How to set yourself free from negative thinking

Our mind is perhaps the most advanced piece of technology in existence, but it is not without a glitch or two. Pancho Mehrotra delves into negative thinking patterns, how they can hold us back, and how to set ourselves free.

In the current challenging economic climate, many people struggle to change the way they react when dealing with disappointment and the accompanying negative feelings. They become locked in a perpetual thought pattern that has no exit.

Thoughts of pain and regret can haunt the individual for many years and can affect their life in many ways, from work to personal relationships.

What happens when you’ve been to a listing presentation and at the end of the presentation the client tells you they have decided to go with someone else.

You might feel angry, betrayed and then disappointed.

Why didn’t they tell you this at the start?

Why would they choose someone else, as you know deep down that the agent they chose is nowhere near your ability?

What could you have done better?

Were you too expensive or too cheap?

We can ask ourselves endless questions to try to come up with a plausible reason for why they did not go ahead.

Even with this self-reflection, you find it hard to let it go.

From time to time these feelings pop into your mind unexpectedly.

Learning how to get closure, where you can let go of these thoughts and move forward in a way that provides peace of mind is what most people want, and often lack, in their lives.

What prevents us from moving on?

We are primitive beings who are driven to meet our needs. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in which he describes the five levels of needs, may give us an understanding of why we find it so difficult to move on. The five levels of need are:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualisation.

When we feel people, circumstances or our perceptions threaten these needs, we react to protect ourselves, at times to our detriment. Some examples of needs and possible explanations:

Power Achieve my goals by controlling my environment and people.
Winning Losing demonstrates to others I am weak and unworthy.
Esteem If I am validated by others, my sense of identity is secure.

When we seek closure we are looking for two things.

1. Control
The challenge in moving on from situations or events is about understanding that there are things we can control and things that we can’t.

Regardless, we always look for a sense of control in every situation.

Confirmation that our identity is secure
Protecting our identity is even more challenging than our need for control. We often define ourselves by the relationship we have with people and sometimes our need for acceptance overpowers our ability to move on.

Our need for acceptance is a powerful emotion. When we feel rejected, we think to ourselves “what does that say about me?”

Do I avoid dealing with the issue/situation or do I confront it?

The short answer is neither.

We may not be able to change what has happened or what the other party says or does, but we can change how we respond or think about the issue.

The best way to deal with a challenging situation is to control the way we respond to the situation.

When you don’t have closure, tension is felt mentally and physically as sensations.

These can affect you in many ways, including difficulty sleeping, anger, anxiety, bitterness and emotional exhaustion.

Therefore, getting closure requires a physical and psychological process of relieving the issue.

The two most common types of closure outcomes:

1. Holy sh*t moments
This is when the a-ha moment happens and suddenly you understand and can make sense of things. If you are having difficulty in sales, new facts or knowledge can give you these insights.

2. Total commitment moments
This happens when a person is convinced they need to make changes to the way they deal with the issue and embark on a deliberate course of action. When you do this, you change your beliefs and move on.

Decide what you want. Write it out.

  • Write out how you don’t want to respond to the issue.
  • Look at the issue from another person’s perspective, such as a teacher, parent, or boss. See it through their eyes. Write out your answers.
  • Go through the tips above and with a rational mind, pick one that works for you in that particular situation.

Doing this allows us to identify facts, examine the issue objectively and deal with it effectively and rationally.

The key thing to understand is, often your response is laden with emotions, which prevent you from dealing with the issue rationally.

Thinking about what we are looking for when we want closure – control or identity – it pays to examine what is available in that situation, whether we feel it is an attack on our identity or a lack of control.

In some cases it could be a combination of both.

As everything is an interpretation of what we experience, it comes down to our perceptions of the issues or events.

Good opening questions to ask yourself are:
• What does this issue say about me?
• What do I believe?

For example, if the vendor does not select you to sell their property and you feel angry and resentful, is it because you feel your identity as a salesperson is threatened or that you feel out of control and powerless?

Our need for acceptance is one of the most powerful needs we have.

It is our motivator while also creating tension when challenged.

The issue directly affects how we see ourselves, and our identity and self-esteem are affected if challenged.

Yet we need that tension to do something about the issue.

The problem often is that we find it difficult to take the first steps to address the challenge and we respond by either fighting, running or freezing.

None of these are satisfactory outcomes.

To move on, we need to reprogram our thinking to rise above the situation and have conviction in our self-worth.

It is about reaffirming that the situation does not influence what and who you are.

Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of the world or the issue as we don’t have enough information, understanding or experience to formulate an action to fix the situation.

To challenge the need for control, ask questions such as:

  • How will this affect me in a year?
  • Do I need control all the time to be happy?
  • What would happen next?
  • Is this the end of the world?

In most cases, your answer will reset the perceived magnitude of the problem and more than likely it will bring rational thought to the fore. As soon as you can establish a rational thought process with closure, the emotional relief will be quick, leading to a physiological relaxing.

Let’s examine some emotions of closure:
Respite comes with the removal of threat. Fulfilment after deciding to act. Awareness from comprehending something that you were unaware of.

Recognise when you need closure from a situation or event and ask yourself questions that challenge your closure issues.

  • What information do you not have?
  • How are you reacting and why is it important to you?
  • What would it mean to you if it happened?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Closure is an internal process and decision, which then allows you to think of ways to respond instead of feeling the tension without an exit strategy in place.

This needs to happen before you can experience the feeling of closure, peace of mind and move on to more successful pursuits.

The response matters.

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Pancho Mehrotra

Pancho Mehrota is the CEO of Frontier Performance and a recognised leading expert in the area of communication, influence and the psychology of selling.