5 Strategies for Ending the Negative Internal Feedback Loop
You log off your computer after a long day of work and immediately start thinking about your day and all of the things that did not go well or you did wrong. You scanned that document upside down. You hit reply all on that e-mail. You barely managed to stumble through the presentation you spent hours preparing for over the weekend.
By the time you move from your “office space” to your couch, you’ve worked yourself into a funk and vow never to do any of those things again. But the damage is done. For the rest of the night, that’s all you can think about - what a failure you were at work today.
It might seem like this is okay, because you’ve made a conscious decision to do better tomorrow. However, the only thing this downward spiral ensures is that you will be in a bad mood tomorrow morning when you wake up. And then… well you go to work in a bad mood, you’re miserable all day, and then you end your workday, again, thinking about how poorly you handled every situation. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You do worse at your job because you feel worse about your skills and abilities. Your home and work life suffer.
You have to stop. But how?
Override your brain’s negativity bias. Here are five simple, yet powerful strategies.
- Rehearse good news and share it.
Let the first three things out of your mouth at the end of your day be three positive experiences from your day. They don’t have to be big things. For example, my list from yesterday was the following:
- I had a meeting with someone who asked thoughtful questions about my weekend.
- My smoothie filled me up until lunchtime.
- I completed the final round of edits on my new book and workbook.
This simple practice allows you to concentrate on the parts of your day that you genuinely enjoyed and appreciated. It helps retrain your brain to focus on the highlights of your day. As a bonus, it helps roommates and significant others focus on the positive as well. You’re probably not going to respond to a positive story with a negative story. Now, everyone is focused on the joyful parts of their day.
- Share two roses and a thorn.
When you’re sitting at the dinner table, share two “roses” (highlights from the day) and one “thorn” (low points in the day). This allows the people around you to learn about your day, and it also allows you to focus on the parts of your day that you enjoyed. By sharing these with a specific person every day, you keep yourself accountable.
- Break the cycle.
Negative experiences beget negative experiences. The next time someone upsets you with something small (like cutting you off in traffic), start by assuming honorable intent. They would’ve made a different choice if they could have. Then reframe it. I like to assume that anyone who cuts me off has just gotten a call that their wife/sister/cousin/best friend is at the hospital in labor and they are rushing to meet the baby. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but the goal is to recognize the impact of one negative event and then avoid allowing that negative event to ruin the rest of your day.
- Feed the positive.
Keep affirmations, thoughtful notes and gratitudes close to your heart. Keep a folder on your computer, or keep cards and quotes pinned to your desk. These little reminders help you keep positivity at the forefront of your mind, even when your brain wants to drag you down.
- Focus on solving problems.
If you’re caught in the swirl of negative thoughts, focus on solving problems. Use a visual reminder to help your brain shift gears from negativity to problem solving. Make a stop sign and post it on your desk, computer or change your phone screen saver to a stop sign. The stop sign reminds you that you can control your thinking and change the story you are currently telling yourself. Every time a negative thought pops up, look at the stop sign and say, “Stop.” Ask yourself, what would a successful, confident person do right now to solve this the problem? Then do it!
You can override your brain’s negativity bias. It will take commitment and practice, however, the reward is worth it!
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Carson serves as a consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, and the upcoming Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job, her views have been included in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, and The New York Times.