How To Talk Yourself Down Off A Cliff
When I was 25 years old, I never stopped to consider how emotions affected my health. Neither did I consider how they affected the flow of my life, my everyday results, my present, or my future. It never crossed my mind that working against something or someone actually worked against me and the positive result I wanted. I simply didn’t know. Most of us don’t.
Humans go sideways about things. We get upset. Maybe we blow sky sky high. We explode, and say things in the heat of the moment. Maybe we burn a bridge or two or ten. But then what?
In another blog, I wrote about how learning to be an Observer of Yourself is an advantage because it puts you outside your reaction. Creating a little distance between what you do and who you are creates a powerful perspective from which to say, “I can learn a different way.”
After you’ve practiced Observing, you’ve noticed your feelings and what’s going on in your body, you can begin to talk yourself down off the cliff much easier. You can soften where you stand. You can relax a little. In all my years of working with people, learning to soften an opinion, a feeling, or a perspective is one of the most useful skills on the planet. Truly! Most of us are hard on ourselves, and learning how to put a pile of feathers around self-judgment, for instance, is good for anyone’s heart.
So, first we Observe. We notice what happened, and we note our reaction. What comes next?
One word: INTERRUPT! Here are two simple ways:
Distract yourself. You don’t have to fix the negative thought or figure out how to think differently. Just interrupt the thought any way you can. Change it up. If you’re in a conversation that’s not going well, or you’ve hit a wall — just stop! Really! Tell that person you’d like time to think and you’ll give them a call tomorrow. Excuse yourself and go do something else.
If you’re thinking (maybe obsessively) about a conversation from yesterday or a few minutes ago that didn’t go well (what the person said, what you said, what you could have said, what s/he might have said back) do something — anything — that gets you out of your head. Doing something physical works well. Play tennis. Shoot baskets. Sing. Play your guitar. Do jumping jacks. Anything that breaks the loop.
When I was turning around my relationship with Eric, I did exactly what I’m speaking about here. He’s a good guy, a wonderful man, and he’s kind to me and others. There’s nothing wrong with Eric, but I would find reasons to be irritated with him and get myself in a negative loop. As I learned a better way, the negative thought became my friend, because it was a reminder that I was off track and I could change my course, if I cared. And I did care.
In that moment of criticizing him, I did anything that interrupted the pattern. Sometimes I’d make a simple statement silently to myself like “Oh, I see. I’m criticizing.” Or “Wow, this feels bad.” I’d also get up and “shake it off” or do a three second dance, and go get a drink of water.
Soothe yourself. Catch yourself thinking a negative thought, and interrupt it with a thought that is kinder, more generous or more general than what you just thought.
“I’ll figure this out a little later today. I don’t have to deal with this right now.”
“Things always improve, and I know I’ll find my way.”
“Maybe there’s another point of view that’s easier. I trust I can find that.”
“I wonder how I could feel more relaxed about this?”
It may sound strange to say, but negative thoughts can be a positive thing, because they help us clarify. When I experienced an attitude that I didn’t want, it became very clear what I did want. If I was thinking unkindly about Eric, I’d noticed I’d actually prefer to be kind. I mean, who wouldn’t prefer to be kind if that was possible? Or easy?
Instead of justifying my attitude, the negative emotion became a supportive signal that I had a choice. I’d say silently to myself, “Oh, I’m doing that thing I usually do. I have a choice here.”
Paying attention to the connection between what we think and how we feel is one of the smartest practices for anyone who wants to improve their intimate relationship.