Natural Negativity to Proactive Optimism

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, September 08, 2021
By Carlos Escanilla, LMHC

I think we can all agree that the topic of self-improvement is a broad one. In such a complicated time in our world, and with an abundance of information, it is natural to have a “paralysis by analysis” experience.

hardware tools

I’ll use myself as an example: I’m guilty of having 25 audiobooks in my queue that I haven’t started yet, ten physical books with untracked spines, and countless personal development podcast episodes that I’ve been meaning to listen to. There was a point in time that the idea of all this information waiting for me to dive into became overwhelming and, in turn, led me to do none of it. This created a situation that welcomed more stress and anxiety into my life. I essentially stopped doing things that enhanced my personal development.

I quickly caught myself stuck in this trap, and since realizing I was in paralysis-by-analysis mode, I have designed a personal improvement daily regimen that has helped me get un-stuck. But before I get into that, I find it is always important to explore the “why”. So let’s recap some facts that you may already know (and maybe some you don’t).

As a species, we were created with defense mechanisms that are, essentially, for survival. Our defense mechanisms are alarms that “trigger” our brain to “LOOKOUT, the danger is near”. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our default mode of thinking leads to negative emotions and thoughts. My go-to therapy joke is asking my clients, “How many books are there on how to be negative?” (The answer is zero – get the idea?)

The search for an optimistic outlook and overall happiness has created a multi-billion dollar industry consisting of books and resources that all fall under the same umbrella and essentially say the same things but are packaged in different ways to attract different demographics. The point is – it is important to understand when we wake up in the morning, it is natural for our brains to be ready to target whatever negative situation or thoughts present themselves.

Therefore, it is up to us to purposely adjust our scope the minute we wake up. If we fail to make this adjustment, we will be triggered by what we call Perceived Danger. Next thing you know, our fight or flight response is activated, and we go straight into feeling stressed. This is important to understand if we truly want to feel better about ourselves, our lives, and the people and situations around us. For most of us, it is a choice to leverage our ability to reframe our thinking.

Once we have embraced this concept, we are now in a position to be proactive about it. Self-improvement consists of many things, but like anything else, it needs a solid starting point. So creating a self-improvement regimen is key. Here is what I usually recommend:

•    As soon as you open your eyes in the morning tell yourself at least three positive affirmations.
•    As you get up, head over to a mirror, take a deep breath and say any mantra that you would like to create for yourself. Example: “I am enough”, “I am blessed”, etc.
•    As you get your coffee or whatever you enjoy for breakfast, try listening to a podcast or an audiobook that can positively serve you.
•    If you like, perhaps you can lock in some endorphins for the day by taking a 20 to 25-minute walk or whatever exercise you feel comfortable doing. Quick hack: you can listen to that audiobook or podcast while you are exercising. I found this to be an amazing experience.
•    Journaling is a wonderful tool as well. However, I believe in checking in with yourself throughout the day. Journaling can consist of many things, right? Thoughts, gratitude, ideas, etc. so split that up throughout the day and check-in.  Don’t forget the most important journal input of all: at the end of the day, make sure you write down what went WELL today.

Before you know it, you will be in a groove. I’m happy to report that I have finally gotten around to listening to those audiobooks and podcast episodes. Yes, it’s taken me longer because I’ve only listened for 20 to 25 minutes per day. But also, what’s the rush, right? Slow and steady. Anything is better than nothing.

For many of us, our brains are designed to default to the negative. I know I’m being repetitive.  But I have found this to be the most crucial part of the reframing process.  Like anything else, once we understand how we function we can start doing something about the parts of our functioning (or malfunctioning) that are not serving us. This understanding makes it OK to work at it every day, and although we’ve never needed permission to do so, this will permit us to work on ourselves and our thoughts.

If you have never tried any of this before, and you believe it might not work, it’s OK.  Remember, you won’t know if you don’t try. If you try it, commit to doing it for at least six weeks, and see what happens.

Have great days. You deserve it.


“Self-improvement consists of many things, but like anything else, it needs a solid starting point.” – Carlos Escanilla, LMHCCar