On Negative Thoughts and Feelings: Creating Some Space Between You and Your Stuff
Some Thoughts are More Sticky Than Others
Do you ever notice how some thoughts are more sticky than others? Its almost as if you are lost in them, maybe not even realizing you are having them but definitely experiencing them. Maybe they are sticky in the sense that you have them over and over and can’t seem to stop having them. There could certainly be positive and happy thoughts that are sticky but these don’t seem as problematic as the sticky negative thoughts:
I’m a failure.
I’ll always be alone.
Not this again!
I’ll never figure out how to do this right, so why bother?
This is the worst thing ever.
I can't believe I said that!
The problem with sticky negative thoughts is that you can experience them as if they are your actual reality and they can have a significant effect on you. Maybe because of the sticky thoughts you don’t move forward with something you value – you stay home, you avoid trying something new, you revert to some numbing behavior like too much eating or drinking, without even noticing that you are doing it. And you continue to feel stuck.
There are other internal experiences that are sticky. In addition to thoughts, you can have sticky feelings, urges, and memories, too. Think about when you don’t even notice how anxious you feel but begin to mindlessly do something to manage the feeling like eat a quart of ice cream or binge watch a TV show that you aren't even all that into. Or you play a difficult memory over and over in your head like video on an endless loop. All of these experiences can be sticky and leave you feeling stuck.
Getting Unstuck from Sticky Thoughts, Feelings and Other Internal Experiences
A big way to feel less stuck and start your life moving in a more positive direction is to notice the effect that these sticky thoughts, feelings, urges, etc. have on you. Becoming more mindful, creating a space between the thought and your reaction, is a big step. It isn’t hard but it does take practice to cultivate as a habit. Much like flossing, you may have to practice for some time to get in the habit of noticing your internal experiences.
Here’s a simple but highly effective thing to try for putting some space between you and your sticky internal experiences. Start by taking an inventory of what is going on internally:
I am having the thought that…
I am having the feeling that…
I am having the memory of…
I am having the bodily sensation of…
I am having the urge to…
As you practice this, you may notice that it becomes easier to be aware of what is going on inside. Instead of:
I am a miserable failure.
You will now be saying:
I am having the thought that I am a miserable failure.
Can you see how subtly different yet powerful these few words are? With the first, you are the thought, you are deeply imbedded in the thought – it feels like your reality and how could you possibly change it?
With the second, you have a bit of space, you identify this as a thought, words in your head, neurons firing in your brain, but the thought does not define you or your reality. With practice you may be able to begin to notice these thoughts and other internal experiences as they occur and identify them just as they are, experiences, rather than have them define who you are.