Negative thoughts are like mental muggers. All it takes is one slight turn down an alley—maybe you make a mistake, or you think about trying something new, or doing something you’ve always wanted to do, like writing. Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, a very nasty, negative voice will attack:
That was a dumb mistake. Better be careful or you’ll get fired. Then what? Catastrophe!
You, a writer? That’s ridiculous. You’ve never written before. You’ll fail and look stupid.
Yeah, that donut was delicious… That’s five more pounds you can add to the weight you should lose.
And on, and on.
Sometimes these negative thoughts came from other people when we were growing up. I recently saw an interview with S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders. That book celebrates its 50th anniversary in print this month, and since its initial publication has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. Yet Hinton’s teacher gave her a D in creative writing—the very same semester she began writing The Outsiders.
So much for other people’s opinions of what we can and can’t do.
And so much for the opinion in our heads. That nay-saying voice in your mind is fear, and it’s actually trying to protect you from harm. At the time these thoughts come into your mind, they feel like they’re not protecting you from harm as much as causing it.
There are ways to work with fear (read this to find out how), but in the moment a fear-based thought comes, there are three great Yoga Tools to deal with them on the spot:
- Make a Maitri List. Maitri is kindness and compassion. We never know when negative thoughts will arise, and when they do, it’s hard to switch the thoughts to something positive. So ahead of time, I like to start my day with a Maitri List of 5 things I value about myself. The list can be things like I’m a loyal friend, I take good care of our cats, I made the bed this morning (small victories count), I’m a good tipper, I’m on time, and other things. Be generous in your praise.
- Use your powers of Svadhyaya. The Yoga Tool of Svadhyaya is self-study. Nobody knows you better than you do (except the Universe, or Spirit, or whatever you like to call your higher power). Yet there are things about ourselves we may not realize. By taking pen in hand and putting it to paper, we can experience the power of writing. A kind of magic takes over; we may write things about ourselves we didn’t realize. Don’t just think about your Maitri List and hope you remember it when negativity strikes. Practice Svadhyaya, self-study, through writing your list.
- Engage in Pratipaksha Bhavana. This tool is pronounced “pra-ti-PAK-sha bah-vah-nah,” and it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a series of pithy suggestions for life wisdom, Praktipaksha Bhavana is described as swapping out negative thoughts for positive ones. When fear masks itself as sound advice, or your thoughts have a suddenly nasty tone, go to your Maitri List and derail the negativity with this lovely flood of your positive attributes.
With this simple list, and your newfound awareness of where and why negative thoughts occur, you can begin to cultivate a new interior life—one filled with value and appreciation for all that you are, and can be.
May your Monday, and your week, be filled with Maitri.