I’ve adopted a recent habit that is changing how I approach my days. When I wake up, the first thought I have is about how exciting the day ahead will be.
This is a stark contrast to how most of us wake up in the morning and go to bed at night. Most of us start and end our days with a clenched approach to the day. We fear the day ahead will be stressful.
I used to be like this.
But recent studies have revealed that fearing that the day ahead will be stressful actually makes the day ahead more stressful. This is because stress weakens our working memory, which controls our ability to process and retain information, as well as our focus.
We perform worse when we start our days with fear and stress.
Once I learned this, I changed my ways. I stopped going to bed fearing the day ahead and I stopped waking up with stress.
For some of you reading this, a stress response to the day ahead seems ingrained in you because of your circumstances. But our human ability to anticipate stress also presents us with a great opportunity.
Because we can anticipate stress, we can prepare for it.
Just because we have stress doesn’t mean we always need to respond to it. We can be proactive about how we handle the stress of our day ahead.
In this article, I’ll teach you a planning technique to get ahead of the stress you know you will encounter during the week.
A 5-Step Process for Planning Positivity
The more we react to stress, the more we cycle in our negativity. Negativity eventually compounds and turns into hopelessness, which kills our sense of agency (or ability to direct our lives).
The good news is, we can plan positivity. Positivity compounds and restores our sense of agency.
To stop negativity from winning the week, here’s a simple planning process you could do at the start of your weeks:
- List Stressors
- Predict Negativity
- Label Mindsets
- Plan Positivity
- Create Reminders
Lets go through each step in depth.
1. List Stressors
When you are planning your week ahead (like the Sunday evening before), write down all the stressors you anticipate in the coming week. Take a sheet of paper and go through every possible stressor ahead.
A stressor is a specific event that causes subsequent stress. An example would be a hard conversation, a difficult project, an event you don’t want to go to, or a person you don’t want to see.
Create a list of everything that will create stress for you in the week ahead and make sure they are specific. Do not write down, “work.” Work is broad, not specific. Instead, ask yourself: what about work will give you stress?
2. Predict Negativity
I created a tool known as the Negativity Cycle™. A Negativity Cycle is a pattern of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that result in compounding negativity and hopelessness.
Here’s how it works:
- First, you experience a stressor.
- Then, you have a negative thought caused by that stressor.
- Next, your negative thought produces negative emotions.
- Because you want to escape the pain of the emotion, you engage in a pleasure (a rewarding activity like playing video games or drinking) or a protection measure (a stress response like blaming or being defensive).
This is how negativity works. You can use this tool to predict how you’ll respond to your stressors.
I start by drawing out the infinity symbol in my journal. Then, in the lower right hand corner of the symbol, I write down what thought I’ll have about my stressors.
If you’re unsure how you typically respond to stressors (what emotions and pleasures/protections you go to), you can jump to the next step.
3. Label Mindsets
The Seven Sabotaging Mindsets™ act as templates for certain patterns of negativity. These mindsets have similar thoughts, emotions, and pleasure/protection measures.
When you have identified the thought, it might help to find the mindset that it corresponds to. This can help you fill in the blanks for the emotions and pleasures/protections.
For instance, if the thought in your Negativity Cycle was, “I need to prove that I can do this,” then this would be a thought under the Approval Mindset. The Approval Mindset is when you believe you have to prove yourself. The emotion would be shame, and the protection measure would be overworking.
Labeling the mindsets can help you fill in the blanks to your Negativity Cycle if you need it. It can also help you determine the right action for your Positivity Cycle. You can find the full list of mindsets here.
4. Plan Positivity
The Positivity Cycle™ is another tool I created to help you plan positive patterns of thoughts and actions.
Here’s how it works:
- First, you state the belief you want to have.
- Then, you search for evidence you have to believe this belief now.
- Next, you write down one small action you could do to support this new belief.
- And finally, you’ll list how you’ll celebrate (could it as small as congratulating yourself or telling someone else).
I start this process by looking at the thought from my Negativity Cycle. The belief in my Positivity Cycle basically becomes the opposite of the thought from my Negativity Cycle.
From there, I complete the rest of the cycle, paying considerable attention to the action I create.
Any action to help you support your new belief should be small (like two minutes). It should also be the right next step.
If you used the mindsets above, the mindsets also can help you determine what the next healthy action is. For instance, the Approval Mindset has the healthy action of rest. So in your Positivity Cycle, you can create a specific action of rest, to help you support your new belief.
5. Create Reminders
Finally, I take the beliefs from my Positivity Cycle and assign them to particular days when I expect to encounter the stressor.
If I expect to have a hard conversation with my boss on Monday, I take the new belief from my Positivity Cycle and write that reminder down in my journal that morning.
Creating reminders helps me trigger the action from my Positivity Cycle. When I see the new belief, I’m reminded about my healthy action.
Example of Planning Positivity
This entire process takes about 2-5 minutes for every stressor, depending on how long you think about your cycles.
Using the example I used earlier about working harder, here’s how my Negativity and Positivity Cycles would look like:
- Stressor = Disappointed boss.
- Thought = I need to work harder to prove I can do the work.
- Emotion = Shame.
- Protection = Overwork.
Mindset: The Approval Mindset
- Belief = I can take my time on the work and my boss will be happy.
- Evidence = My boss has never rushed me on work in the past.
- Action = Tell my boss it’ll be done by Friday, and take my time on the project.
- Reward = I will congratulate myself after telling my boss.
Be Proactive about Stress
Now you might be thinking: what if most of the stress I experience is unexpected?
You can still plan for unexpected contingencies using this process. Using the example above, if you have a feeling your boss might get mad, that’ll be another Negativity and Positivity Cycle.
The point is, you can prepare for the stress you do know is ahead instead of just reacting to it. The more prepared you are, the less effect the stress will have on you.
You can get ahead of stress. Planning positivity can become the first step to winning your week.