of both the real-life and cyber varieties. If we start believing that’s just how the world is, then we get mistrustful and anxious. That can go on for years, without it ever occurring to us that we could simply change the channel and find a more pleasant group of friends. Before we know it, there’s a huge heap of persistent negative thought loops stuck on auto-replay in the back of our consciousness, and we have no idea how to turn them off.

I have to admit I’ve got some of my own negative thought loops that I haven’t been able to banish. Even though I consciously know they’re a total waste of brain space and are harmful to both mood and health, they just keep popping up anyway. So, instead of making excuses and telling myself everybody has a few negative thoughts and it’s no big deal, I’ve decided to treat them like the damaging addiction they are. This post is the first in what will be a monthly series of virtual 12-step meetings for recovering negativoholics. Every month I’ll reflect on the next step in the series and how it relates to negative thinking. Let’s get started with the first:

(What to do? Well, introduce myself, right?) Hi everybody, I’m Meg and I am a negativoholic.

(People smile and wave to me) Hi Meg!

(I look around, feeling reassured by all the friendly faces) I’m here today for the purpose of being honest with myself. The first step in the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous program is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” These are strong words, and that’s the whole point—they don’t leave any space for pretending that maybe it’s not much of a problem after all. Admitting that these words really do fit isn’t easy. Powerless and unmanageable, hey, that can’t be me, can it?

Well, yeah. Negative thinking can seriously mess with a person’s mind. Like alcohol or drugs, it’s an escape from reality. When we ruminate about all the bad things other people did to us, then we don’t have to think about whether we might have done something wrong ourselves. And we don’t have to take responsibility for fixing the situation either; we can just decide that the other person (or political faction, or whatever) is so evil and ignorant that there’s nothing constructive to be done. That leaves us free to yell at them or, at the least, to daydream about how we’d like to vanquish the wicked enemy, thus getting our regular fix of melodrama.

And as with substance abuse, negative thought loops become less pleasant as time goes on. At first it may be satisfying to fantasize about what we’d like to tell a bully or jerk; but if we’re halfway sensible, then we know it would only make matters worse. So either we stew in silence, or we whine to our friends and play the poor mistreated victim role to get their sympathy. If the latter, our friends will surely get sick of hearing about it. Either way, we end up with a pointless thought loop that degenerates into nothing more than our inner child repeatedly having a tantrum, along the lines of “So-and-So was mean to me 10 years ago. Wah.” By then, maybe it has become too embarrassing to even mention to anyone, but it still won’t go away.

Another consequence of becoming addicted to negative thinking is that—again, like substance abuse—there are many ways it can damage our mental and physical health. Frequent negative thinking can easily lead to depression and anxiety, which in turn are likely to cause physical symptoms such as headaches, sleeping poorly, and many other health problems we may not even realize are associated with our high stress levels. The modern world already has far too many sources of unavoidable stress; we certainly don’t need to pile on more of it by letting negativity fester.

In short, when persistent patterns of negative thinking develop, they really are a serious problem and shouldn’t be dismissed as just something that happens.


Click here to read Recovering from Negativity, Step Two.

Since embarking on my personal kindness challenge to visit and comment on a positive blog every day of 2014, I’ve noticed more people being kind to me. For example, when I went to do my grocery shopping Monday afternoon, another driver smiled and waved me into a good space in the parking lot, even though I didn’t get there first. I often park farther away and do more walking because it’s healthier; but Monday was dark and dreary, in a month that has been full of dreary days, and I hadn’t slept well the night before—so a parking space near the door was especially welcome.

Some would say that by being more focused on kindness over the past few weeks, I have been attracting kindness by way of good vibes. Or perhaps those around me were just as kind before, but I didn’t pay enough attention. It’s also possible that I have made small changes to my behavior, without noticing them, which leave other people feeling more cheerful and more inclined toward kindness in my presence. Maybe all three are true! Anyway, I’ve written this post as an expression of my gratitude for having so many kind people in my life, and as a reflection on how kindness multiplies.

Back in December, when I first thought about commenting on a different blog every day for an entire year, the idea seemed pretty intimidating. I worried that I might not find enough up-to-date positive blogs, or that it would feel like an enormous chore after a few weeks, or that it would take so much time I’d never be able to write my own blog posts or get anything else done. I finally went ahead and wrote a post publicly committing myself to do it as a New Year’s resolution, so as to give myself enough accountability that I wouldn’t back out.

