Do you ever feel like choices you’ve made led you down the wrong path? Like you took a wrong turn somewhere and cannot find your way back? How do you turn things around when past choices seem less well chosen now then at the time you were making them?
- Start by controlling negative thoughts that threaten to weigh you down.
- Learn to be in the moment.
- We all make mistakes. Practice letting go of the past.
- Beware of comparing yourself to others.
- Remind yourself that every day is a day for new possibilities.
If you read my other posts, you will recognize some recurring themes.
Control negative thoughts
Negative thoughts happen to the best of us. When emotions are involved it might not be easy to control negative thoughts. Have you ever scrolled through Facebook and are struck by a change in mood, a sense of discouragement or sadness? You see that ex-significant other’s post liked by mutual friends, demonstrating their new life without you. A resentful thought may rise with bitterness, disappointment or loneliness. It happens to the best of us.
First of all, acknowledge and recognize what is happening. Practice redirecting these thoughts in a positive direction. Humor can have a positive impact. Find what helps you laugh. Put on your favorite movie or watch funny cat videos. This helps distract and alter negative thoughts. You can train your brain to change direction. Redirecting your thoughts can have a calming effect by giving less energy to negative thoughts.
Because a negative thought or statement can take up to 7 times to replace it with a new positive thought or statement, this takes conscious effort. Start by generating a gratitude list to use for days when negative thoughts are more difficult to find. Some days gratitude may be limited to being thankful for the comfort of a bed, running water, and other life amenities. Practicing this type of thinking will become easier down the road. It can teach your brain to steer down a positive path and avoid getting stuck in the weeds of negativity. Above all, it starts with an active choice that with practice becomes a new habit.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ―Viktor E Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Living in the Moment
Next, stop and be in the present moment. This can be tough when sorrow or disappointment seems to loom. The past cannot be undone. It cannot be changed by dwelling on it. Practice a moment of being in the here and now. Start with breathing long and slow deep breaths. Take a moment to look at this picture. Look at the lighting, count the rocks, and pay attention to detail. Look for where the shadows start and end. Follow the ripples in the water. Before moving to the next paragraph, practice being right here . . . right now.
(The photo above was taken on a path near the Rogue River-Oregon.)
Letting go of the Past
Furthermore, we all make mistakes. The past can be carried beyond conscious awareness. Memories can sneak in when least expected. The color of a shirt, a certain smell, hair color, the sound of a voice, and so much more. When this occurs, it can disrupt logic and be confusing or overwhelming. The irony is that in order to let go of the past, there will be a time to come to terms with the past and make peace. Validate the emotions that come with experiences you carry. Others might say, “You can’t feel like that, it is not logical.” Remember. . . emotions are not always logical.
It is possible to use some logic to control or manage intense emotions. Using a variety of emotional regulation tools such as breathing, self-talk, distraction, etc. can offer relief in moments. If what has “always worked” to manage emotions is no longer working, this may be an indicator that something from within is demanding attention. I encourage you to understand that deeper trauma or grief can be processed in constructive and healthy ways through counseling and support groups. Distractions can only work so long, and understanding deeper issues can lead to substantial healing, recovery, and improved confidence in yourself.
Useful Emotional Regulation Tip
If you are able, physically take one step backwards during frustrating moments. Connecting a physical move to your emotional calming tools will increase your ability to use them in challenging moments. Use the physical step back as a clue to emotionally take a step back. Connect it to slowing down breath, exhaling and inhaling.
Impact of Trauma
If you have trauma in your past, unexpected reminders can be magnified. Sometimes these are called “triggers.” The reminder might carry a stronger meaning connected to your past that creates an automatic emotional response beyond reason. The definition of trauma for this purpose is of any past experience(s) that has significant pain associated with the experience(s). Sometimes people do not recall the specific harmful experience. Survivors of traumatic experiences can carry memories in unexpected ways. If you begin to have intense emotions and do not understand them, it may be time to understand more about how trauma impacts behaviors and emotions. Eventually a part of us wants closure and to sort out pieces we may have ignored. You do not have to do it alone.
Years of watching people recover from grief, conflict, divorce, abuse, domestic violence, etc. has taught me that emotions are far from logical. Yes, we can learn tools to reason with ourselves and understand our own emotions. These tools start with the number one tool of identification and validation of our emotions. This does not mean hold others hostage with emotions. It means your emotions do not get to be denied by others. You can learn to be open and honest and ask for help as you work through underlying issues. It is with support and compassion that healing can occur. If a loved one is unable to be supportive, perhaps a third party/counselor will help. However, do not depend on their participation to get help for yourself. They may refuse for personal reasons, but trust in your awareness that something is calling out from within.
Beware of comparing yourself to others.
Every day is a day for new possibilities
Allow room for a better unknown. Give up thoughts that you are not worthy. Let go of believing you deserve less. Believe that life gets better. You are capable and deserving. Each day breathe in the possibilities.