Life can be stressful. Life can be chaotic. Life can be hard. The biggest kicker, though, is that sometimes we make life harder on ourselves. By indulging in negative thoughts or memories, prioritizing toxic people, living in the past, we hurt ourselves in the present and delay our happiness in the future. I’ve been working a lot on reshaping how I spend my mental energy. How I talk to myself. What I am spending my time thinking about. Being intentional about catching myself in a negative spiral and changing the game. It’s not always easy. But it’s important work. I’m trying to retrain my brain to think differently. So this week I thought I would share the five things I am working on changing. Take a look:
1. Those Painfully Awkward Moments.
Remember that joke you made in a meeting that didn’t land? Or that answer you gave in class that was definitely wrong? Or that time you thought someone was waving to you but it was actually to someone behind you? Those painfully awkward little moments that your brain likes to recall as you are falling asleep or enjoying some quiet time and now suddenly your heart is racing. Those social blunders that were embarrassing in the moment but that was seven years ago and no one but you remembers them, let alone dwells on them. Even your bigger blunders are probably still only note worthy to you. It’s time to let those go. When your brain starts to remind you, catch yourself and tell your brain that happened years ago and literally no one cares any more. Take the power away from those awkward moments by reminding yourself that it wasn’t as bad as you remember and it is well in the past now.
2. What People From Your Past Are Doing.
I’ll be the first to admit that Facebook stalking is a semi regular event. Social media makes it all too easy to take a passing “hmm I wonder” and turn it into a two hour rabbit hole investigation of what people from my past have been doing. Ex’s, former friends, old coworkers, past roommates, former classmates, all people who are in my past for a reason. And yet, the curiosity gets the better of me every time. It’s natural, though very unhealthy, to look for validation through comparison. But it’s a temporary, fleeting validation that leaves us emptier than we started. It also distracts the focus on your own life. You don’t need to compare your journey, your goals, your accomplishments to anyone to be happy. And, in fact, doing so is hurting your progress. My suggestion? Block those people you find yourself checking in on. That way the next time you are tempted to see what they are up to, you can’t. Eventually you’ll break the habit of even wondering what those people are up to and you won’t be distracted by it any more.
3. Pleasing Everybody.
It’s a cliched lesson, but I think I will spend the rest of my life relearning it. No matter how hard you try, you will never please everyone. There will always be people who take and take and take but never give. There will always be people who are too wrapped up in themselves not noticed anyone else. There will always be people stuck in the comparison game and they will never be happy for you. It’s time to stop worrying about those people. Your life is yours and you have to live it the way you know is best. So keep focusing on your dreams and your goals, keep treating others the way you want to be treated, and when someone shows resentment or expresses grievance over you simply living your life, you now have permission to involve them in your life less. Making time for people who hurt you regularly or openly root against you is silly. It doesn’t matter if they are coworkers, friends you’ve known for years, family, or even romantic partners. Your time is valuable and your mental well being is important. So stop wasting your time trying to please people who can never be won.
4. The Worst Case Scenario Game.
I’ll be honest, I am a fan of this game. Especially when I have a lot of anxiety about a situation or feel a lot of pressure. Sometimes saying your fear out loud can take some of the power away from it. But too much of anything is a bad thing. And I realized recently that I never play the Best Case Scenario Game. My what ifs are always negative. I’m always preparing for the worst, anticipating the worst, assuming the worst. And not only is that way of thinking depressing and unhealthy, it’s exhausting. I find I am always worried, always anxious, depressed far more often. All because I am far too indulgent in my fears rather than focusing on my hopes. I used to justify this way of thinking by saying “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”. But what if by dwelling so much on the worst I make the worst inevitable? What if by spending more time focusing on the best, preparing for the best, even planning for the best, that made the best happen? So now, when I catch myself playing the Worst Case Scenario Game, I make myself stop and think about what the Best Case Scenario could be instead.
5. Where You Should Be in Life at X Age.
Again, comparison is a dangerous habit that pretty much only leads to depression. Just because you aren’t married yet, don’t have kids, haven’t gotten that degree, don’t have that professional title yet, doesn’t mean you are falling behind or failing. School was very structured, and it gave all of us this false illusion that the rest of life would be too. But there is no order of events, no timeline to follow, no progress report, no big moments you need to hit by a certain time. Plenty of people followed “the plan” of getting married young to someone they weren’t actually compatible with, had kids even though they weren’t ready to be a parent, or worked their way up the ladder for a career they didn’t want. Too many people do what they are “supposed” to do without considering if they want to do it. And too many people feel like they are failing at life because they aren’t doing what they are “supposed” to be doing right now. But the most freeing moment in life is when you realize that you get to call the shots for your life and you get to decide what path is right for you.
Why is it so easy for our brains to think negatively, to be stressed or anxious or overwhelmed, to focus on comparisons or the past, but we doing the opposite takes so much work? I’ve been wondering that a lot lately as I’ve been working on intentionally changing my patterns. When did those patterns form, I wonder. And when will they change? It’s hard work, it’s consistent work, but it’s good work. And hopefully it will stop being work someday and start being a way of life.