When we feel weighed down by heavy emotions, it’s tempting to want to pack them away and never look back. The idea of nurturing negative thoughts might sound counterintuitive, but giving them the attention they’re calling for is key to emotional health.
According to “Joyologist” Tricia Huffman, paying (the right kind of) attention to your most uncomfortable feelings is essential to developing a more positive outlook. Here’s why learning how to understand and label negative thoughts properly can help us find our way back to joy.
Try these reflective journaling exercises to get started…
As someone who has built a career as a joyologist, you would think I would be all rainbows and sunshine, right? Yes, I did feel pressure to always be full of joy, happiness and see the positive, especially when first starting out in this transformational work. But, here’s what I realized very quickly: Forcing myself to only see the positive and not allow myself any negative thinking was limiting my potential for true joy. I was merely burying my real thoughts and emotions, which left me feeling heavy, confused and looking outward for answers.
When I first learned to acknowledge my negative thoughts, I used an exercise called the Morning Pages. It’s a type of journaling that Julia Cameron suggests in her book The Artist’s Way.
This form of journaling is incredibly therapeutic — you write down everything jumping around in your mind, heart and soul onto the page, all beautifully jumbled together. This is where I was faced with the truth: I do have negative thoughts. Initially, I was shocked and horrified, telling myself — as a joyologist, especially — I was not allowed to have doubts, fears or feel envy. But, I learned that I had to pay attention to this internal dialogue.
Those difficult and heavy thoughts and feelings were real and trying to ignore them, shake them off or too quickly shift their nature wouldn’t make them go away. So I started to let them out. I gave my negative thoughts and feelings my attention and offered myself compassion. Only then was I able to truly hear myself, to fully show up, love and support myself.
On Labeling Negative Thoughts + Dealing with Hard Feelings
In the years since this major “a-ha” and act of self-love, I created an easy check-in routine to keep myself connected to how I am feeling. This helps me move through the ickiness, truly be present and live in joy. Here is the method I use, and the questions I ask myself, to help label negative thoughts and process through those tough moments:
What am I feeling?
I name the emotions that have me feeling off, heavy and/or funky.
+ I am feeling confused.
+ I am feeling guilty.
+ I am feeling like I am not enough.
+ I am feeling like no one cares about me.
Why I am I feeling this way?
I try to track personal experiences to see what could have triggered these feelings. Here are a few examples from my life:
+ I am confused about what we talked about in a recent podcast recording and I’m wondering if it will resonate and how my guest feels.
+ I am feeling like I didn’t do enough last week and that I am not putting time into the things I really want to do because they are scary/hard/will take up so much time.
+ I didn’t hear back from a text message I sent to a friend.
Is this true?
Too often we read too much into things or make things up in our minds. Do a reality check with yourself: do you find yourself putting a spin on a situation or a non-situation?
What can I do to feel differently?
+ Go outside, take a deep breath, call a friend for support.
+ Reach out to a friend to see how she feels, thank her for spending time/energy with me.
+ Take the time to name and prioritize wants.
+ Reach out to a friend I haven’t heard from in a while to send love her way.
What do I want to believe + How do I want to feel?
I don’t want to feel confused, guilty, like I am not enough, and I am guessing you don’t want to feel these hard emotions — the ones we often try to push away — either. By naming difficult emotions, you make the space to move through them. Then, even more powerfully, you can choose to move into what you do want to believe and feel.
+ I want to believe everything we talked about was perfect and is going to really resonate with people.
+ I want to believe that I am making a difference in people’s lives regardless of what I did — and did not — accomplish in any given timeframe.
+ I want to feel that I am supported, loved, enough as I am.
Use Personal Affirmations To Reframe Negative Emotions
After I label negative thoughts and focus my awareness on what I am feeling to discover the why behind them, I turn to my feelings.
How do I want to feel? What do I want to believe? I turn these thoughts into a powerful affirmation to support me, and to help calm negative thoughts that may otherwise make me question everything, analyze what was said and done, and worry about the future.
I am a big believer in affirmations; I believe they are the most powerful when you use them to reframe negative thoughts. Affirmations are most effective when using words and language that actually speak to and excite you.
Try a mantra, repeating it to remind you of what you know to be true, deep down. Here are a few examples:
Everything is happening right on time.
I am a badass.
My worth is not dependent on what I do or do not get done today.
I trust the timing of my life.
I am enough, I am loved, I am supported.
I know tapping into those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings is challenging, but it is worth it. You are worth it. Your joy is worth it. By tapping into the truth of what you are feeling, you are giving yourself the power to move through it, heal it and transform it.
Remember that you are not alone. Allowing myself to feel these emotions gave me a greater sense of compassion for myself, but it also gave me a greater sense of compassion for all of us who are moving through life. Many of us are fighting so many heavy thoughts, emotions and feelings. Instead of fighting the heaviness, hold its hand, ask it questions, allow it to open you up, and make space for what it is you want to think and feel.
For additional help, I created an affirmation deck and app for daily support and awareness. It’s full of powerful thoughts to help you check in with your feelings, offering affirmations to support you in transforming your thoughts to acknowledge the truly awesome person you are.
ugh emotions just are, calling ones one doesn’t like or that don’t meet unrealistic expectations, negative is just wrong and part of the ‘problem’. Humans are made to process and to progress with all that we experience and all that we are. The journal to process and to progress works, calling things good/bad, positive/negative, defeats purpose of living a full life.
In the full article I wrote I actually did say let’s stop calling our emotions and feelings negative and positive! I so agree. They cut that bit out..but I still feel like looking at emotions this way will help some people to sort out what the are feeling instead of running from them or feeling bad about them.