I’m about to admit something that I've never before shared publicly. When I was writing, I even thought that sharing it would be mildly embarrassing. Being who I am, and what I do to support my patients, family, and friends, you may not believe this…but it’s true.
I’m a pessimist.
My natural tendency is to see the cup half empty. See the problems instead of the solutions. Focus on the negative instead of the positive. For 40 years, I faked it. I convinced myself and others that I was an optimist because I thought having a more doubtful attitude was wrong and “bad.” Can anyone else relate?
Well guess what? It’s NOT bad!
I think it’s a bit human nature. It’s innate in our nervous systems to see the fears, threats, and risks. It’s a means to keep us on alert and maintain our safety. Yet, while our primitive brains are on the lookout to protect us and keep us safe, they don’t necessarily keep us happy. It can take constant, dedicated effort to work against the part of us that only sees the dangers.
I know I’ve worked hard to stifle this natural part of me because we’ve all been told how important it is to stay positive. I’m sure you’ve heard all the research – affirmative thoughts are more powerful than negative thoughts. Optimists live longer…have greater health... greater wealth… better love lives… they bounce back from adversity stronger and faster…etc.!
But did you know that there’s research out there that also suggests the opposite?! Being too optimistic can lead to overconfidence, causing a lack of action or not taking responsibility when there are potential risks. If you don’t prepare for what could go wrong, you may not be able to prevent it from happening. Pessimism about the future could increase your safety precautions and cause you to take things more seriously; and therefore, be more intentional in creating healthy habits, and thus a longer, healthier life!
So, let’s analyze this age-old question: Is that glass half full, or is it half empty? To me, it’s a matter of perspective. How did the glass start? If it started full, and you drank half of it, (or worse, your spouse drank half of it before giving it to you -which happens in my life frequently, HAHA), then to me, the glass is half empty. If the glass started empty, and someone filled it halfway for you, then the glass is half full. To me, this is an accurate and realistic way of assessing this question. So, that said, we CAN teach ourselves to hold a different perspective in any situation to provide us more happiness, and less negativity. If we choose to!
I have reflected on this realization for the last week, and have come to understand one very important thing - EVERYONE is different. Therefore, different patterns of thinking and acting serve different people differently! Now, this begs another question:
How does negative thinking serve you?
I can give my answers at least. Thinking of the worst case scenario offers me an escape route. A risk management plan. It allows me to see things that could go wrong, or areas in my own life in which I can improve, so that I can develop strategies to excel and continue moving forward while feeling safe, protected and moderately “in control.” I frequently have created conflicts where they didn’t actually exist as a means to have something to work towards. This has often provided me a sense of purpose and strength. I also believe that seeing problems has helped me help others in the work that I do. Identifying issues allows me to become instrumental in overcoming them. Similarly, though, if we are being balanced, we must ask one more question:
How does negative thinking hinder you?
In my experience, thinking negatively has prevented me from truly enjoying moments. It can sometimes disconnect me from others socially and make me feel less confident. Not to mention increasing worry and unnecessary anxiety that is rooted only in “what-ifs.”
In the words of my good friend and colleague Jen Zahari, “it’s all our choice!” There are times that pessimistic outlooks are appropriate and needed. And others where it would disempower you. Likewise, there are situations where optimism may be all that’s required to push through; while others where for certain people, it wouldn’t be natural and could cause more anxiety. Only you can determine what’s best for you in any given moment.
The following are a few of my tips and tricks that Jen has taught me to shift your mindset to one that is more positive…once again, if you WANT to!
1. POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS
· Affirmations are positive statements that we read aloud to ourselves, sometimes in the mirror, with the intention to influence our conscious and subconscious mind’s belief system. Here are some examples:
o “I am physically fit and mentally strong.”
o “I am healthy and confident.”
o “My wealth is growing, expanding, and thriving.”
o “I believe in myself and trust my own wisdom.”
· As a note, I tend to believe that affirmations can be more effective and powerful when we ensure that our subconscious mind is congruent with our conscious statements. Meaning that if we are doing an affirmation of something that we don’t truly believe at the deepest level, it can be more challenging to get that one to “stick.” Not impossible, just may take a bit more work.
· As goal-oriented, ambitious individuals, we can all too often get over-focused on what we can do better, or where we can improve next. In doing so, it’s easy to forget how far we have actually come. Give yourself some daily perspective…you’re growing and learning more every day regardless of what it looks like! Celebrate and acknowledge all wins, no matter how small! I now keep an acknowledgement journal and try to write a few things that I can celebrate about myself/achievements before bed every night! It then becomes an excellent resource for you to affirm YOURSELF in times of doubt and stress.
3. CHANGE YOUR FOCUS!
· Stop dwelling! I can easily let my mind “rabbit-hole” thinking the worst of the worst if I let it. Before you get too far, stop the runaway train and change the direction of your thoughts. Start a new project. Go for a walk. Call a friend. (Especially one that won’t let you sit in your shit!) Drop and do some pushups. Drink some water. Doing something good for your body here can be especially effective, as a healthy body feeds a healthy mind. I know I’m less likely to sit in disempowering self-talk when I’m eating, drinking, and exercising healthfully! Bottom line? Find a method that works for you to distract yourself when you recognize those negative thoughts.
4. SATISFY THAT INNER PESSIMIST!
· Sometimes if it’s hard to simply change our focus, it can be a useful strategy to briefly walk down the “what if” path. To calm your stresses and put your mind at ease that even if the “worst case scenario” were to be true, you’d have a plan and having that set up can shift your mindset alone.
· For example, say your lease is almost up, and your landlord may be selling your property. The uncertainty of your home can cause some well-founded anxiety. But at the end of the day, if you can see the step-by-step process of what things would look like if the situation didn’t go the way you wanted, you can relax knowing you’re “set.”
· Our thoughts can truly impact the quality of our life. There is not better way to create a positive mindset than through expressing gratitude. Tony Robbins says that when we are truly grateful, we can’t simultaneously feel fear or anger. I now begin every day when I wake up with gratitude – before even getting out of bed, I think about and FEEL deeply thankful and happy for all the people and things in my life that bring me joy, fulfillment, and meaning.
o If you have trouble thinking of enough things to be grateful for, consider this: I listened to a YouTube video a few months back on a walk that really hit me. Someone said, “imagine that the only things you’d have in your life tomorrow, are the things that you expressed gratitude for today.” After hearing that, never again will I overlook the smallest things in life.
o I recorded my own brief YouTube video on gratitude at the end of 2020, if you want to check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YsKfeZZuSQ. Of all times, 2020 was an important year to focus on our mindset.
These methods have not always come naturally to me. But with practice, the right focus, and encouragement in place, you can achieve anything you want! I highly recommend connecting with my favorite personal and business coach Jen Zahari for more personalized work to help you thrive! Seriously, check out her books and content! She’s taught me so much, and has been instrumental in my growth and development. It’s truly with her guidance and support that I felt compelled to write this blog and share the information! You can find her at www.jenzahari.com.
Mental/emotional health is incredibly important, so if you want guidance and more specific suggestions to help you overcome your old subconscious beliefs, and negative patterns, please reach out!
Yours in health,
Dr. Christy Matusiak