Everyone has negative thoughts and emotions. But what’s the best way to deal with these?

Sometimes we hear people saying things like ‘turn that frown upside down’ or no ‘negative vibes here’….

I do believe that it’s possible to shift a negative perspective, but it’s absolutely crucial to understand that this is not about ignoring or minimising the negative thought or emotion.

Pretending it’s not there or slapping fairydust on it doesn’t make it go away.

Equally though, it’s not helpful to just allow the negative thought or emotion to take over and swallow it whole.

To give an example, let’s say you’re looking for work and finding it quite difficult. You feel quite anxious about it because you have bills to pay.

Toxic positivity and toxic negativity

The toxic positivity approach would be to say to yourself (or have someone say to you), ‘You’ve got to stay positive’, ‘there’s noting to worry about’, ‘be grateful for what you have’ . That isn’t helpful because it doesn’t recognise the reality of the situation, that you need work and it’s proving difficult to find.

The toxic negativity approach would be to throw yourself into despair and agree with your Troll that you’re never going to find anything and you’ll probably have to give up and go and get a job at the chippy across the road. Also not helpful.

So, what’s the answer? Learning how to handle your negative emotions and thoughts in a more skilful way. This is sometimes referred to as emotional agility, and it’s really at the heart of what I do and teach.

Emotional agility

The first step in developing emotional agility is to get better at recognising your Inner Troll in action.This is that little, or not so little at times, voice inside us that is constantly criticising, worrying, warning, or generally being horrible.

We all have one, and ultimately it’s designed to keep us safe, but it often steps WAY beyond what’s actually helpful, especially if we grew up with critical or overly cautious parents.

Most people are just so used to that voice in their head that don’t even stop to think about it. It’s just a background fact of life. But when we first start to step back and notice it, our reaction is often to feel that we clearly have a much worse Troll than anyone else, and that we will never manage to get it to shut up.

Two things there:

Firstly, as soon as you hear words like ‘worst’ and ‘never’ that’s a big clue that it’s your Troll speaking. They are sneaky things, and will always try and prevent you from any kind of growth that might threaten their existence.

Secondly, it’s also the Troll that suggests that you should be trying to completely get rid of them, because it KNOWS that that isn’t how it works. It can turn into a game of Whackamole, where each time you hit it down, it pops up elsewhere.

The key to the whole thing

In fact, recognising the Troll in action is not just the first step, it’s actually the key to the whole thing.

Once you recognise it, you can start to choose whether you want to believe what it’s saying, and that is what begins to dismantle the hold it has over you.

Even if you only recognise it after the row you had, or the poor decision you made, that’s still good, because next time, you’ll be more likely to spot it earlier.

So, whenever you notice strong negative emotions or thoughts, try and step back. Tell yourself, ‘I’m having a thought that I’m not good enough to do this job’ or ‘I can feel that my jaw is tight and my heart is racing.’

Labelling thoughts and emotions this way has been shown to immediately reduce the power they have.

Then you can decide whether you actually believe the thought, or what you might do to calm down your racing pulse.