You know those depressive funks that just seem to happen? The ones where you can’t seem to break out of a loop of negativity and want nothing more than to sit at home and stay there for the next week? I know, I’ve certainly been there.
But here’s how I broke out my funk: using words. The right words.
I know there’s an old saying involving sticks and stones and words doing no harm. But the reality is, words carry an energy and weight. And they can have a negative or positive effect on your daily outlook.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, wrote a book on it: Words Can Change Your Brain. Their research proved that the terms you use or even just think have the power to change your brain:
By using positive words such as love, hope, acceptance or appreciation, you strengthen your cognitive reasoning and activate the motivational centers of your brain.
Conversely, using negative words feeds the brain’s fear center and floods our system with stress-producing hormones. The result? You guessed it: depressive funk.
You see, what you tell yourself all the time is what your brain makes happen. In other words, if you are constantly circulating happy, positive words through your mind, your brain will pick up those vibes.
The Magic of the RAS
There’s actually a part of your brain dedicated to acting as a sort of matchmaker. It spends all day, every day listening to what you’re thinking about and matches your perception of the outside world to those thoughts. This fabulous part of our body is called the Reticulating Activating System (RAS). The RAS filters what trickles through your conscious and subconscious mind. So as instructions from your conscious mind pass through to your subconscious (your name, your car and how you identify yourself), your brain is using those as guideposts to make sense of the world around you. It’s why when you decide to buy a red car, suddenly you’re seeing red cars everywhere.
Change Your Thoughts & Life
What you say verbally and the actions you take first begin as little bubbles of thought in your subconscious. Because the RAS cannot distinguish between real events and actual reality, it tends to believe whatever message you feed it. Which means, whatever you’re thinking becomes your reality as far as your brain is concerned. With repetition, your thought bubbles embed beliefs.
So when you constantly say to yourself “I’m miserable” or “I don’t want to be in this job,” your RAS, which helps make your thoughts a reality, will take up your feelings of misery and a dislike of your current job and give you more of the same. Even when there is an abundance of joy around you, you won’t see it.
Rewrite Negative Scripts
We’re wired to create pro and cons lists. Seek the root cause. Solve problems. We’re constantly focused on identifying what’s not working so we can get it working. But this is counter intuitive to creating change. In order to find joy and opportunity, we have to approach life almost as if we already have them.
It’s not easy because we’re not wired to do it naturally. But you can do it! Here are some tips on being more self-aware and re-framing your negative inner stream:
Be Aware of any self-inflicted negativity. Watch for negative thinking. What are you negative about? Is there a predominant theme? How often does it happen? Is there a certain trigger that brings these thoughts on?
Quantify. Keep track of all the ways in which you bring yourself down. Use a notebook, an index card or an app. By seeing how often and when negative thinking pops into your life, you can be intentional about avoiding the people and situations that prompt it.
Qualify and identify what you want instead. You might know what you don’t want but have no idea of what you do want. In order to set yourself up for a better mood and way of being, you need to be clear on your values and your desires. What does the life you dream of look like?
Reframe. Use the negative self-talk as a prompt to direct yourself to what you want. Tracking your negative thoughts allows you to see themes -- put pen to paper to write down the opposite thoughts. “I will always be broke” becomes “I am financially free.” “I hate my job” becomes “I’m in a career that honors and fulfills me.” Whenever the negative thought pops in, immediately repeat the positive to yourself.
The Power of Repetition
Repetition helps focus your thoughts and actions and propels you toward what you want. You won’t be able to completely shut down the negative committee, but you can catch yourself and ask, “What do I want instead?” This helps you replace any negative script with a positive one.
The RAS is a powerful tool. You can program your mind and choose the exact message you want to send to your subconscious. You can achieve ANY realistic goal if you stop thinking negative thoughts about that goal.
Here are some of my favorite ways to shift your thinking and watch your words.
“I have to…” with “I get to.”
“Struggle” with “opportunity” or “challenge.”
“It’s hard” with “This will get easier” or “I am working on it.”
“Try” with “I am doing my best, I am getting better, and I’m on my way.”
Making this shift takes practice, lots of repetition and patience. The key is to focus on your words and on what you want. Don’t “should yourself.” Show those gremlins you’re the boss! By focusing on those positive words (happiness, joy, amazing, funny), you will notice a much happier you.