Overcoming a Negative and Toxic Mindset

Hey lovelies!

This is a topic I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, but it requires a lot of vulnerability and realness on my part so I’ve been too scared to do it. But it’s something that I feel explains a lot about me and who I am as a person, so I want to share that with you all. I also think this topic of positivity versus negativity is very important and could potentially help a lot of people… I hope you’ll be able to relate and understand where I’m coming from. I wrote this post more like an essay, so the structure is a bit different from my typical posts. I hope you’ll find some kind of encouragement from my story. Thanks for reading!

There was a time when I was an incredibly negative person, very pessimistic and a “glass half-empty” type thinker. I was horribly annoyed by positive and optimistic people, I thought that they were naively stifling their feelings and not looking at reality. The idea of “choosing joy” was so far out of my reach and I simply couldn’t understand how someone could be intentional like that in their mindset… I was completely at the will of my runaway thoughts and feelings.

Some people say that they’re just not wired to be a positive person, I used to say the same thing. But what I’ve come to believe is that everyone has the potential to change and be a more positive person, they just have to see the need and be willing to change. Part of the disconnect comes down to the way people think of these negative thoughts and habits. Is it really such a big deal to be pessimistic and cynical? Yes! I truly believe that negative thinking is a poison, it is toxic to your life and to your soul. It allows darkness to creep into your life in tiny ways all day long. It makes you miss out on so much of the beauty and joy that we can enjoy in this life. It makes you see other people in a more judgmental light. It steals your joy one day at a time. Now, let me be clear, I am absolutely not saying that you should ignore or stifle your feelings. It’s absolutely okay to be sad or angry sometimes, to feel those more “negative emotions” that are really very natural. The difference is that instead of dwelling on the negative, you feel those emotions and give them their due, then you move on. You recognize the things you’re feeling and seek to understand and learn from them as best you can without wallowing in them; the goal is to be intentional about seeing the good in the situation and to focus on the good instead of the bad. Being a more positive person does not mean that you force a fake smile and pretend that things are fine. It means practicing thankfulness while looking for the beauty and the good in everything. In doing so you can find true joy!

For me, I think a lot of this negative thinking came from deeper rooted issues in my young life, issues that I still have to fight today. Before I can move on in explaining how I overcame this negativity, I feel it is necessary to talk about how it arose in the first place. Throughout my teenage years (especially in high school) I truly hated myself and thought I could never be good enough for anyone or anything… I even thought that God hated me. Why wouldn’t He? I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, good enough, cool enough, fun enough, interesting enough… I wasn’t enough for myself or for other people, so how could I be enough for God? I thought I had nothing, absolutely nothing to offer Him or anyone else, and I carried that overwhelming sense of worthlessness with me constantly. I was used to thinking of myself, others, and life in general with this very negative and depressing attitude. I was the first person to speak up about how something wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, everything was a disappointment, everything had a bad ending in my mind. I was constantly building up expectations in my head of how things should be, how I was supposed to be, how life was supposed to be. And I was always disappointed because all of those things I was expecting to be perfect were very, very flawed. I had no grace for myself and truly expected myself to be able to flip a switch and not mess up anymore! It’s crazy to say that now, but looking back it’s no wonder that I turned to horrible outlets for my anger, frustration and despair.

When I would look in the mirror, I saw a thousand things that weren’t what I thought they were supposed to be… it was all wrong and I was disgusted. I remember getting very upset one Sunday morning when I was trying to get ready for church and my Dad had come in to tell me to hurry up. My response was a very exasperated, “You don’t understand, I’m trying to FIX THIS!”, meaning I was trying to fix my face. In moments when I felt I was fat and disgusting (I’ve always been a toothpick, but somehow I thought I was fat) I would tell myself I wasn’t allowed to eat that day. When I would look in the mirror I would see an ugly face, then get angry because I guess I expected it to be different, and punish myself with cuts. Something about hurting myself felt right, I wasn’t what I was supposed to be and that was (in my mind) my fault, so in my head the logical thing to do was to hurt myself as a punishment. It felt just and right. Then I’d feel guilty and my conscience would speak up, so I’d cry and get angry at myself for crying and “being weak”.

