The other day I was walking along the coastline, listening to Mozart (the quite happy and carefree 9th piano concerto to be precise), when some forgotten thoughts started coming back to me. Not the welcoming nice thoughts, but negative incidents where something bad had happened. Accidents. Arguments. Career failures. All sorts of things. It was then that I realised: I always manage to get over them but there is usually a bitter after-taste.
It is true. We can all to get over them.
It occurred to me that it is at random times and usually during the quiet moments when I try to relax or when I go for a walk or jog and let my mind wander off, that these thoughts keep coming back to me. Perhaps I was mistaken to have described them as the equivalent of an after-taste. Just think about it: an after-taste is experienced immediately after the taste (I know you don’t need brains to figure this out). In case of an unpleasant experience, the memory of it lingers for quite a while (and sometimes forever). Is it possible to get rid of it completely and treat it just like an after-taste?
In my opinion, even to call it an after-taste or treat it like one is to diminish its therapeutic qualities. There are things to learn and mistakes to avoid — in other words, it involves a whole healing cycle. Still, it’s true that even when you get over it, the negative thoughts could persist.
So is this how life is supposed to be from now on? A continuation of random occurrences of negative experiences?
The short answer is no. But bad memories will certainly continue to resurface. And for some of us, the way our brain circuits function is such that these incidents might last longer and be more intense. There are, however, some steps that can be taken to counteract these.
- First, acknowledge that this is only a memory. That is, just a thought. The negative experience exists only as a distant occurrence in your mind, you know this because not all details can be remembered. You are not relieving the actual event, but only bringing back certain recollections.
- Having acknowledged that it is only a visual image, realise that there are thousands of people, millions even, who undergo the same exhaustive process of recurring negative thoughts. Even the moment you are having them. Even when you are reading this.
- Remind yourself that it now belongs to the past, and you were strong enough to have gone through it.
- Tell yourself that the chance of something similar happening again is small, but now at least you know what to expect.
- If you believe in mediation, mindfulness, or positive thinking, go ahead and meditate. Meditation is one of the easiest things to do at home, all you need is a quiet place. There are tons of articles online on how to meditate (just be sure to find reliable sources), many books you can read or even professionals who could guide you. Sometimes mediation can be as simple as closing your eyes, focusing on your breathing until you relax and then visualising a calm scene of your choice. Next time your brain drifts away to to negative thoughts, try to bring back the setting you have created through visualisation. By doing that, you gradually train your brain to associate moments of relaxation with a peaceful visual image instead of letting negative thoughts come to the surface.
- If visualisation is not your thing, then try to remember a specific success, an accomplishment in your life. Something you have achieved and were congratulated upon. Or think of an instance where you did something good for someone else and how you both felt by that action. Try to stick to this positive situations and replace it with the negative though.
- Sometimes thinking of someone or something of breathtaking beauty is enough to make you temporarily shift away from negative thinking. It can even be a place or a favourite film or book.
So next time your brain wanders off to past negative experiences just bear this in mind: it is only a past image created in your brain, this means it has already happened, it‘s not occurring now, and that it is only normal for the brain to bring it back. This happens to everyone. Just then, by telling your brain to think about positive incidents or personal accomplishments you are training it to avoid such thoughts.