Rehab can be a safe place to explore negative emotions and fears, but once you get out on your own, those negative emotions can become dragons. You’ve heard the suggestions to focus on positive thoughts, to take baby steps, to take good care of yourself physically. But how? It seems simple in principle, but how do we apply it in practice?
Sometimes positive thoughts are elusive and fleeting. How can we capture them and hold on and give them power when the negative thoughts are so much easier and so familiar? Even when we know negative thinking can lead to all sorts of problems, it becomes a habit that’s difficult to change. While any bad habit is hard to break, negative thinking is especially difficult because it becomes so automatic it’s nearly subconscious and because you can do it anytime, anywhere.
There are some surprisingly simple ways to trick your mind, to actually distract yourself from those negative dragons. The goal is to keep your mind busy. Like any habit, negative thinking is acquired over time and by repetition. The only way to replace it with positive thinking is also over time and by repetition. If you pick a generic mantra such as, “I am a success,” and keep repeating that, but don’t really feel it and believe it, it won’t work. No matter how many times you tell yourself “I am a success,” if emotionally you feel it’s not true, it won’t have any power. And when you realize it isn’t working, it will reinforce the deeper entrenched belief that “I’m a failure.” When you say those two opposing statements to yourself, which one feels more true? The media portrays “success” as rich and famous. If I’m not rich and famous, then I must be a failure. It just seems easier to believe the negative.
But it’s not all black and white. On any list of the rich and famous you’ll find many who ought to be in rehab anyway. As you read this, you are likely farther along your successful recovery path than they are, so start by congratulating yourself on this success.
Where else can you find new habits of positive thinking? Some are much less complicated than you might imagine. One of my favorites is to memorize a song. Simple, right?
Pick a song with upbeat lyrics. Everyone’s taste in music is unique, so go through your list of favorite songs and pick one that is not depressing or negative and really listen to the lyrics. It helps if you can print them out and carry the paper with you. Glance at it throughout the day and keep repeating each verse until you know the whole thing.
This will help accomplish your goal in two ways. One, while you are working on memorizing the lyrics you will not be thinking negative thoughts. It’s not possible. Two, once you have it memorized it can be that song you have stuck in your head, except it’s not irritating, it’s encouraging. It puts a bounce in your step. People won’t know why you are walking around so lightly, like you are almost dancing, unless of course you actually sing out loud while you walk.
Also, you won’t find yourself arguing whether or not the song is true, like the “I am a success” mantra. A song is simply a distraction. Think of it as a cast. If you break your arm, a cast will hold it steady while the healing takes place. Keeping your mind occupied with memorizing something is like that; it holds your brain steady while the wounds of negative patterns can heal.
Music has an amazing power to aid in memory. Why do you think we learn the ABC’s by a song? You will never forget them. Once you know your positive song, make it a point to practice it at least once a day, more frequently if negative thoughts start to creep in.
If you can’t think of any good songs, go with something traditional like, “If I Had a Hammer,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “This Land is Your Land,” or something modern like “Happy.” Spiritual songs add another dimension and that can increase the level of power to heal.
Memorizing anything will fill your mind and keep it occupied, and learning new things can help your confidence level too, even if it’s only things you’ll need to know for trivia games. Try all 50 states. It helps if you do it in alphabetical order. A trick to doing this is to first learn how many states there are in each letter, there are four that start with the letter A, can you think of them? There are none that start with B, and there are three C’s. One each of D,F, and G and before you know it, you’ve just memorized 20% of the states. Or try learning the alphabet backwards. Try the top ten songs on the charts the year you were born. (Caution: Don’t do this if you’re feeling old. I checked mine and they included songs from Del Shannon and Roy Orbison.) For a serious intellectual challenge, try the Periodic Table of Elements. The object is to keep your mind busy so you won’t allow those negative dragons to run wild.
Taking care of yourself physically can be a challenge as well, but music can help there too. When you are home alone, put on some motivational music and dance around the house while you’re cleaning. You’ll get a little workout and your home will benefit too.
Sometimes the best method of slaying negative dragons is to ignore them for a little while. Some problems don’t go away by ignoring them, like mowing the lawn or washing dishes, but negative thinking can really be overthrown by ignoring it. When negative thoughts do creep back, as they will from time to time, you will find they are smaller and less powerful than you remembered. Then you can get back to humming your happy tune.