Do you also feel this urge of wanting to ‘do something’ just to keep the day going? But at the same time, the day has just passed by and you wonder when did that happen? The older I get, the more I’m sensing the need to slow down negative thoughts in my everyday life.
This would mean slowing down my racing thoughts, slowing down my breath, and simply living the moment right now. Unfortunately I come from a family where you’re expected to ‘do something’ instead of sitting idle. I was only praised and validated if I scored good grades in exams, if I learnt to cook, or if I conversed more with my family, rather than scrolling my phone, or not having plans for the summer vacation at the end of every school year.
In this blog, you’ll find:
- What is Life Like without Negative Thoughts?
- Why Can’t We Slow Down?
- Allow Yourself to See the Purpose Behind a Given Behavior.
- Reevaluate Your To-Do List
- Letting Go and Figuring Out How to Slow Down
What is Life Like without Negative Thoughts?
So let’s jump to your question—What does living without negative thoughts mean? What does it really take to slow down our lives? Slowing down negative thoughts requires choice. It means asking yourself—“What are the things that bring me satisfaction and value, and what must I consider giving up.”
For some, slowing down may look like appreciating art for hours, while for others it may mean having yoga sessions, blogging, chatting with a close friend, or literally, just reading political controversies on the internet (Yes, I have some friends who really could go talking about politics for hours. Strange right?).
Why Can’t We Slow Down?
If it’s that simple then why can’t you slow down your negative thoughts? Some psychotherapists explain it as experiencing a sense of time urgency. It’s a feeling of running out of time, to achieve or reach where we want to.
It would mean having thoughts like:
- “If I don’t keep pursuing my goals,I’ll never be able to achieve them.”
- “I must run faster. That way I’m assured that I’m succeeding.”
- “If I don’t keep pushing myself, I won’t achieve anything.”
- “If I slow down, then I’m a loser.”
- “I must only take a rest when I’ve worked hard enough”
In contrast, slowing down those thoughts might make you feel uncomfortable. Since you’re running on a sense of urgency, to achieve something, to be liked by others, or to feel like you’re worthy of something—slowing down can make you anxious. It may even evoke feelings of shame and guilt, or threaten your sense of self of doing nothing.
For a simple activity, try picking up a time throughout your day when you’d choose to do nothing. Yes you heard that right. Literally nothing! Just sit on your couch, stare at the wall and observe what urges come up. Do you feel like getting out of your couch and checking your phone? Do you experience negative thoughts like “What am I doing in life?” “I’m useless, I’d never make up to anything,” or “brainstorm ideas on how to achieve your goals faster?”
I can say from my own experience that these observations are all true. Each time I’d try this exercise, I remember my chase of leaving my 9 to 5 job and pursuing blogging full time. So when I’m not working, I’m constantly thinking of ways to grow this blog. I’d have thoughts like “the harder I work on my blog, the sooner I’ll be able to leave my 9 to 5 job, the happier I will be.” You see, there’s a sense of time urgency that my brain in operating under. In this instance, If rather I stop worrying about growing my blog faster and enjoy blogging (which I really do)—then that would be considered as “Slow living!” Do you get how it works now?
How to Slow Down Negative Thoughts?
1. Allow Yourself to See the Purpose Behind a Given Behavior
Asking myself to slow down doesn’t really help. Just like any other habit. But its wise to sit and ask yourself—What purpose this behavior is fulfilling?
For me—I couldn’t just slow down because (I notice these thoughts):
“I’m worried about finances.”
“I can’t stop until I achieve _______ (there’s always something random)”
“I’d be happier if things we ________, so I’m going to keep working towards it.”
When I list these thoughts here, readers can easily make sense of the purpose behind my struggle to slow down. It’s as if I fear that if I slow down—the world will reward things to me; I’d be less happy; or even worse—I’d fall short and behind everyone else.
So the answer is asking yourself—What purpose is this behavior playing; making note of negative thoughts; and taking a deep breath (you’ve come to understand yourself better after all).
2. Reevaluate Your To-Do List
I was reading Life Goals Mag the other day, what hit me was—we can’t stop having a to-do list. And there’s no need to. The magazine suggested, “Shift your to-do list from getting each item done to fulfiling to enjoy what you’re doing.” Deep right? My to-do list week hasn’t been the same since.
