Shut the door to negative thoughts
When you close the door of your mind to negative thoughts, the door of opportunity opens to you.
At MRC, we say those words alot. Not only to our clients, but to ourselves, too. Weekly, daily, sometimes even more than once a day - you could say that these words are a mantra of sorts. Why these words and why are they so relevant? Well, for starters, they seem to be able to find a place to fit in nearly everything you are thinking about, doing, planning, or even things that you may be struggling to solve. This week, a client shared with us that this mantra found them in a place where they were (once again!) restarting an exercise routine after a several week hiatus. And it got us to thinking that we, as fallible humans, can often fall into these repeated patterns of "start" and "stop". With exercise for example, many us us find that we can do it for awhile - we'll love it and the benefits that come with it (how wonderful you feel and how much it's helping your physical, mental, and emotional health), but eventually something in our environment can knock us off track. Once we get out of that routine we've established, it can be difficult sometimes to "get back on track."
These moments when we get off track (whether inside or outside our control) are prime opportunities for the door to negative thoughts to come ajar - making it easier for us to step into it and fill our space with thoughts of "I don't have time" or "I'll do it tonight (and tonight turns into tomorrow)" or "the weather isn't right outside" or "I'm just not feeling 100% up to it" and any other innocent enough sounding thoughts and justifications we have for not jumping back into a healthy routine. While we may feel that these procrastinating thoughts are valid (and perhaps it's true that you truly didn't have time one day), what they can end up adding up to is a resistance to self-care via this "negative thought door" being allowed to open wider and wider. And then come the thoughts of "I'm a failure" or "I'm not good enough" or "I'm not fast enough" or "I'm not strong enough" begin to find their way through that same negative thought door. And before we know it, these negative thoughts are now impacting other areas of our life, such as following a healthy diet, abstaining from an unhealthy habit, or skipping self-care routines.
So, what do we do about it? At the simplest level, the answer is to close the door to negative thinking. And believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to counteract negative thinking is with positive thinking. That's right, sometimes all it takes is a very intentional shift of perspective - changing "I can't" or "I'm not" to "I can" and "I am". Today is a new day, and with every new day is a new chance to make positive steps towards a better you (whether that means stronger, healthier, happier - you get to choose what makes you feel better and be better than the day before). Not sure where to get the ball rolling on positive thinking and reversal of negative thoughts and self talk? Our two best pieces of advice:
Think about the long-term benefits of positive lifesyle choices rather than the short term gains of skipping those choices
Focus on progress over perfection
Let's apply these two things to our client who found herself restarting her exercise routine. Our client can help shut the door to negative thinking by focusing on how good she feels when she exercises or how exciting it is to hit a new PR walking. Manifest those feelings of accomplishment and let them drive you to keep moving forward. Maybe one of the reasons our client stopped exercising regularly is because "the weather outside was bad" and her routine consists of a walk around her neighborhood or at a nearby park/trail. Focusing on perfection only would lead this client to believe "if I can't do my exact routine, then I have failed." Rarely are things in life hard absolutes and we need to stop framing every goal we have in these black-and-white all-or-nothing terms - this is a trap and the quickest way to open the door to negative thinking wide open! So, stop right there. Your healthy goals are not an all-or-nothing proposition. Most goals are a journey, and journeys have stops and ups and downs and roadblocks and u-turns and fast lanes and slow lanes. Rarely, do we make the same exact amount of progress every single day. So should you, too, be flexible with the different steps and paths that your healthy goals take. If your goals is to walk 2 miles everyday out in the park at 5:30PM, then you do that on days when you can! But on the days when you can't, focus instead on what micro-steps you can still take to make progress towards your goal. Maybe you can't walk from 5:30-6:30PM because you had a call run over. Instead of throwing in the towel and calling the whole thing off, instead take a shorter walk from 6-6:30PM. Or maybe it's a torrential downpour outside...you've already got that 5:30-6:30PM hour set aside; so find other movement you can take indoors - walking up and down stairs, doing a deep clean of your house, organizing your pantry...maybe these aren't exactly the same as your walk, but it's active movement that is benefiting you by supporting your goals and keeping in in an action-oriented mindset! Progress is progress, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem - doing something or anything is far better and supportive to your long term goals than doing nothing at all.
Perhaps you're on a weight loss journey and following a healtheir diet. These same ideas for shutting the door to negative thinking can apply here, too. Each meal is a choice. How healthy you want to be or how closely you're going to "stick to the plan" is up to you. When the temptations of treats arise (a box of donuts in the breakroom, a happy hour cocktail, a bowl of mac and cheese instead of veggies, etc.), start first by thinking about the long-term benefits of healthier eating. Zone in on how good you feel when you put things into your body that are nutrient-dense and less processed. Think of how much more you accomplish with a clear head, increased energy, and a lighter gut. Don't overlook the long-term benefits of healthy choices for short-term gratification. Is the donut right now worth the stomach ache, the blood sugar spikes, or the cravings that follow it? We can assure you that it is not, but we also understand that temptation is a powerful thing (so, there's no judgement if you do choose the donut or the margarita or the mac and cheese). On those occassions when temptation is too much to resist, then lean into the second tip - progress not perfection. Let one margarita at dinner be one margarita at an otherwise healthy and "on track" meal! If you get the mac and cheese, then only eat half of it instead of the whole side. While these choices aren't what you would typically consider "victory" on their own, the way you frame them and work them into your other choices can still result in a positive outcome! What may have been four margaritas (all of that sugar and carbs!) is just one. What would normally be an entire side of mac and cheese AND mashed potatoes AND fries, may instead just be half of a side of mac and cheese with a side of steamed broccoli and a salad!
The bottom line: there are silver linings all around you. And opportunities to progress and move forward are abundant. Don't let negative thinking derail you from your healthy goals. When the door to negative thinking starts to swing open, use the power of positive thinking and positive choices to nudge it back closed. Never forget that you are capable and worthy of the success you seek!
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