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How to Break the Cycle of Negativity

Amanda Sollman


Facebook was kind enough to remind me this morning that, two years ago, I packed up my dog and my life and left my beautiful house in Minnesota to move back to Michigan, where my then-fiance (now husband) had already started his new job. As I looked at the pictures, my heart took a dive as it always does with this memory.

Damn, I loved that house.

It was new construction. It had the entertainment set-up. It had the bar. Sure, there were things we would tweak here and there, but overall, it was awesome.

It seems especially awesome in comparison to my current house, which is older, has been lived in before and needs some love. That house in Minnesota just seemed so pretty – and easy – versus what I have now.

And just like that, I'm in a cycle of sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. And that cycle needs to be broken.

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Break the Cycle of Negativity

Over the past few months, Mark has been teaching a concept called 'The Trigger>Result Cycle' and I think it's especially relevant here. Consider this series of questions for a moment:Trigger-Result Cycle.png

  1. What are the triggers in your life that are currently creating negative outcomes?
  2. What immediate thought do you have when those triggers pop up?
  3. How does that make you feel?
  4. What action do you take to address that feeling?
  5. What result do you get by taking that action?

In my situation this morning, seeing those pictures was a definite trigger. I thought, "Man, I miss that house." Which then made me feel sad. Typically, the action I might take is complaining to my husband about how much I miss that house and all the problems with my current house. And then I'd just be more frustrated, more sad.

Not really a great outcome, huh?

But what if you could break that cycle?

Look back up at those five questions and ask yourself, "Which steps would be most easy to change to get a better result?" In my mind, it really comes down to two of them: Action first, Thought second.

Changing How You React

When you're in a negative Trigger>Result Cycle, it can be incredibly hard to get out of. After all, that cycle may have been running on autopilot for a very long time. Sure, in this case my trigger has only been going for a couple of years. But what about things that are more deeply embedded? Think about how you respond to rejection, how you feel when someone is angry at you, the way you react to feeling sad. Chances are those cycles have been around since you were very young – changing the thought or feeling is going to be more difficult.

But the thing you can immediately adjust is your reaction.

Instead of complaining to my husband about how much my new house sucks and how great the old one was, maybe I bring up a great memory from that old house. Or talk about a feature of the house that I loved that we should incorporate into a house we build in the future. Or just let it go entirely and move on with my day. Any of those would change the Result from sad/angry/frustrated/longing to peace/joy/excitement for the future. Much better.

You can do the same thing! Instead of being sucked in to the gossip at work during your break, go outside for a walk. Instead of giving up on sales calls for the day after multiple rejections, go visit that customer that you always enjoy talking to. Instead of complaining to your friends about the annoying things your spouse does, journal a list of all the things you love and respect about them.

It may not be easy, but changing your Action is the best short-term approach to achieving a more positive outcome.

Shifting Your Thoughts Over Time

But what about getting better results in the long-term? After all, that Trigger is likely to pop up again and again (that's why it's a cycle). What can you do so that breaking the chain isn't so hard?

Over time, it all comes back to changing the Thought in the first place.

I'm still working on it, but eventually - by changing my Action over and over again - my thoughts will shift from, "Man, I miss that house," to "That was a great first house with great memories!" Which will lead to feelings of joy and reminiscence about the good times, instead of just feelings of sadness.

In the same way, your repeated positive Actions will help change your Thought pattern.

"I hate gossip, but want to feel like part of the group," will become "I don't need to be part of this negative conversation."

"Everyone's turning me down - I must not be cut out for sales," will become "Getting turned down probably wasn't about me. The timing/price/situation must just not be right for that customer right now."

"My husband/wife is such a <fill in the blank>," could become "I wonder if they had a bad day. I should ask what I can do to help," or something similiarly constructive.

I won't lie – this shift isn't easy. It takes time and patience and, every once in a while, you'll probably slide a few steps backwards for every leap forward.

But shifting your thoughts – and the story you're telling yourself – is ultimately the way to beat the cycle of negativity.

Other Tools for Changing the Cycle

Changing your thoughts and actions is an ongoing process. Here's some other tools you might leverage as you practice:

  1. Affirmations - These are positive statements every day that train your brain to tell a different story. We find that they're most powerful when shouted at the top of your lungs to the tune of AC/DC's Thunderstruck ;)
  2. Positive Quotes/Sayings - Similar to affirmations, but in written form. If you're a quote/motivational saying person, get those babies printed and posted everywhere you can see them.
  3. Partners in Crime - Find someone you trust that can raise the flag when you're falling into negative patterns (someone you trust and respect). Getting sucked into gossip? This person can pull you into a "meeting." Feeling down about a sales call gone bad? This person will remind you of all the sales you made with ease. Upset after a fight with your spouse? This person will get you thinking about all the fun you have most days. Partners in Crime aren't there to make you feel bad about how you react to triggers - they're there to bring attention to something you may not even notice you're doing.
  4. Training/Coaching - Sure, we're biased on this one. But the fact is, it can be really hard to change these deeply embedded patterns on your own. If you want to learn more about how a training and coaching program can help give you some additional accountability and perspective, check out the button in this post to set up time to talk with someone from our team.

I still miss my old house and, chances are, you'll still hold on to your negative feelings every now and again, too. But by changing your Action in the moment, shifting your Thoughts over time and leveraging these tools to change the story you're telling yourself, we have confidence that you can start creating more positivity in your life.

And, if you find you need help, we're always here. 

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