Do you ever get stuck in a spiral of crappy thoughts?
When my skin was at it’s worst, it usually started with something like, “I look awful.” Then it would wind round and round with, “I always look awful. I’m always going to look awful. No one will ever think I’m attractive. I need to fix this, but I can’t. I hate this. I hate myself. I’m never going to have what I want. I’m never going to be what I want. It’s so unfair.”
Round and round I would go with one crap thought after another. Does this sound familiar?
Once it gets going, it seems impossible to stop, doesn’t it? The momentum of negative thoughts sweep you up, and you just can’t help yourself from thinking the worst. It’s as if the thoughts think you, not the other way around.
Forget positive thinking. Once this ball gets rolling, trying to throw in a thought like, “I’m a beautiful human being” is like trying to jump on a merry go round that’s already going 100 miles per hour. It’s just going to come flying back out.
I dealt with acne for 15 years, and now help others heal their skin. So the spiral I’m most familiar with is acne. I know in great detail how it can affect your self worth. But it doesn’t matter what your “thing” is, whether it’s skin, weight or other body issues, aging, it’s all the same.
It starts with noticing something less than perfect about yourself, snowballs into something worse, and usually it ends in tears and tissues. Once that merry go round gets spinning, if you do not make the effort to stop it, you have no choice but to ride it out until it runs out of steam. (Which usually looks like you passing out in emotional exhaustion.)
So, how do you do that? How do you stop the cycle before it consumes you? One of the best exercises I give my clients is what I call the Etch-A-Sketch exercise. You, quite literally, shake yourself out of it.
It goes like this:
Step 1 – Notice you’re on a ride you don’t like
Recognizing that you’re thinking these crummy thoughts is the first step. It seems funny that we wouldn’t be aware of what we’re thinking, but honestly, if this is a pattern for you, it’s on autopilot. Those thoughts practically think themselves and you’re just along for the ride.
When you notice you’re feeling bad about your skin, or your weight, or whatever your thing may be, notice that. Notice, “I don’t like thinking these thoughts.”
Step 2 – Tell yourself to stop
I mean this. Say it right out loud. “Stop. This isn’t helping.” Say it 20 times if you have to. Eventually, you’ll listen.
Step 3 – Shake the Etch A Sketch
This is the real key. After telling yourself to stop, do something, anything, physical. Jump up and down. Shake your whole body. Run a lap around the kitchen island. Flail your arms around. Yell. Make funny noises while making funny faces. I’m serious about this. Anything will do, but the weirder, bigger, and more potentially awkward if someone were to see you, the better.
Why am I making you do all this weird stuff? Think of an Etch-A-Sketch. You need to shake up the mental picture your brain keeps drawing. Our minds love patterns and the brain loves putting things on autopilot. Your brain has put your negative thought pattern on cruise control. Throw it an obstacle. Shake it out of its pattern so it stops reaching the same conclusions.
Step 4 – Seal the deal
Once you’ve shaken yourself out of it, go do something different than what you were doing when the thoughts got started. If you can, go do it somewhere else. If you were on your computer in the bedroom, go to the kitchen and do the dishes. If you were in your living room, go to the bed room. Get out of the house and run errands. Better yet, go help someone. Help your kid with his homework. Go play with the dog.
This distraction can be enough to give you relief and prevent you from getting sucked back into the vortex of negative thoughts. And often, that’s all we need.
Will this process make you feel all better about your problem? No. But it’s going to make you stop thinking about it so much. And that’s the first step. This mental reset helps train your brain to look for a way out of the crappy thought merry-go-round, instead of making it go faster. This helps give you a clean slate. Once you’re off the ride, then you can bring those positive thoughts into the picture, where they can actually do some good. The more you do this, the better. Do it as often as necessary until the negative thoughts become more manageable.
Now, make a plan. What Etch A Sketch move are you going to try the next time you’re stuck in the spiral of mental mumbo jumbo? I would love to hear. Leave me a comment and tell me about it. Or let me know if you want to talk about it one on one.
Until next time.