For instance, instead of waking up each morning to rush for work, I’d choose to:
- Sit on my coffee table
- Read magazines that inspire me, and
- Blog about self-care/slow living
But choosing what I enjoy isn’t easy most of the day. My worries about finances, family, or even personal stuff doesn’t leave my head. So, to help, this self-care tracker is a perfect tool that I keep on my side-table everyday.
How do I use this self-care tracker to slow down negative thoughts?
- Just add things that you enjoy + things that you have to complete.
- Add check marks as per the tasks you pursue.
But the goal here is to add more check-marks to tasks that you enjoy doing, rather than tasks that you have to do.
To avoid confusion and meet my goals, I’d keep two printouts of this self-care tracker. One would be for things that I enjoy and other one for things that I have to. Ultimately, each morning I’d praise myself for having more check marks on the sheet with things that I enjoy.
3. Letting Go and Figuring Out How to Slow Down Negative Thoughts
Chasing others expectations, a huge to-do list, or a sense of achievement— isn’t easy to let go of. Funnily, letting go doesn’t have to be that hard. Let me reevaluate what it really means.
Letting go doesn’t mean giving up things that used to be. It means finding things that can align with your goals. Most of us cannot find it because we haven’t completely allowed ourselves to run out of things. We’re either holding on to it or pushing ourselves to give it up.
So, how could you allow yourself to find ways to slow down negative thoughts?
Amanda brownlow, who considers herself a frugal minimalist, suggests a really fresh perspective on how you can find ways to slow down negative thoughts effectively. And I take her advice seriously when slowing down just feels tough.
She suggests that we must rather use things up fully. Say, you have a toothpaste tube in your house. Use it up. That body wash you like, use it up. When you use things up completely—only then you’ll find things that you really enjoy.
I suppose that’s when people switch from having a messy bedroom to declutter enthusiasts. From spending money on loads of appealing stuff, to being a minimalist.
Speaking of things that you must enjoy, I often suggest my readers to check-in with their values. That’s a great way to slow down and align yourself with a life that you enjoy.
You know that you’re living a life misaligned to your values when:
- You believe that life is either good or bad (black or white).
- You feel guilty about the way you have acted in the past.
- You keep thinking what your life would have been if…
- You’re more anxious than ever.
For instance, Renee has been practising slow living for the past one year. But before that she has been a hustler all her life. This led her to suffer from high-functioning anxiety. She realized that living in a constant state of urgency was leaving her anxious and feeling like she’s rushed through the days—until she decided to stop fighting and allow herself to go with the flow of the river.
She learnt to go with values such as:
- Doing less
- Listening to her intuition
- Allowing herself to be guided by what felt right.
- Learn to get comfortable with feelings of discomfort.
Here’s another example from her life that tells why abiding by your values is essential to slow down negative thoughts. In her journey to turning her blog into a successful brand—she stopped following others’ work ethic. She spills some beans furthur and emphasizes that it was learning about SEO, marketing, or staying consistent that helped her blogs go viral. Rather it was about creating content:
- Based on her own inspiration.
- Listening to her inner guide
- Writing content that she felt would improve others’ lives
Three years later, she gained over 3 million blog visitors, 500,000 podcast downloads, and half a million TikTok followers. Isn’t that great?
Claire, a wellbeing consultant, have effective questions for living a life of values:
- What does your morning look like? (How would it look when aligned with your values?)
- What are your biggest character flaws and how does that align/misalign with your values?
- Can you pinpoint areas in life when you’re most happy and how do they align with your values?
I use a full list of personal values and questions just because I’m a strong believer of living a life that I value, rather than living in regret. I also journal to slow down negative thoughts and seek assistance using the values in daily living exercise (from my Anxiety Journal).
How to use the Values in Daily Living exercise?
- Fill in the list of your values in the empty box below
- Think of values that you’d like to put in play.
- List down barriers that keep you from living your chosen values
- Consider how willing are you to make room for difficult thoughts and feelings?
Sally George is a Psychologist & the Editor of Gentle Meanings. She shares thought-provoking tools, asks insightful questions, and encourages her readers to be gentle with themselves.