[This is a guest post written by Ashley Palmer]
Nothing is going right. Why is this happening to me? What am I doing wrong? Does anyone care? No one really cares. I’m tired. I’m scared. No one likes me. No one loves me. I hate myself. I don’t want to keep going. It doesn’t matter, I’d be forgotten instantly anyway. Stuck. Unfulfilled. Angry. Upset. Alone. Depressed.
These are the negative thoughts that would cycle through my mind only two short years ago. I wasn’t living the life I thought I’d be living by then, and nothing seemed to be going right. Stuck in a job that I felt I couldn’t leave, stuck in a relationship that wasn’t turning out to be what I thought it would, living in a place I didn’t want to be in, was constantly self-deprecating, and blaming everyone and everything for it. Why did I feel so suffocated? What was driving that feeling?
The feeling that keeps us complacent; the feeling that keeps us stagnant in our lives… fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the known, fear of change, fear of not changing, fear of being judged by friends, family, and strangers. This feeling of fear, it cripples us. But, why?
Because we allow our minds to control us. Fear is irrational. It has never helped anyone, yet it controls and sustains so many people. Fear is the spark that leads to worry, and worrying is the brush that ignites within seconds and causes a wildfire of negative thoughts to tear through our minds. Everyone has different fears that are unique to them, but the ways in which people are affected are much the same. For me, I was scared to change major areas of my life because I felt that I would be judged by my friends and family and I was fearful of how they would react and what they would say. I allowed my thoughts to run away from me. For hours, I would run through different scenarios for all types of situations that would likely never occur, and this habit of negative thinking kept me from living the life that I wanted. It kept from living in the now. Seemingly bad things would happen, much of the time in sequence, and I would always think, “Why are all of these things happening to me?” I expected the worst and the worst would happen. I expected nothing and nothing would occur. I had hopes and desires and wants and needs that remained unfulfilled because I had a constant reel of negative thoughts running through my head at all times.
I had become conditioned from a young age to think like this. Surrounded by people that thought and acted negatively, I had developed the same bad habits that my own parents had exhibited. They were unhappy in their own lives and seemed to not take responsibility for any of it, so how would I have learned any other way of living? Once I realized the source of my habitually negative thoughts, I knew I had to make a change. But, how? How does one change a habit that had been formed over decades? I knew people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond that seemed to be in the same rut that I was in. If they hadn’t figured it out, what made me think that I could? Was this just what life was… a series of unfortunate occurrences, with a few good moments sprinkled in, and not living a life where I was fully happy? What was happy?
I knew I had to do something. And I figured out the source.
My own mind.
The brain is a powerful thing. It controls everything that occurs in our bodies, both consciously and subconsciously. Thoughts occur whether we pay attention to them or not, and if you’ve conditioned yourself to follow a particular thought pattern, then it will display itself in both the conscious and subconscious. I realized that in order to change my negative, fearful thinking, I had to essentially re-wire how my brain worked. I knew that I, and I alone, held the power to control my thoughts. I didn’t want to rely on medications, like anti-depressants, to control this process. I felt that would be putting a band-aid on an issue that would ultimately never go away if that was the direction that I chose for my development. I knew that it could be done. I’ll never know how I eventually reached this conclusion, but in my heart of hearts, I felt and knew it was the truth. That knowing is what gave me hope for my own future.
I finally decided to simply tell my mind to hush. I was very firm with myself. I told myself that I would no longer think a negative thought. I knew that I had the control, not my thoughts. Just stop being afraid. What is there to really be afraid of, anyway? Most fears are created in our own minds. If someone doesn’t like me or says or thinks a particular way about me, why is that my problem? That’s ultimately their own issue, and they are likely projecting their own insecurities onto me. This is easier said than done, of course. I began to train my brain to turn toward more task oriented thoughts whenever I felt anything negative creep in, such as “What do I need at the grocery store?” or “What cleaning do I have to get done?”- Simple lists and nothing more. Anything to occupy my brain other than my typical thoughts of fear and self loathing. I also made a point to notice something beautiful in every day to be grateful for, no matter how small.; the clouds in the sky, the trees on my way to work, the rain streaming down my windows- anything. But, that’s a topic for another day.
None of this was an easy task. It took lots of hard work and lots of time. But, over the following days, weeks and months it became easier, and eventually the negative thoughts became less and less. My veil of fear began to fall, and I was able to face many of the changes that I had desired for so long. Much like diligently practicing an instrument, over time I became better at controlling my thoughts and soon it became second nature. After facing my fears- though it was a challenge to have lived through- I look back now and know it was all for the best. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
At no point before I had started this process had I ever thought to myself “I am going to be a positive person someday” because I didn’t even know what that meant. That seemed impossible for me. Though I have done much to get to where I am today, this first step of telling my mind to stop and holding myself accountable is what set everything in motion. It was the initial push that started the momentum that allowed me to continue the process of working on myself. The changes were not seen in the day to day, but it was over time that I could reflect and notice the progress I had made. In a world where we have instant gratification literally at our fingertips, it’s difficult for us to see things not happening quickly and we often become discouraged because of this. Have patience with yourself. Know that it is a process that takes time. Know that it can be done and it will be. The person I was two years ago would never recognize the person I am today- she would not think this was something attainable and she may think that I was faking it. I am so glad to have gained the perspective I currently have. To know where my mind was, to know that I made the conscious decision to do something about it, to know I held myself (and no one else) responsible for my own thoughts and to have put in the hard work and effort to make the changes that needed to be made in order to start the life that I wanted to live; to know all of this is priceless and I am forever grateful for my experiences.
This is not an impossible feat, I promise you. I truly believe this is attainable for everyone; to calm and control your mind. Have the hope within yourself. Know that you have the control. Be willing to take the first step to tell your mind to hush.
~ Ashley Palmer, November 2014