Thankfully, none of my overly dramatic worries came to pass. Instead, having regular positive reading material has improved my mood and has left me feeling more confident, both generally and with regard to blogging. With more mental energy, I found myself writing posts more quickly, and I didn’t feel as if either writing or reading took up much of my time. As for finding new blogs to visit, when I mentioned that I was looking for positive sites, other bloggers were glad to help out by recommending some of their favorites. Although I know that most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, I’m feeling good about mine so far, and I’d like to thank the kind bloggers I have met so far. You all rock!

January 12, 2014 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

One of the ways we shape our lives is with self-talk. Because the subconscious mind is very suggestible, what we say to ourselves on a regular basis ends up becoming part of the world as we perceive it. By affirming that we are capable of dealing with life’s challenges, we gain more determination to slog on through the hard times.

But like anything else, affirmations can be taken to excess and can have unforeseen consequences. Several years ago, when I wanted to reassure myself that I could cope with difficult situations, I started saying to myself, “I am tough.” I liked how the word sounded—strong, determined, a fearless warrior kicking the world’s butt. I acted like things didn’t bother me, and I got compliments on my toughness. What I didn’t take into account was that by being “tough,” I was building a hard, weighty shell like an emotional suit of armor, which rarely came off but stayed with me wherever I went. Clank, clank.

The word “tough” has many connotations that can be less than ideal when describing oneself. Tough meat, tough as old shoe leather, tough as nails, a tough old bird. Even the way the word comes off the tongue sounds almost like spitting. The idea of toughness, in Western culture, sets up an adversarial relationship—one strong person fighting heroically against the big bad world. It creates a mindset that’s primed to see conflict and drama regardless of whether there is any reason for it.

Even in the natural world, toughness isn’t necessarily best for survival. Large trees such as oaks have tough, hard trunks and branches that don’t move much in the wind. Other trees with slim, flexible branches such as willows get whipped all around by a storm, while an oak might just drop a few acorns. But in extreme weather, a willow has a better chance of survival. A powerful windstorm a few years ago blew down oaks and other strong trees all over my neighborhood, leaving willows intact.

So I’ve decided that from now on, I am going to be resilient like a willow, instead of tough. Resilient is a soft word, sibilant, gentle, whispering like a breeze through tall grass at dawn. A resilient person is one who finds constructive ways to deal with a challenging situation, looking upon it as an opportunity for growth and discovery, rather than as a foe to be conquered. Back when I was determined to be tough, I wouldn’t have written a blog post like this because I’d have felt uncomfortable showing that I had vulnerability. In the depths of my mind, I’d have worried that an enemy might be lurking out there in cyberspace, waiting to pounce as soon as I let something about myself slip. Put another way, being tough made me fearful. So I’m through with it.

Sometimes I still catch myself saying, just by rote, that I am tough. When that happens, I take a moment to shift my train of thought and instead tell myself that I am resilient. After a while—maybe a few weeks, maybe a month or two—this affirmation will become a habit and will feel natural. To reinforce the idea of growth and resilience, I bought a green sweater in the after-Christmas sales. It’s soft and bright like new spring grass. I cleaned out my closet and gave some old sweaters, which had been washed so much that the cotton felt stiff, to a thrift store. No more hard armor for me.

When I woke up this morning, there was a howling arctic wind making the house rattle. The temperature, already bitterly cold, was forecast to drop all through the day. Every now and again there was a sudden CRASH! out on the deck as the wind shook some icicles loose.

I opened the shades to let in the morning light as I usually do, but there wasn’t much of it to be seen. In fact, it was so dark that it didn’t even look like morning. If there hadn’t been multiple clocks in the house to confirm the time, I might easily have thought that I got up a few hours before dawn by mistake. But nope, it really was morning, and time to get about my workday.

My husband, on his way to the office after a two-week vacation, told me he couldn’t believe I had opened the shades on a morning like this. Trying to sound cheerful, I said it looked like the sun might be coming out a little, and I pointed to a feeble little ray that had almost made its way through the thick clouds. He just shook his head, got his coffee, and headed out to work.

I have a suncatcher in the window of my study—an angel with a crystal teardrop hanging beneath it. On sunny days it fills the room with tiny rainbows. On a day like this, however, the poor little angel couldn’t do much but sit there reflecting the gray sky.

window angel

I took a picture with my phone and attached it to a text message to a friend on the West Coast, telling her that the angel looked like it needed some sunlight as much as I did. She sent me a cheerful reply with a smiley at the end, telling me how much she loved the photo and that she’s always happy to see snow because there is so little of it where her family lives.

“You can have as much of mine as you want,” I told her; but by then, I wasn’t really complaining. Her message brought back pleasant memories of visiting my grandparents in Connecticut as a child, and how exciting it was to see snowflakes falling. On this gray day, it was a welcome reminder that how much we enjoy our lives has a lot to do with perspective.