Remember Winnie the Pooh’s pessimistic, gloomy, depressed friend? Eeyore’s glass was always half empty. He dwelled on the negative and never believed things could get better.
I recently read an article by Kate Rockwood that suggests how to keep this fictional character from showing up in our real lives.
Catastrophizing: Our Eeyore tells us to anticipate disaster around every corner. Our brain embarks on a dress rehearsal for tragedy. We fixate on the worst possible outcomes. When this Eeyore shows up, we can remind ourselves that our brain is trying to keep us safe from potential problems ahead. Barbara Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab, says we can rebuff these thoughts by repeating a mantra like, “Whatever happens, I can cope.” This statement of strength can help us go forth feeling determined rather than defeated.
Personalizing: We assume everything’s our fault. Eeyore leads us to believe that we’re responsible for all the negativity around us. As a result, we don’t consider other explanations. A weird fix to this misguided thinking is to walk through a doorway. Scientists at the University of Notre Dame claim that the act of passing over a threshold gives us a new context by cueing the brain to finish with the situation at hand and move on to something new.
Emotional Reasoning: Our Eeyore gets our mind to fuse together our feelings and reality. We think that how we feel is how things are. When we feel lonely, we think nobody cares about us. We can combat this by getting some distance from our feelings so we can recognize them as just that: feelings. In The Happiness Trap, psychologist Russ Harris recommends describing the emotion as a temporary state: “I’m feeling lonely.” We can mentally scan how our entire body feels. By focusing on physical sensations, like how the chair feels against our back, we are reminded that our thoughts and the world around us are distinct.
Magnifying the Negative: We fixate on the downside. Eeyore provides us with an eagle eye on the negative. By doing so, we blow a single negative thing out of proportion while positive things fall out of view. We can overcome this by forcing ourselves to list three good things instead. Richard Petty, psychology professor and coauthor of a study at Ohio State University, suggests that we write down our negative thought, crumple up the paper, and throw it away. Physically discarding the thoughts helps us mentally discard them as well.
Overgeneralizing: Eeyore wants us to see patterns of defeat. We take a bad moment and draw huge, sweeping conclusions from it. We can overcome this by distracting ourselves. When we’re doing something routine, our brain goes into autopilot. That’s when we’re most likely to focus on ways we’ve messed up before. However, by distracting ourselves with an activity that demands our full attention, toxic thoughts have less room to take over.
Rebecca Gladding, psychiatrist and coauthor of You Are Not Your Brain, suggests we imagine that a friend is having the same self-defeating thought. What would we say to our friend? This sort of cognitive restructuring, which Gladding has dubbed the Wise Advocate, can amplify the compassion we feel for ourselves and inoculate us from being so unnecessarily hard on ourselves.
Negative Forecasting: Eeyore lets us know that things won’t go well. We anticipate bad outcomes no matter the signs. “A lot of our negativity comes from mental time travel,” Fredrickson says. Resilience is our ticket to quieting Eeyore. “Resilient people tend to have a wait-and-see attitude rather than creating negativity through their expectations.” We can build resilience with a steady diet of positive emotional experiences or by writing down something we are grateful for each day.
Which of these six negative mental habits is Eeyore helping you develop? Practice the suggestions offered above and see if you can quiet Eeyore’s influence.
If the suggestions above don’t work, here’s something that absolutely will. Watch this 5-second video of an adorable child that will make your day.
From our Top 20 team…Willow, Kevin, and Tom…who have kept Eeyore in his place.
Paul Bernabei, Director
Top 20 Training