When You Feel Negative, Stop and Do This How to change your feelings by changing your attention and way of thinking

Everything you experience – including how happy you feel – is a result of just two things:

  • Attention – What you focus on
  • Interpretation – How you think about what you focus on

For example, I was recently playing with my nieces (1 and 3 years old) at a playground. But my attention kept drifting from the play to how much work I still hadn’t completed back home. And I felt bad. 

Part of me felt like a failure for having spent so many hours on tasks I should already have completed in half the time. And the other part felt guilty because I was thinking about work instead of enjoying this precious time with my nieces.

 


Attention + Interpretation = Feelings. But this means that we have the power to
change our feelings by changing any of these two inputs. When you feel negative, stop and:

  1. Switch your attention to something helpful, or
  2. Reframe the problem as an opportunity

1. Switch your attention to something helpful

This is the strategy I used while on the playground with my nieces. When I noticed my attention kept drifting to all my uncompleted work, I asked myself: 

Q: “Is thinking about my uncompleted work helping me in any way?”
A: “No.”

Q: “What is the most positive thing I can pay attention to?”
A: “How adorable my nieces are.”

 

 

This conversation in my head made all the difference. The moment I switched focus to my nieces, I was suddenly overcome by a sense of love and gratitude that I had not felt in a long time. I also felt more present in the moment too. All because of a simple shift in what I chose to pay attention to.

Notice that purposely I used the word “helpful” and not “positive”. I don’t believe we should ignore things that are bad. Instead, we should question whether those thoughts are helpful or not. When I realized that thinking about my uncompleted work wasn’t helping me, it became much easier to switch focus. I wasn’t ignoring the problem. I was choosing to focus on something more helpful. 

2. Reframe the problem as an opportunity

On one hand, problems are unpleasant obstacles that disrupt our lives. But they are simultaneously opportunities for learning and practicing dealing with adversity. Both stories are true. But the second narrative is undeniably more helpful. 

In my case, I could have reframed my uncompleted work as an opportunity to practice focusing on the few tasks that matter the most. Now my thinking might have looked something like this:

 

 

The great thing about reframing is that it solves the same negative thoughts once and for all. Whenever I feel stressed about uncompleted work again, I can reuse this same narrative again.

The next time you feel negative – stop and:

  1. Switch your attention to something helpful
  2. Reframe the problem as an opportunity

Your feelings are the result of what you pay attention to and how you interpret it. Change either one, and you change your feelings too.

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