This is me being very, very honest about just how messed up my thinking was for a long time. I know I’m not alone, I’m not the only girl who has struggled like this and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought those things or acted that way. The point in me sharing all of this is so that you can see just how amazing the Truth I’ve found truly is. Now for the resolution and how I’ve come to be much more positive, joyful, and no longer self-hating.

First is the concept of managing your expectations in life, something that has proven absolutely crucial in my own journey. When you believe at your core that you aren’t at all what you should be, it’s easy to look at the world and be disappointed with the way it is, too. Going through life with very specific ideas of how things are supposed to be (basically expecting perfection) will always leave you disappointed and confused. There’s a big difference between having hopes and having expectations. Expecting things to be a certain way can very quickly lead to entitlement, and when you find that things didn’t go your way… well, then you’re left confused and angry. Looking at the world with hope gives peace that you can make the most of whatever situation you’re given. Rather than expecting things to be a certain way and then finding yourself scrambling when they’re not. What if you could look at yourself with hope? What if you could give yourself grace? Wouldn’t that change the way you think about yourself? Maybe then you could strive to improve in a healthy way! It’s all about your mindset.

I talk about the need for a healthy and positive mindset all the time in the fitness industry. As a personal trainer, I have clients come to me all the time saying the things I used to say. Things like, “this is the thing I hate about myself and I need to fix it,” or, “I don’t think I can even do this, but I hate the way I am so I might as well try.” Notice something about those statements? They all start with a very negative, put-yourself-down kind of attitude. I know what that feels like, hating yourself and wanting to change, but having absolutely no faith in yourself to achieve it. Maybe you don’t even know where to begin. In fitness, if you go into a workout program thinking that you’re just there to try it, probably fail, and still hate yourself, you are going to fail. And no wonder! If you go into something challenging and you’re already giving up on yourself, then why even start? The same goes for just about every situation in life. You have to do things with the right intentions and the right focus, otherwise you’ll just be spiraling from one negative and disappointing situation to the next. Instead of working out to “fix” whatever you see is wrong with your body, workout because you know it’s good for your whole body and your wellbeing long-term. Eat right to work with your body to help it function the best it can, not only because you need to lose weight or you want to look different. Workout to get stronger, to practice self-discipline, and to challenge yourself, not to finally feel confident in a bikini. Now, of course, it is absolutely okay to have goals! You can absolutely seek to mold and shape your body in a healthy way, but I always recommend that you look at things with a bigger picture mindset. Take care of yourself first and foremost because your body and mind deserve to be cared for properly, the positive changes and progress you make physically are a bonus.

Now, the greatest changes I made in my mindset (that then overflowed into every aspect of my life) came through my faith. I grew up in a Christian home with amazing parents and lots of brothers and sisters, we’re all very close. I grew up going to church on Sunday, reading the Bible and praying. I knew all of the in’s and out’s of the faith from a very young age, and I knew all too well the reality of sin and the need for a Savior. The whole concept of me being a sinner who needed a Savior made so much sense to me! Of course I needed Jesus to save me, I was worthless and had nothing to give! But what I missed was the concept of grace. The core of the faith that says that we can never do enough, we can never be good enough, and that is okay. That’s exactly why Christ died for our sins! That’s exactly why what He did for us was so amazing, because He loved us and saved us when we were hopeless and completely lost. God wasn’t expecting me to be good enough or to do a certain number of things right in order to go to heaven! Instead, He loves me unconditionally and sent His own Son to die in payment for my sins! What amazing grace! If only I could have really understood this sooner… if only I had soaked up His amazing grace from the start! I could have saved myself a whole lot of anger, sadness, and pain. The freedom that comes when you really discover and accept God’s grace is unbelievable. It allows you to live your life as an act of worship, a constant prayer of thanks to the God who saved you. You no longer have to feel like you have to earn His love! His love is freely given and all you have to do is reach out and take it. It blows my mind to think of all the times God would reach out to me in my deepest, darkest days, and instead of reaching out and taking His hand I would look away and dig myself deeper in darkness.

