Does your brain ever send you negative messages? I’m not talking about the Inner Critic. The Inner Critic likes to beat you up for being you. The Negative Brain just likes to whine about what is. For example, the Negative Brain may say, “This day sucks.” The Inner Critic says “this day sucks because you suck.” A very important distinction. Today I’d like to talk about the Negative Brain. Let’s call her Nelly.
I slept late, didn’t have any syrup, and I had appointment that required me to hit Atlanta traffic. Sitting completely still in the traffic, I had to use the bathroom. Then one of those idiot drivers who think they are more important darted in front of me, almost taking off my front end. Nelly sent me a nice negative thought: “You’re having a terrible day.”
My initial response, of course, was to agree and to delineate all the ways my day had not been perfect. After that, my guilt-o-meter reminded me how wonderful I have it, how some people are starving. I let Nelly and my guilt argue for a bit.
I hit the 3rd red light in a row. Nelly threw her hands in the air and screamed, “See, you are having a terrible day.” Nelly invited me to spiral into the wonderful world of woe-is-me. For some reason, I immediately pictured a toddler not getting her way. That made me smile and that made Nelly mad.
One of the ways I used to handle my children was to distract them with games. Why can’t Nelly play a game too?
“Nelly,” I thought (yes, I actually thought these words), “we like words. We like to read. Surely you can come up with a better word than ‘terrible’.”
She jumped into the game – after all, I wasn’t fighting it. Instead, I was giving her full reign to tell me more.
“Horrible,” she said.
“Come on, that’s no better than ‘terrible’.”
“That’s too close to horrible to count. Can you find a four-syllable word?”
After a search inside my grey matter, Nelly excitedly said, “Insufferable.”
“Very nice---” I said but was quickly interrupted.
I smiled at Nelly’s creativity but said, “That’s an impressive word. But, don’t you think you’re being a bit melodramatic.”
Nelly crossed her arms over her chest. “Unproductive,” she said with a self-satisfied grin.
That was a good one because Nelly knows I like to be productive. “Maybe,” I said back. “But I’ve finished the laundry, exercised, fed the dog, canceled that subscription, balanced the checkbook. Can you come up with something that’s more accurate?”
I could feel Nelly looking around for a new word. Finally, I could sense her settle into a satisfying response. “Frustrating, annoying,” she blared at me.
I smiled (the person in the car next to me must have thought I was nuts) and said aloud, “Those are only three-syllables but I think those are perfect choices.”
Nelly wiggled in excitement for the validation.
“But,” I said, “frustrating and annoying are not the same as terrible. So, my helpful Nelly, let’s try to find the right words from now on. Okay?”
She fluffed off in annoyance. She may have left irritated but she left!
She’ll be back. She’s in the corner of my mind looking for reasons to whine right now.
Sometimes I’ll have the wherewithal to stop and play a game to get her diffused and focused more on truth. Sometimes I will accept the invitation to the whoa-is-me party.
Regardless, this worked and therefore I have a nice new strategy. Even if I accomplish nothing else today, I was productive! Take that, Nelly!
Now I’m wondering what other games I could play.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....