For so long I was a slave to negativity, I had horrible habits in the ways I would think. That’s truly what negative thinking is at a very basic level: a very bad habit. The good news is that it’s a habit that can be broken, I’m living proof! So how does one break this habit of negativity? How do you develop a healthy mindset and have grace for yourself? By immersing yourself in Truth and practicing every single day. Surround yourself with positive people who will support your endeavor to see the world and yourself differently. Practice thankfulness, even in small ways throughout your day. When I first started trying to conquer my own negative thinking, I would write down five things I was thankful for every single day. When it came to my body image issues, I would look in the mirror and tell myself three things I appreciated about myself and the way God made me. My passion for health and exercise science has also played a huge role in giving me a healthy outlet for challenging and strengthening myself. Celebrate everything, appreciate even the little things around you! Slow down and take it all in and really be intentional in seeing the beauty that surrounds you. In time you’ll find yourself saying “Thank you, Lord, for…” throughout your day, out of habit and true appreciation, instead of judging everything and being constantly disappointed. You’ll find yourself telling those around you how much they mean to you because you’ll be seeing their beauty rather than their weaknesses. You’ll see things with new eyes.

I owe so much of what I now know to my husband and high school sweetheart, Alastair. He happens to be one of those annoyingly optimistic and positive people. 😉 He helped me so much in the midst of those dark days when I would hurt myself out of anger for not being the way I thought I was supposed to be. Or when I was angry about a situation that I thought was supposed to be different, so I’d take it out on myself. Everything was gray in my world, everything pointed toward darkness, death, and hopelessness. Alastair showed me that the God I had been so afraid of was actually the One trying to reach down and help me. I remember telling Alastair a long time ago that he had helped me finally see the world in color. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get over how beautiful it all is… how could I have missed this for so long? And not only missed it, but fought it and chosen not to see it.

Beautiful souls like my Momma set an example for me of someone who chooses joy every single day, no matter how bleak things get. In the most trying situations my Momma would be there with a smile on her face, joking and laughing because, as she always says, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.” I remember seeing friends filled with the joy of the Lord and I wanted to be like that, but I didn’t understand how. And all along the answers were right there, reaching out to me, ready to help lift me out of the pit I had dug for myself… yet so often I just kept on digging.

I think our world wants us to keep on digging ourselves deeper and deeper in negativity. It’s the popular thing now to be a victim, to wallow and stay stuck in your problems and your past. Everyone has some sob-story to share, but so few people actually have a story to say how they overcame those demons. Why get pity and attention from people who feel sorry for you when you could get respect for all you’ve overcome instead? I’ll tell you why, I’ve been there: because it’s easier than working to make a positive change. It’s so much easier to tell a sad story and be showered with pity… it’s hard work to get up and seek out light every single day. Of course, it’s very hard and exhausting and overwhelming to constantly carry around your past. But at least then you’re used to it, it becomes a kind of comfort zone in which you’ve just accepted that “this is just the way I am.” It’s hard to change the way you think, it’s hard to break bad habits. It’s hard (sometimes it feels impossible) to conquer your demons. But I don’t see any other way to go through life. A life lived as a victim is no life at all. Maybe you’ve been hurt by someone in your past (I know I have), but by living your life as a victim of what happened you are giving that person and that situation the power to ruin your life and steal your joy. You can choose to not be controlled by your past, you can choose to move on and to get stronger. You can choose to stop digging yourself deeper in that pit and instead reach up, take His hand and climb out.

Some people say that sounds too simple, they would argue that it can’t possibly work for them (just like I did not too long ago). But nobody said it would be easy, the things in life that build character and make us stronger never are. And isn’t it so much better to try to climb out of the darkness and into the light? It doesn’t matter your situation, it doesn’t matter how complicated it is… I have to believe that with God’s help you can climb out of any pit, no matter how deep. I want to inspire and encourage people to strive for more and to choose joy. No matter what you’ve been through or done, you can change. You can step out of the darkness and into the light. You can start seeing the world in vibrant, beautiful color.

xoxo, Mary.